‘Generation Perfectionism’: The Real Reason Why Millennials are So Unhappy

Ever laughed at your parents for not being able to edit their social media settings…then had to Google how long it takes to boil an egg?

Or have you ever rung your boss on Monday because you felt ill on Sunday, and therefore felt deserving of another day off in order to enjoy “a proper weekend?”

Congratulations! You are already pegged as a ‘millennial’ – born after 1983 – and a member of a generation branded as the most entitled and self-absorbed in human history.

Gen Y. We’re a generation that has grown up in the age of rapid technological advancement.

We’ve seen slow dial-up modems replaced by high-speed broadband access, and the rise of multi-purpose smart devices. We can now call, text, surf the web, listen to music, watch videos and communicate simultaneously.

Hungry? With the tap of the button, UberEats will deliver a delish Guzman Y Gomez feast to your door in an instant. Counting down until the new season of ‘Game of Thrones’ is released in Australia? No need to wait – just stream it online.

Life is pretty sweet!

We’re living in an age full of opportunities to succeed and the freedom to become whoever we want to be – or at least that’s what our parents have always told us.

And with the affordances of social media and new technologies, we are more connected than ever before.

The world is our oyster.

So why on earth are we so unhappy?

 

The Research

According to Mission Australia’s latest survey findings, mental health is the primary concern among one-third of young Australians (33.7%), with women aged 16-24 twice as likely to be affected by a mental illness than men in the same age group.

Despite growing awareness and initiatives aimed at tackling mental illness, study after study claims that Millennials are more prone to forms of anxiety and depression than previous generations.

And finally, we may have found the reason why.

A report published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin suggests that an increased obsession with perfectionism among millennials is to blame for their higher-than-average levels of depression and anxiety.

In their paper, researchers, Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, define perfectionism as, “a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations”.  Curran and Hill found that majority of millennials showed signs of ‘multidimensional perfectionism’ – perfectionism driven by unrealistically high expectations.

“Crippling anxiety and depression are on the rise among a generation that feels greater pressure to be perfect than ever before.”

John Kuroski

Millennials can’t catch a break.

Curran and Hill suggest we are more demanding of both others and ourselves, and report higher levels of social pressure to be perfect in our careers, home lives, relationships, and friendships. This obsession leads to increased depression and anxiety.

Personally, I’m guilty of over-thinking and putting a huge amount of pressure on myself to juggle full time university, family, relationships, a full time job, and somehow have time a social life?!

And with graduation looming in July later this year, the process of submitting graduate applications has left me full of anxiety about the unknown.

What am I passionate about? What about the salary? Will I even get a job?

Oh god, what if I make the wrong decision?!

I somehow feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and I need to have my sh*t together and everything worked out.

Since when did we expect ourselves to be so perfect?

 

“You Can Do Anything!”…

In an interview with Inside Inquest, motivational speaker and author, Simon Sinek, suggests that everything from flawed parenting to social media is to blame for a generation ridden with unhappiness and self-entitlement.

 

We’ve grown up with our parents telling us “we were special all the time and could have anything we want in life. We got medals from coming in last and if we didn’t get into the best clubs, our parents complained,” Sinek explains.

He suggests that Millennials have “grown up in a time when greed was good and parents raised their kids encouraging them to be individual and put themselves first”. 

“Whilst it’s really great in theory, parents were also pushing their kids to get the top grades, focus on rankings, and make money, which has left them conflicted.”

The result?

When the harsh reality of life hits, you have an entire generation with a lower self-esteem than previous generations.

“They’re thrust in the real world and in an instant they find out they’re not special, their mums can’t get them a promotion, that you get nothing for coming in last”  

Simon Sinek

 Look at Me, Look at Me!

However, it doesn’t just come down to our parents.

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Barbara Greenberg, suggests that growing up in an age of social media is much to blame for Millennials’ constant need for praise and their inability to deal with negative feedback. Likes and followers are the new social currency and all we seem to care about is keeping up appearances online.

There is no hiding. The constant pressure to be ‘selling ourselves’ by making our profiles look a certain way to impress employers and create a ‘personal brand’ leaves us in the spotlight 24/7. These days, a single photo looking a bit messy on a night out on the drink could cost you the dream job.

