Today’s young adults — the Millennial Generation and Generation Z — appear to be the loneliest generation, recent studies show. The culprits are different is each of the studies: Personal environment, economics, relationships, employment (or lack it), or lack of finances. As I fall into this category, I have pondered about loneliness. Is it the problem of this generation? Is it possible that the previous generation too felt the same? And what is it really that makes us feel lonely?
I guess one of the reasons is that most people from this generation are socially isolated. It’s not about preferring to be alone but choosing to avoid connecting with others. That doesn’t necessarily mean surrounding yourself with people all the time, as lots of people work in groups but hardly ever form relationships outside of their workplace. Many young adults feel isolated and left out without anyone to talk to or confide in. We are all essentially feeling around this “adulting” thing and yet we find it difficult to relate to others.
We can’t blame this technological advancement, saying that it’s the gadgets’ fault for our lack of human connection. That is trying to simplify what is a complex situation, and failing to focus on the other things that contribute to young adults’ loneliness. Contrary to popular belief that social media ruin the way people form connections, some find solace online. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I do believe online relationships (friendship and romantic) are genuine connections and aren’t any less real because of the physical distance. However, I am concerned about how people perceive the lives of their peers that are projected online.
People only post the good parts of their lives online — travels, job promotions, even fancy catching-up dinners with old friends. Although we are aware that what we see on social media is hardly the full truth behind our friends’ lives, it still affects us because we begin comparing. There’s a lot of possible responses to this. Either we try to make quick, temporary changes to our lifestyle to feel better, or we make an effort to appear better on social media to “keep up” with our peers. That’s when loneliness kicks in. Being socially isolated doesn’t give us a sense of belonging with other people or groups, which makes us feel sad, anxious and inadequate.
Being overly goal-oriented is yet another reason. It is important to have goals and plans to achieve them, but what most young adults do is treat every stage of their life as a transition period to the next stage. We always chase success, just treating each step as something we must quickly pass so that we can get on with what we want. We keep chasing success when every step of our journey is a success in itself. It is common among Millennials and Gen Zeds to feel uneasy when nothing is being accomplished. We have begun to think that having downtime is wrong, and it makes us feel sad when we aren’t productive. We don’t like being idle because we think of what could have been done in the time that has passed.
The lack of achievements also contributes to loneliness. Older people often brag about their accomplishments, starting sentences with “When I was your age ...” and ending them with expectations of the next generation to do the same. If they were able to pay off their college debts and save up for a car and a house while working two jobs, they can’t expect us to do the same. These expectations make us feel that we’re not doing enough. We don’t feel adults yet because we don’t have these typical things that would make us feel like one. We don’t have our place, we can’t afford three healthy meals a day, and don’t have lots of money saved up. We aren’t entirely independent yet, and feeling like we’re “supposed” to have achieved a lot at a particular age puts a lot on pressure on us. There are always reminders that life isn’t a race, but when your environment tells you otherwise, it’s difficult to feel satisfied at where you are in life.
How can we tackle loneliness? Any solution would involve changing the mindset of a very large group of people, but we can start with one person. Remember: Don’t measure yourself up with other people’s accomplishments. You aren’t alone in what you’re going through, and you will get through eventually. We all do.
Carla Delgado is a theatre practitioner and freelance writer from the Philippines.