The Future of Happiness:
Millennials in focus
The Future of Happiness:
Millennials in focus
20-second overview: Happiness is the ultimate motivator and enabler. It is universally desired and understood. It is also the key to lasting physical and mental wellbeing. As we enter a new realm of possibilities driven by global events and emerging technologies, now is the time to try to understand what the future of happiness will be for the generations who are poised to dominate and shape our reality in the decades to come. In this post, we take a close look at the present and future state of happiness for Millennials.
Happiness is a fascinating concept because it is something people from all cultures and religious backgrounds value and aspire to attain. According to SmartCitti's happiness guru Salarah Starre, happiness is "...a state of internal being that includes the wellbeing of mind, body and soul."
It is associated with fulfilment, contentment, good health, positive expectations, the absence of poverty and extreme want, and a degree of physical and financial security. It is also holistic in the sense that it reflects both objective states of reality as well as more personal and subjective factors.
Summing up its importance, SmartCitti's UX Specialist, Dr. Mohammed Al-Husban, explains that "Happiness always matters because at a deeply fundamental level, it is what motivates individuals." He adds, "Happiness is a kind of catalyst for meaningful social interactions, good performance at work, and community building. So, whatever can influence our happiness can directly and indirectly influence many other things."
It is precisely because happiness is a potent influencer, motivator, and measure of quality of life that understanding what the future of happiness holds is very important. To do this, we focus on the generations whose preferences and choices will shape the world of the future— Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z.
The generation known as Millennials, the first generation to come of age in the new millennium, reached a major milestone in 2021. Defined as the cohort born between 1981 and 1996, the oldest Millennials hit 40 this year, marking their official entry into middle age. Over the past few years, this group has increasingly come into focus and prominence in America for many reasons. In 2016, they became the largest generation in the US labor force; and in 2018, they were recognized as the most educated generation in the US work force and the second-largest generation in the US Electorate.
To top it off, by July 2019, Millennials had become the largest living adult generation according to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Put simply, Millennials have not only come of age but are poised to shape the economic, social, and political reality in the United States for decades to come. This is why understanding their present and future happiness is so important.
Here are 5 things that shed light on the millennial psyche.
1. Having survived two severe financial and economic shocks— the Great Recession of 2007 and the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020— Millennials are a very resilient generation. Experience has taught them consciously and subconsciously that they can survive the unexpected.
2. Millennials are values-driven and have demonstrated repeatedly their willingness to vote, spend and work in alignment with their values. This quest for values-alignment is partly why they are leading 'the Great Resignation' of 2021 as they quit their jobs in search of employment opportunities that offer them the flexibility, pay scale and values-fulfilment they desire.
3. Millennials are entrepreneurial and not averse to taking calculated risks. This is largely a product of living through the Great Recession when, faced with few job opportunities and massive layoffs, many decided to start their own businesses straight out of college. Millennials are also happy to explore new career options particularly since the post-recession economy offered limited opportunities and low stability in the job market.
4. This generation came of age with computers in their homes. They have also lived through significant technological changes and have a knack for adapting to these changes with ease. Indeed, the typical Millennial anticipates change and has a deep aversion to stagnation.
5. While Gen-Z holds the undisputed title of being the 'Social Media Generation', Millennials paved the way for their emergence and are the second most social media savvy generation today. In fact, according to recent research, they are almost on par with Gen Z in various social media usage metrics. What's more, Millennials tend to use social media to express their values and views on important social and environmental issues such as racism, sexism, toxic corporate culture, and climate change.
For all their resilience, there's no gainsaying that Millennials have had it rough. Since the Great Recession struck in 2007, much of their expectations about career, family, health, and financial security have been upended by uncertainties, uneven economic recovery, and the rising cost of living.
Unfortunately, the pandemic of 2020 has added yet another layer of hurdles. So, it comes as no surprise that Millennials are far from peak happiness today and external factors such as the state of the economy, lack of job satisfaction, and financial insecurity are largely to blame. Three things that can help us understand how happy Millennials are today are their outlook for the future, their health status, and their financial status.
Less optimistic about the future
Optimism is an important facet of happiness because it gives us a sense of what a person or group's expectations are. In 2019, Deloitte global began measuring optimism among Millennials and Gen Z based on their views on the outlook of the economy, socio/political climate, personal finances, the environment and the role of business. According to their report, optimism and hopefulness among Millennials in 2021 had dropped (page 26) from what it was in 2020, driven largely by pessimism about the economy and socio/political climate (page 16).
However, another survey commissioned by CNBC Make It found that overall, older American Millennials (born 1981 - 1988) were more content with their lives because their perspective on happiness had changed with age. They had become more focused on appreciating and enjoying what they had accomplished, be it family, career, business, or independence, unlike younger Millennials who are still in the searching and building phase of their lives.
That said, it should be noted that there's a fine line between contentment and resignation, and there does not appear to have been any effort to clearly separate the two in this latter study. So, between declining optimism and a tenuously growing sense of contentment, the picture for Millennials is mixed at best.
