This article originally appeared on VICE Australia/New Zealand
I have more Facebook friends than I'm proud of. Many of them I likely wouldn't speak to on the street – several I might even re-introduce myself to – but boy, do I read the articles they share.
These aren't just any kind of articles. These are the "self-help" ones, those that thrust you deep into a spiral of self-evaluation. Even if I have very little in common with the person who shared How To Ruin Your Life (Without Even Noticing You Are), if it has a photo of some girl looking out at the water and the caption "too real," I'm going to read it.
I'll read it if it has significant "likes," I'll read it if doesn't. I'll even read it if I don't recognise the name of the person posting it – because what if I'm one click away from happiness? What if Matilda, online contributor and horse enthusiast from Wisconsin, knows something I don't? What if all of Matilda's rhetorical questions make me realise what I've been missing?
Articles like these, which continuously analyse and evaluate our own existence to explain things like why you're anxious, why you were ghosted, or why you're afraid of your own heart, are the reason sites like Thought Catalog, funnelled through social media, have achieved such rapid popularity.
The exploration of how-to articles and first-times exist because, as the site's founder Chris Lavergne explained to Time, "even the most jaded, cynical people feel things intensely." So what's driving millennials, in all their youth, to be so indulgent in sentimentality?
Psychologist Munira Haidermota attributes our continuous need for self-improvement to our hyper-awareness of our own self-image.
"This appears, to a degree, to be a new phenomena. Millennials were raised in an atmosphere of co-decision making and equal relationships, so evaluations from others is really important to use as a yardstick to evaluate sense of self." Haidermota also explains that there is a "collective confidence" in our generation that makes millennials feel particularly special.
"They're digital natives, making them a social generation. They are also a value-based generation and have been praised and sheltered and as such they do not like to consume anything in silence. They will review and compare."
Life coach Caitlin du Preez, 28, believes millennials are trigger happy when it comes to sharing information. but it doesn't translate to action. Image supplied.
Millennial life coach Caitlin du Preez says the main reason other millennials seek her help is job dissatisfaction. She's noticed young people will stay in jobs they don't enjoy because they perceive pressure from external sources, such as friends and family.
The proliferation of articles like I Quit My Job to Travel the World on our timelines seems to echo this sentiment, but this kind of content is something Du Prez doesn't support.
"I think following your dreams is important, but having a realistic method for how you're going to get there is just as important. Articles like 'I quit my job to live in Barbados and I've never been happier' is fine but if that's what you want, you need to have a plan in place to achieve it."
Du Preez does believe millennials are particularly "trigger happy" when it comes to sharing information, which generally doesn't translate to IRL action. "During the age of the internet, where there's so much information being shared, we're needing to be increasingly discerning about what's true and what's false."
Haidermota agrees that over-analysis can have a debilitating effect. "Over-analysis may stop us from taking an action as we are looking for a 'perfect solution'. It can have a paralysing effect on performance."
However, both experts agree that it's positive for mental wellbeing that millennials prioritise their personal life over career ambition, unlike previous generations. "I've noticed now when young people know they're unhappy in their current situation, they realise they don't have to do what their parents did. They don't have to stay in it for 30 to 40 years," Haidermota says.
Our affinity for self-evaluation and improvement is also making us better people, according to Haidermota and Du Preez.
"Millennials have at times been described as the 'me, me, me generation,' self obsessed and narcissistic," says Haidermota. "But this also makes them more progressive in their views and value diversity. They are overtly passionate about equality and conscious of self-improvement, so as to not offend any specific group or values."
Du Preez also says exploring ourselves via comparison is a way of dealing with the extreme social pressure enforced by our predecessors. "I think the system was created for personal gain and power, with little to no emphasis on the environmental sustainability or mental health.
"We see millennials often attacked in the media for not following previous generations, but kudos to us for shifting our focus. For exploring our feelings... and wanting to be something different."
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