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Existential Happiness Crisis

Why is happiness so hard to find?

Quarter life crisis for millennials

I have been doing some research on the millennial quarter life crisis that we all seem to be suffering from today, one way or another.  Dr. Oliver Robinson, from the University of Greenwich in London, states  “Quarterlife crises don’t happen literally a quarter of the way through your life…They occur a quarter of your way through adulthood, in the period between 25 and 35, although they cluster around 30.” Continuing on Robinson also states there are four phases we go through:

Phase 1, defined by feeling “locked in” to a job or relationship, or both. “It’s an illusory sense of being trapped,” said Robinson. “You can leave, but you feel you can’t.”

Phase 2 is typified by a growing sense that change is possible. “This mental and physical separation from previous commitments leads to all sorts of emotional upheavals. It allows exploration of new possibilities with a closer link to interests, preferences, and sense of self.

Phase 3 is a period of rebuilding a new life.

Phase 4 is the cementing of fresh commitments that reflect the young person’s new interests, aspirations, and values.

Question Dr. Robinson, I don’t mean to be crass but when do these phases 2-4 kick in because I can’t seem to get out of phase 1, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been in it since I was 24. Anyone else feel this way?

This blog post isn’t so much as a what to do to get you out of phase 1 but more of a, you aren’t alone, come suffer with me, my friend. Misery, as they say (who is they?) always loves company. I just don’t understand why this issue has become so enticing to us millennials, why did our parents, our grandparents deal with life better. The fear of Nazi’s, Communism? We have terrorists, ISIS, Al Qaeda, don’t you think that would be enough to make us feel more appreciative towards the lives we have, especially those of us in first world countries that allow us to write about these very issues without hanging us in the town square. You may laugh at the image, but the truth is there are so many people like us, our age, Millennials, who aren’t like us at all. Their problems are real problems, where to get food, how to hide from ISIS, how not to get killed. So I feel quite privileged that I can sit here on my laptop and complain about this very fact.  

Sometimes I think we spend more time worrying about what to do than spending time doing anything. Think of it like this, when you date someone you don’t just believe their words, you need to see the action. The anxiety you feel, am I good enough, we all feel it, doing something can be scary, but an action is the only way to combat fear.

What are we millennials in first world countries really good at? Complaining and getting nothing done? Yeah, thanks, Mom and Dad we know. The generation who had to fight the Nazi’s is dying out. The generation of free love and drugs is burnt out. Somehow we are supposed to take all the problems of the world, let alone our problems and solve them while still having time to pay little things like rent, loans, and cars. If we are lucky, there will be enough for more than frozen meals or ramen.  If you are nodding your head along as you read this, then know you aren’t alone. You feel like the entire weight of the universe is on your chest, suffocating you. Let me be the first to tell you, where you don’t have to roll your eyes; you can let it go. It is hopeless.

Wow, I know you are saying, I thought this was supposed to be uplifting, I thought this was going to make me feel better about naming the cockroach that lives in my bathroom that I don’t have the heart to kill because sometimes it’s the only being that will listen to me. Stay with me here. I promise it won’t hurt too much.

It is hopeless to think you can solve the world’s problems. No one expects you to. You expect you to. Trouble paying bills? Not sure you are happy in your job? If you aren’t married with kids let me give you a good piece of advice, then do what you want. I have been reading the book On The Road by Jack Kerouac, and it reminds me why our parent’s generation was able to bypass this quarter life crisis.  They lived. They weren’t politically correct. They didn’t care about driving their car down the road at top speed, or eating trans fats, or indulging in carbs. They fought NAzi’s, Political correctness, in Vietnam, the media. I know it is gross to think about but when your parents wanted to have sex (before you came crying into their lives) they had sex. Our generation has accumulated so much debt for the dream of education and advancing ourselves we feel like we can’t move forward until the debt is gone. My x was like that; it stunted his ability to grow. I even feel it, afraid to spend money on big things but realizing that spending money on small useless things is just as bad. So don’t feel guilty that you feel stuck because we are. The loyalty our parents had from employers is not what we have today. We millennials are expected to be loyal but shouldn’t expect loyalty in return (probably why are relationships are terrible as well). 

So what do you do when you are stuck in debt and unable to leave your job because unlike for our parents’, jobs are scarce and require an PHD, a MD, a JD, a FML (that is F$$$ my life) degree that even when you obtain the job requires 10 years experience?

“But sir I have a college degree I’m pretty sure I can figure out how to work the cash register.”

“Have you ever worked a cash register?”

“Well no, but….”

“NEXT.”

You go from being told you have no experience, but you are over qualified. Yup thank you federal government for looking at all those applications just to tell me that.