Millennials have “grown up being constantly evaluated on social media… when you are constantly under a literal and figurative microscope – the microscope being social media – of course you are going to become more self-conscious,” Greenberg explains.

And I’ll be the first to say that

It.

Is.

Exhausting.

A recent Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey found that 18 – 24-year-old Australians check their phones up to 200 times a day.

The study found that more than 80% of Australians can’t last an hour after waking before checking their phones, with more than half of 18 – 24 year olds check theirs within five minutes of waking up.

With social media accessible at the tap of a button, it’s easy to begin comparing ourselves to othersAnd if you say you don’t, you’re a liar.

But why do we compare ourselves to people who are not us?

According to the social comparison theory, we determine our personal self-worth based on how we compare to others around us. Throw social media into the mix and you’ve got yourself a recipe for failure.

How does she balance motherhood, a full time job and look like that when I’m barely managing life?

Why can’t I look that good in a bikini on a fabulous overseas vacation?

How can I get a glamorous job like that?

Look at how perfect their life is.

Sound familiar?

Steve Furtick suggests “one reason we struggle with insecurity is because we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel”.

The reality is that behind every picture uploaded on social media, there are often hundreds of photos that didn’t make the cut.

Research suggests the significance of social media’s negative influence on young peoples’ self-esteem and wellbeing, particularly in relation to body image. In their study, Professors, Deborah Richards, Patrina Caldwell, and Henry Go, found that those with lower self-esteem were more inclined to use ‘selective self-presentation’ where they present themselves only in a positive way on social media.

“People don’t post photos when they’re struggling, or studying, or when their friends leave them out. They post pictures of themselves feeling good, out with friends or on holidays,” Dr Greenberg explains.

This is where it becomes problematic. People look at heavily edited and photoshopped photos and think “Oh wow, their life looks so good!”

*Cue the comparison*

Nowadays, there are apps that feed our desire for perfection. There’s apps that allow us to morph our bodies to look like supermodels, plan out the ‘aesthetic’ of our Instagram feed, and even apps that tell us who has unfollowed us.

And it fuels our anxiety.

A recent study investigating social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing found that Instagram is the worst of the mix. While the photo-based platform scored points for self-expression and self-identity, research found that it was also associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, and FOMO – the “fear of missing out”. 

“Young people are increasingly used to ‘filtering’ their lives and presenting only their best ‘self’ at the expense of reality.

 Simon Sinek 

While social media was originally created to easily share moments of our lives in a nonchalant fashion, it’s perhaps taken a turn for the worse. Curran and Hill, stress that “this is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies”. 

The result? Today’s youth are overwhelmed by messages about how they should behave, how they should look, or what they should own; fuelling their desire for perfectionism to portray the ‘perfect aesthetic’ online.

 

What Can We Do About It?

Things don’t happen in an instant.

Building self-confidence, finding job fulfilment, being happy, and developing loving relationships all take time.

And for a generation that craves instant gratification, this may be tough to swallow.

So, what’s the solution?

Sinek suggests it’s time for young people to put down their smartphones and take a more long-term view of life.

The problem with perfectionism is that it is laden with anxiety. “You’re chasing after something very elusive, and of course it leads to problems, because nobody can be perfect and nobody should be perfect,” Dr Greenfern stresses.

Personally, whenever I get stressed or anxious about trying to ‘have it all worked out’, I try to take a look at the bigger picture. I’ve come to learn that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to putting pressure on myself to be perfect, and often, that’s a much harder thing to tackle.

However, by taking a step back and realising all of the trivial first-world problems I worry about helps me to realise either a) how ridiculous I sound, or b) to clear my head and focus on what is truly important. I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt is how helpful it is to talk through things with people that you trust. I can always rely on the people who care about me to offer some trusty advice for when I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious… and yes – even about the most trivial of things like what I’m going to eat for dinner that night.

If talking to others isn’t your thing, psychologist Tamar Chansky suggests we can start by increasing our tolerance for growth, focusing on the ride, not just the destination, and de-stigmatising our mistakes.

So, if the expectation of “having it all” is affecting your mental health, remember there’s no such thing.

And that’s totally okay.

 

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about mental illness contact BeyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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