Gen Z is less happy than the rest of us. Here is what would make a difference

ByMadeline Holcombe, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, April 11, 2024
Why is Gen Z is less happy than the rest of us?
Two factors were heavily correlated with Gen Z happiness: sleep and relaxation.

Gen Z is having a harder time than previous generations did at their age, according to new research. But the secret to increasing their happiness may be found in that data.

The survey, which was conducted by Gallup in conjunction with the Walton Family Foundation, collected data from more than 2,000 Americans from Generation Z (ages 12 to 26). It is one of a series of four surveys about Gen Z, said survey author Zach Hrynowski, a senior researcher at Gallup.

"What we're trying to do is put together a complete picture of what does Gen Z's life look like? What's important to them? How do they project their futures?" he said.

Of the people surveyed, about 75% reported being at least somewhat happy, the data showed. The number went down significantly as the kids and teens reached adulthood, however.

Gen Z people who are 18- to 26-years-old are less likely to rate their lives positively than older generations when they were in that age range, Hrynowski said, noting this analysis didn't do a direct comparison but used previous surveys to assess happiness levels of Gen Z and its predecessors.

Two factors were heavily correlated with Gen Z happiness: how much time they got for weekend sleep and relaxation, and even more important was their sense of purpose, he said.

Happiness was most predicted by a feeling of waking up each day and feeling like work or school is interesting and important, Hrynowski said.

"What is important to Gen Z is whether they feel like their life matters and they're making a difference, more so than, 'Am I going to work making a ton of money, getting a big promotion,' things like that," he added.

Purpose is more than chasing good feelings

Happiness is not made up of chasing as many positive emotions as possible, said Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a clinical psychologist in New York and author of "Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety."

It's about having a purpose and understanding that there will be ups and downs as you pursue it, she added.

Purpose also means pursuing things that deeply connect with one's sense of self, said Dr. Broderick Sawyer, a clinical psychologist in Louisville, Kentucky. Even if you aren't in a place where you can directly pursue your purpose, practicing skills or gaining education toward it can make what you do feel purposeful, he said.

"In essence, developmental years need to feel like they are going somewhere, rather than useless, aimless, or aligned with social or parental expectations," Sawyer said in an email.

Purpose doesn't have to center around a job, either. It can be about causes you support or the relationships you form, Carmichael added. In those cases, responsibilities like your career can feel more fulfilling because they are helping you work toward that purpose in some way.

Making health a priority

Better sleep means better rizz (as her kids would call it), said Dr. Rachel Salas, professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Insufficient or poor quality sleep can lead to lower mood and more irritability as well as issues with memory, concentration and focus, she said.

"Basically, (poor sleep) can affect their relationships and interactions with people around them which can affect their happiness," Salas said.

You might not be able to add more hours into your day for sleep, but you can make it a priority, she said.

"Disconnect from your electronics (an) hour before bedtime, don't sleep with your smart phone near you, limit screen time and be consistent with your bedtime and awakening time," Salas said in an email.

Gen Z puts a lot of effort into skin care and mental health, but bad sleep means looking tired and feeling badly, Salas said.

"If you are serious about your health, prioritize it," she said.

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