Just in writing this I feel all mixed up emotionally. My X and I use to say it isn’t the answer but the questions. We know the marketplace is miserable so how do we make it better for us? By not worrying that the marketplace is miserable. This is how I approach it. As long as I am willing to work, I’ll find something; perhaps that is too optimistic even for me, but what is the alternative, to sit in self-pity? One day the job might even be in the field I want. That is an old school thought, something our grandparents knew when they were returning from WWII with no education but the knowledge of how to kill a Nazi. My grandfather had a 5th graders education, he came back, learned to install elevators, and did that till he retired. Was he happy? I’m not sure. Fulfilled? Still not sure. But did he meet his needs, not just financially but emotionally, yeah I think so. Perhaps this crisis is new, or even old but as we grow older it will change, perhaps even to a newer crisis we haven’t heard of yet.  For now, the only questions will be where we are when it does.

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Journey Not Destination

I’m 28 and feel like I have achieved very little yet in my life. Perhaps you feel the same way, stuck, not really sure how to move forward. We probably need therapy but are too busy trying to figure out what to do next, or like me, in too much debt to afford the luxury. This is not going to be your how-to guide on how to figure out your existential crisis. I’m not smart enough to tell you how to do that, being stuck in my own, but maybe we can just journey together. Someone once told me it is not the destination that counts but the journey you take to get you there.

We are the millennials. Shocking I know. I always thought the millennials were the kids born in the 2000s but nope, us 90s kids have been included into a title that I’m not sure we have fairly earned. For those who are a bit younger reading this, it means that we 90’s kids grew up in a time when the world was slightly smaller than it is now (does anyone else hear their grandmother talking?). We didn’t have cellphones, and if we did, you had to work hard to send that text message, it would have just been easier to call.  We had computers, big clunky desktops, that used dial-up to connect us to the world wide web that now is just laughable when we look at the information we have at our fingertips today. We could firmly embarrass ourselves without fear of publication. I’m am so happy that there is no recorded proof of me singing RA RA Rasputin with my cowboy hat on dancing around my table.  If you would like a better visual, youtube Rasputin by Boney M

Told to go to college, grad school, medical or law school would improve our standing in society; we would make more money, be educated and hold better jobs. That seemed to have been a really a great idea until the 2008 market crash. After that, the old truths of school just didn’t or don’t hold up anymore. I went to college, law school, and don’t regret the knowledge I obtained, but the debt, yeah, I do regret that. I watch friends who can move around as I am stuck saddled with debt. Or better, friends with debt who do not seem to care if the government turns up and takes their souls. Yes, I know this is where you say “but lawyers have no soul” don’t worry I would agree. Most of us are assholes.

I was speaking to a good friend the other day; he is a writer, one of the more intelligent men I know (and no he isn’t a lawyer) and his writing advice to me was a simple question. Why do you want to write this story?  Now we were talking about an alternative history idea where Hitler won World War II because Churchill had been assassinated. Why did I want to tell that story? Well, I love Churchill. But the question now is why do I want to tell this story? Why have I called it the Existential Happiness Crisis? I have what I guess is a simple answer, though you are the one to judge.  I was talking to him about trying to be happier with the here and now and struggling with it. He told me he struggled also, and I wondered why we had never spoken about it before. How many of us feel guilty for feeling like we are struggling, yet what is so bad about our lives? We don’t live in Syria right now. We have freedom of speech. And maybe we are lucky enough to have someone to love, whether family, friends or a significant other.

When I was 17, leaving high school and heading to college, the entire world seemed open to me. I was studious, I drank rarely, I didn’t club or take drugs. I was the nerd who got in trouble for wanting to read too many books. Going to college and then achieving my dream of becoming a lawyer, well it was right there in front of me. That journey, though, it’s over. I made it through college. I made it through law school. 17 year old me would tell me that means I am happy, but I’m not. 17-year old me didn’t understand disappointment, she didn’t understand heartbreak, or the fact that the world truly isn’t a fair place to live in, even though she had been around 13 when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center. Wisdom and knowledge she would learn are two different things and both require humility and respect.

I bought a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin  to try and find out why, even though my life is good I am still unhappy. This project started out as me trying to figure out how to make myself happier. Why is it that at 28 I am obsessed with figuring out ways to be happy. Didn’t I say it was the journey, not the destination? I feel guilty even now, for having the luxury of asking myself that question. I’m not starving for my next meal. I should be happy. I have a roof over my head. I should be happy. Maybe you feel the same way; there are all these great things in your life, but you just don’t feel happy.

So why am I telling my story?  Not because I’m famous, nor do I believe this blog will put my name anywhere but on the back burner of your mind, if I’m lucky you’ll be hoping when my next update will be.  I’m writing this to you because I want you not to feel alone. I want not to feel alone. We both, you and I, have stories to tell. We are millennials, and we have a lot to learn.

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