Why are we chasing after everything?

The modern pursuit of ‘happiness’.

I recently had a discussion with my sister about ambition, careers, and my life path — typical for any university student. The resulting conversation stuck with me for a few days though; it was about why our generation is chasing everything, and what its doing to our relationships and mental health.

The majority of us start and continue our lives living with expectations set by everyone around us. To all the milestones, we crave to be the best — to get the into the best schools, the best universities, then gain the best internships, the best jobs, and hopefully as a result, the best life.

Then, outside of this academic/career bubble, we’re also set with expectations of how our relationships with others are to be set out. Who we’re supposed to be friends with, when we’re expected to get married, and an implicit understanding of the social roles we play in different circles.

I think that this alienates us. We end up with a smaller social circle, ergo a network of similar mindsets. Look at what that’s done to policy makers worldwide, and their elite circles; look at the rise of populism.

Continuing, all this talk of ‘the best’ doesn’t stem from us, not initially at least. What I’m referring to as the best is what is made from a social construct; its when we do or want things based on the fact that others want it too, or that the way others perceive us would be positively altered. We want all these things, in my experience, because of these factors — ultimately to impress other people, and to feel better about ourselves.

But do we actually feel better about ourselves? Do we know ourselves any better, or do we do all these things to get the assertion that we’re doing the ‘right’ thing? Does this image and euphoria last?

I feel as if my generation is still only discovering what it means to be ‘happy’ without the use of these props. We’ve been raised as if to be over reliant on praise (we’re nicknamed snowflakes, yay!), either in academic terms or in social currency. We’re addicted to praise and the idea that perception matters more than reality — which is why we’re obsessed with placing the highlights of our life only on Snapchat and Facebook instead of engrossing ourselves in moments. Our relationships have at times been ground down to artificial relationships, meant to show and enhance social standing as opposed to acting as positive support for our lives. Instead of an understanding of who we are, we’ve created an understanding of what we hope society sees us as without actually ever acknowledging that both can co-exist, and not create adverse mental health issues.

All of this pressure is unhealthy. To an extent, it can create and/or worsen mental health issues in youth. To which, society expects us (again) to not have any, and rarely offers sufficient support both socially and medically to help us not only understand what is happening to us, but what we can do to help ourselves. Some societies also continue to stigmatise those who diverge from traditional or accepted career and social paths; I’m not talking about those who take a gap year straight out of high school, but rather those who have had to face mental health issues during university when their safety net isn’t as strong.

I’ve also heard a phrase along the lines “They aren’t deserving of their achievements” from acquaintances; as if they have the power and the right to define what you deserve and what you are capable of. Funny how this works out right. Society thinks its job is to let you know what you should be doing, who you should be socialising with, but wants to give you freedom and let you know that any sign of difference isn’t necessarily supported. And sometimes, you listen to them.

I think its time we stop chasing after everything — all the wants and desires we’re implicitly and explicitly told we should have — and start chasing after ourselves. Its never too late to start.