Poor mental and physical health
The pandemic has left many Millennials stressed. Before the pandemic, this cohort was already significantly affected by the Opioid crisis and high rates of suicide. Post-pandemic, the mental and physical health of Millennials remains a cause for concern. According to a 2021 post-pandemic survey by Deloitte, a third of Millennial respondents said they had taken time off work due to stress while another third said they had continued to work despite feeling stressed all the time (page 3).
However, stress is only the tip of the iceberg as a series of surveys have shown Millennials are experiencing poorer health than Gen X did at the same age. According to the Harris Poll survey conducted for CNBC, 44% of older Millennials have a chronic health condition and the most prevalent conditions are major Depression, Migraines, Hypertension and Type II Diabetes. This finding corroborates the results of the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) health survey conducted in 2019which found that older Millennials were experiencing the top 10 health conditions in America at a higher prevalence rate than preceding generations.
The BCBS survey also found that Millennials typically begin to experience a decline in health from age 27 and prevalent conditions include high cholesterol and substance abuse. The same BCBS survey also found adverse health among Millennial women to be 20% higher than for men and further, that older Millennials in southern states like Alabama and Louisiana were generally less healthy than their counterparts in western and eastern states.
Lagging in homeownership and wealth accumulation
Due to the impact of the Great Recession and less than ideal economic recovery in the years since, Millennials lag behind older generations in homeownership.
According to Olivia Rockeman and Catarina Saraiva, Millennials are faring worse financially and in terms of homeownership than the generations before them. Although another survey show homeownership among older Millennials stands at a high of 59%, mortgage payments and student debt obligations mean older Millennials are still stretching their monthly incomes to the limit and are yet to reap the benefits of homeownership.
In fact, the Harris Poll survey for CNBC Make It found that older Millennials spend more than 37% of their monthly income on housing costs, 7% higher than the recommended limit of 30%.
Analysts have noted severally that this lag in homeownership and the rise in housing costs will significantly influence the ability of Millennials to achieve financial goals, build wealth for themselves and bequeath a foundation for financial stability to their children. Find out here how millennial are approaching home buying differently to older generations.
Paving the way for healthy, wealthy and productive Millennials
Using happiness as a lens for understanding Millennials provides valuable insight into the product, service and policy gaps which need to be plugged in order for Millennials to live and perform at their best. Here are 2 important ways to improve the future happiness for Millennials.
1. Address the problem of poor health among Millennials
There is urgent need for public and private sector action to tackle the problem of poor Millennial health because it is predicted to have deep negative consequences for the economy.
Analysis by Moody's Analytics, based on data collected by Blue Cross Blue Shield Health, revealed that poor millennial health could increase the cost of health treatments by 33%, increase mortality rates among Millennials by 40%, and reduce the annual income of Millennials by as much as $4500.
This cohort already has high out-of-pocket health costs due to the prevalence of chronic diseases like Type II Diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Added to this, the predicted loss of annual income would worsen the problem of financial security and wealth accumulation Millennials already face. And besides these economic consequences, it should also be clear that poor Millennial health can have a progressively negative impact on the optimism and outlook of Millennials going forward.
To address this problem, every effort to increase preventive health practices among Millennials is welcome. Innovative, smart tech solutions that can help Millennials keep track of key health indices, build healthy habits, and automate health checks will also go a long way to help. Finally, there is need to work towards lowering healthcare and health insurance costs. Needless to say, limited access to quality care and medicine would make the worst predictions about the outcomes of poor Millennial health that much more likely.
2. Provide tools for wealth creation and growth
While Millennials have faced hard financial and economic times, things are set to look up as they are predicted to benefit from what some have called the largest transfer of wealth in human history. Millennials are in line to inherit a huge chunk of the $68 trillion dollars expected to be handed down by their Baby Boomer parents by 2030. While some studies have shown that this wealth inheritance may come too late to help in addressing the problems of wealth inequality and home ownership, it is clear that Millennials will soon have more resources at their disposal to create new wealth and solve important personal problems.
That said, we cannot rely on this wealth inheritance to solve the problems of lack of economic opportunity and financial stability that are causing many Millennials to stagnate in various areas of their lives. That wealth accumulation and financial stability are even lower among Millennials from minority backgrounds poses yet another challenge.
Indeed, some experts have argued that the wealth inequity among Millennials of different racial backgrounds will only worsen with the coming wealth inheritance, creating conditions for class- and race-based conflicts to worsen as well. The questions of how to create wealth and how to achieve wealth equity are not mere conceptual exercises. They are burning issues which will have a real impact on the future happiness of Millennials and the inheritance they will leave to their own children.
While there's a deluge of studies and data on factors affecting Millennials, you'll agree that the decline in mental and physical health among this cohort is arguably the most significant finding yet. Sadly, Millennials, famous for their resilience, have not been spared the mentally and physically debilitating effects of living through stressful times and having to bear the increasing costs of living while earning less than older generations. It is therefore clear that the future happiness of Millennials will depend on how successful we are at stemming the tide of health deterioration that has already begun to exert significant strains on the finances and quality of life of Millennials.
Are you a Millennial? If so, what are you doing to ensure to live a long and healthy life? Also, how do you think a company like SmartCitti can help? We'd love to know your thoughts.