The Covid-19 pandemic forced many people to reflect on their true goals in life. Some people started their own businesses, while others changed career paths. Due to self-reflection, I changed the college I was attending as a freshman in the fall of 2020. Unlike previous generations, Generation Z values a work-life balance more than getting a raise. Mental health is finally beginning to value more than professional goals.
The happiest countries in the world
Generation Z grew up with parents who were taught that success is of the most importance. Things like paid maternity leave, generous vacation time, and personal time off are luxuries to previous generations. Consequently, research shows that rates of anxiety and depression are increasing (and this research doesn’t even include the Covid-19 pandemic). With an emphasis on productivity and social media, no wonder more individuals are depressed as workaholics. Sure, having a work schedule is important as a functioning individual in society. However, it isn’t the key to life. The U.S. needs to compare its priorities to Finland and Denmark.
Finland and Denmark are the happiest countries in the world and have been for quite some time. “Free healthcare” and “low crime rates” are definite aspects of that statistic to consider. The increasing cost of education, living, and violence in the United States are facts that cannot be avoided. In addition, we are one of the most divided countries to date. Living in the United States is definitely not a walk in the park. Jeff Sachs understands this as a co-creator of the World Happiness Project and a professor at Columbia University. When asked about why those countries have the key to happiness, he talks about the value of balance:
“They’re not societies that are aiming for all of the effort and time to becoming gazillionaires, they’re looking for a good balance of life and the results are extremely positive.”
On average, Danish citizens work 37 hours a week. This is a significant decrease from American citizens. While most Americans see individuals working late as productive, the Danish see it as useless. Americans “can’t get things done in the allotted work time,” Kay Xander Mellish explains. As the author of “How to Work In Denmark” explains, time away from work is the most important. Work is separate from play. Generation Z understands this, but older generations see them as “lazy and entitled.” Rather than the younger generation being selfish, older individuals are becoming professionally outdated. As the saying goes, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’
Forbes writer Kathy Caprino spoke with Bronnie Ware about her research on regrets when dying. Ware finished up 8 years of work with dying individuals, which compelled her to start a blog. She interviewed plenty of individuals who had deep regrets throughout the course of their lives. In addition, this changed her own life completely. From her research, here are the top five regrets:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Like the Danish values, happiness, mental health, and community are extremely vital. For Ware personally, she began to understand the “sacred” value of time. She divulged on this, saying,
“I realized that the pain of breaking through any amount of resistance would never be as heart-wrenching as lying on my deathbed with regrets. This has propelled an ever-expanding habit of courage that has shown me how we are all so much more capable than we realize. We just need the courage to get out of our own way.“
Most people have lost someone they love throughout the course of their lives. It is understandable that success is something that everyone wants to achieve, but there is a way to define your personal success. Having regrets when dying has much more weight than the inherent value of work.
A family isn’t everything
Childbirth rates have declined significantly, especially since the pandemic. It has fallen about 19% since 2007, a record number throughout the past 50 years. Many individuals (especially baby boomers) reacted to this statistic with deep concern and anger. They see this as a harmful number to the world population, with selfish individuals becoming future leaders. But, we have to ask ourselves, is that such a bad thing?
There are many theories to this dip, with none of them completely proven. One is that women are making names for themselves in their careers. However, 20 or more years ago, women had their children in their early twenties when their careers had just begun. With women’s rights on the rise, we are beginning to understand that the trajectory for our lives is under our control. If we want to have a child at 35 instead of 22, that is completely fine. Just like the work-life balance, mental health is the most important factor. Tess Jackson had an unplanned pregnancy in high school and is extremely happy with the social acceptance of a delayed pregnancy. She talked about the change with great happiness:
“My mom and my grandmother could not imagine having an adult life without having children. Now there is less of a social requirement to have them. There are other options on the table.”
Millennials and Generation Z have tapped into a concept that previous generations could not with social acceptance. For the first time, happiness and mental health are key in every career path. The world needs to listen to their ideas and mindsets to envision an improved future.