adding meaning
Take a deep breath and slow down. You have time to figure things out. (Illustration by Francesca Mahaney, Pratt Institute)
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adding meaning

Your 20s might feel aimless, but there’s a way to hit the reset button.

Ah, millennials. We’re the most educated, worst paid generation, we have accrued over $1.5 trillion in student debt, we’re apparently killing our country’s most valuable industries … need we go on? Without discounting the struggles of previous generations, it’s safe to say that millennials have a lot on their plate: the desire for financial security, having to work multiple jobs or being unable to move away from home; and, on top of that, the world is in the midst of sociopolitical, economic and environmental crises, which will ultimately fall on millennials to solve. Finding a way to add meaning to our lives is the least of our worries.

It’s no wonder that mental health problems (particularly depression) are on the rise for young people. These constant concerns are complex and exhaustive, often to the point of burnout. You might be feeling it now, in your 20s or 30s: feelings of extreme stress, aimlessness or disdain. You have trouble finding purpose in your choices, and you’re looking for a way to add meaning back into your life.

This circumstance is aptly named the quarter-life crisis, and it’s not a rare phenomenon, either; in fact, one study in England suggests that almost 60% of millennials have lived this experience.

How do we bounce back from this?

Scavenge the internet for information about the quarter-life crisis, and you’ll find how-to articles about patience, goal-setting and, most importantly, avoiding your peers’ highlight reels on social media (because apparently, we’re too sensitive to enjoy the successes of others). These suggestions aren’t bad advice by any means, but they do lack a certain proactive quality that might actually work to bring you out of your existential rut.

Overthinking the big questions that a quarter-life crisis poses — like “Am I choosing the right path?” or “Will I be successful?” — is tiring and counterproductive, because most of these questions are unanswerable (at least for the time being), and worrying only perpetuates feelings of anxiety.

Instead, take a step away from the big picture entirely; oftentimes, the easiest way to solve a problem is to let it rest idly in your mind. In the meantime, turn to activities that add meaning back into your life. They don’t have to be even remotely related to the source of your worries; just focus on promoting feelings of purpose and effecting positive change in the world. If nothing else, these activities will let you hit the reset button on your life, sans risk. They might also provide answers to those heavy questions that you hadn’t considered before.

To start, make a list of things that you know bring purpose into your life. Maybe it’s playing with animals, or perhaps participating in a beach cleanup or even just spending time with loved ones; they can be challenging, relaxing, cathartic, responsible or all the above.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some ideas:

Volunteer

Giving back to the community can be an eye-opening experience. We are culturally primed to be compensated for our work, so it can feel counterintuitive to break a sweat for nothing more than the satisfaction of doing so, but volunteer work does wonders for communities, and gives volunteers the opportunity to build new relationships and gain career skills, while improving their health along the way.

Take on a Side Hustle

Since many millennials work multiple jobs anyway, finding a gig on the side shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment. A part-time job allows you to explore your own interests while developing professional skills in a low-stakes environment; plus, since you don’t spend a lot of time on the clock, you won’t find yourself consumed by the work. Instead, you’ll gain some new perspective and get to take home a little extra cash each week.

Reevaluate Your (Real-Life) Friends List

You did your post-grad friends cleanse on Facebook, but what about outside of the virtual world? If you haven’t scrutinized your buddy list in a while, you might find that many of your relationships drag you down. We become what we surround ourselves with, so do yourself a favor and be picky about who’s in your corner.

Do your friends make you a better person? Are your stress levels higher or lower when you see your pals? If they’re not doing you any good, cast them away. It might sound harsh, but running a tighter friend ship (see what I did there?) plays a huge role in your future success.

While we’re at it, once you get that exclusive list pinned down, don’t forget to nurture those friendships; just like any other relationship, they take work. Interpersonal mindfulness goes a long way.

Travel

The great thing about travel is that it has something to offer everyone. Whether you prefer the city scene, a laid-back environment or simply want to experience something new, there are endless opportunities around the globe; sometimes, it’s as easy as driving downstate.

But if you’ve ever wanted to gain serious perspective, travel to another country. Immersing yourself in different cultures keeps you open-minded, and perhaps it’ll show you a way to look at things that you hadn’t previously considered and can add meaning to your day-to-day life. Traveling has also been associated with increased levels of happiness, creativity and health (so get out there!).

Engage Your Spirituality

Give your inner self some love. This is a broad suggestion, because it can encompass many different practices; however, keeping your spirituality in check is arguably one of the best ways to live meaningfully. This might mean getting involved religiously, but, more than that, spiritual people are on a mission to discover their innermost selves.

Maybe for you, that practice looks like meditation, journaling, yoga or simply taking a walk around the block; almost anything can be plausibly categorized as a spiritual practice if it helps you connect with yourself and the world around you. Spiritually healthy people have it good: They are generally happier, less stressed and are less likely to have physical health problems.

Adding Meaning: A Lifelong Skill

Climbing out of the rut of aimlessness isn’t easy. Questioning our decisions is inevitable; worrying is a habit we often can’t help but indulge in, but no matter how hopeless you might feel right now, you will eventually triumph.

Once you’re finally on the other side of the dreaded quarter-life crisis, you might see how it acts as a microcosm for life. Everyone questions themselves; everybody has doubts. The good news is that it’s fixable. Implementing purposeful practices is a universal remedy, and, honestly, it’s a sound practice no matter your age or circumstance. Perhaps as a whole, the meaning of life is simply to lead a meaningful life.

 

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