OPINION: The Meaningless Generation: What’s Behind Young People’s Lack of Direction?

Photo by Fernando @cferdophotography on Unsplash

The younger generations seem to be struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives. A recent poll conducted by The Sun in the United Kingdom revealed that a staggering 89 percent of those aged 16 to 29 said their lives “lack any meaning or purpose.” This is a concerning trend, and it begs the question: What’s causing this widespread sense of purposelessness among young people? 

According to some experts, this kind of mindset connects to nihilism. Nihilism is the belief that life is inherently meaningless and that there is no objective purpose or value to anything. It’s a bleak worldview and one that seems to be running rampant among younger generations. Many young people today seem to feel like they’re just living on a floating rock in space, hurtling towards an inevitable end. From this perspective, it can be difficult to find meaning or purpose in one’s life. However, it’s important to remember that even if our existence is ultimately finite, it still has value and meaning.

With recent research showing a decline in traditional sources of meaning and purpose, such as religion or ideology, many young people today are left feeling lost and disconnected. So, what can we do about it? Perhaps we need something that replaces modern religion or ideology that many people don’t believe in. It’s clear that something needs to change. 

Without a clear sense of purpose and direction, it’s easy for individuals to fall into patterns of behavior that don’t contribute to their personal growth or the betterment of society. Part of the problem is that many young people are turning to distractions like social media, video games and TV to fill the void. These activities may provide temporary relief from boredom or anxiety, but they don’t contribute to one’s sense of purpose or worth. In fact, they often detract from it. 

For college students, this lack of purpose can manifest in a number of ways. Many students feel like they’re just going through the motions, attending classes and completing assignments without really understanding how their education fits into their larger goals. They may take on jobs or internships that neither challenge them nor contribute to their long-term career aspirations. They may spend their free time partying or engaging in other activities that don’t help them grow as individuals. 

But for those who do have a clear sense of purpose and direction, college can be a transformative experience. These students tend to be more focused and motivated, seeking out internships or volunteer opportunities that align with their career goals or taking on leadership positions in campus organizations. They pursue independent research or creative projects that help them explore their interests and develop their skills. 

In addition, college students in particular may feel isolated and disconnected from others, especially if they are living far from home or in a new environment. Social media can provide a sense of connection, but it’s no substitute for real-life interactions with others. 

The rise of single-person households and the rent-a-family industry, along with headlines saying that there has been an uptick in a loneliness “epidemic,” may indicate a shift away from traditional family structures. However, for some people, this trend could be due to a lack of clarity or direction regarding their life goals. Without a clear sense of purpose or direction, people may seek out solitary lifestyles, which can lead to negative consequences for both individuals and society.

Setting goals related to establishing a fulfilling career, starting a family or improving society may provide a sense of direction and purpose. Finding communities of like-minded people can be helpful in achieving these goals. For example, individuals interested in social issues may seek out groups focused on a particular cause. This may allow people to feel like they are working toward something bigger than themselves, an ultimate destination, a specific end goal.

Believing that life has no larger meaning or purpose can be a daunting thought. While some people may be able to cope with this mindset, for others, it can quickly lead to mental health issues. Feeling lost and without direction in life can create a sense of hopelessness and despair, leading to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. It is essential to recognize that this is a real concern and to provide resources to support individuals struggling with these feelings. At Bellevue College, students can access counseling services from the Counseling Center and career advising resources from the Center for Career Connections to help with navigating through these difficult times.