I was having an interesting discussion with my grandmother recently. You see, my grandmother strongly believes that everything used to be better when she was young. She believes that young people nowadays are entitled, lazy and spoiled. In this particular discussion, she gave me a long tirade about how hard she used to work and how she never complained about it. She couldn’t understand how so many young people nowadays are overwhelmed with seemingly simpler lives. She cannot wrap her mind around ‘generation burnout’. Of course, she is right in one aspect. Her generation did work incredibly hard and had to endure a lot. Jobs were just as scarce and competitive as they are now. Luxuries, such as showers and washing machines, were not part of everyday life. Life revolved around working from dawn until dusk. Is it true then that our generation is just lazy and spoiled?
The Good Ol’ Days
I wholeheartedly agree that people used to work hard (and perhaps harder) when my grandmother was young. But life was also a whole lot simpler. It had a certain regularity. The experience of time was different. People were not always ‘on’. There were no mobile phones and laptops and Sundays were for lazing around. Rest was actually rejuvenating since there were no distractions screaming for attention. Yes, people worked incredibly hard, but afterward, they rested ‘hard’.
Work itself was also different. Before the advent of the internet, information was stored in archives and libraries. Communication with people outside of your office was limited and slow. There was no information overload. The brain was not constantly bombarded with high volumes of stimuli which needed to be filtered, sorted and categorised.
And then there was the lack of choice. Partly, this was due to the high cost of living. Wages were spent on necessities and with the shortages of war still fresh in their minds, people did not spend their money frivolously. That is, until the marketing boom of the 70s. The recession of the 70s gave a surge to an aggressive call for consumerism and marketing told us we needed ‘always more’ to be happy. This has bloomed into an economy of endless choices.
We are not victims
I am not writing this as a pity party. Our generation does not need sympathy. It just needs understanding. Of course, in a lot of ways, we have it infinitely better than the generations before us. Choices can offer freedom. Washing machines did make our lives easier. The internet allows us to stay in touch with those we love. Modern-day life brings with it so many wonderful advancements that we should be grateful for. But it also brings its set of challenges.
Undisturbed rest has become a luxury. It is no longer a given in our society. Everything is set up to always keep us ‘tuned in’. No wonder then that routines and rituals are more popular than ever. Whereas a steady order of the day used to be the standard, we now have to plan downtime into our lives. Time for reflection must be scheduled into our overfull agendas. Stress has become the norm.
With the way our society is set up, it is no wonder that we have become ‘generation burnout’. It is not necessarily because we work so hard. It is also not because we are lazy and entitled. Rather, it is simply because we are ‘on’ all the time. The fabric of our culture means that switching ‘off’ is no longer ingrained in day-to-day living.
That doesn’t mean we are doomed to a life of stress and anxiety. A stress-free life is simply no longer a given. We can avoid stress in our generation, but we shouldn’t expect any help from the societal fabric in which we live. I know for myself that I need to actively prioritise rest. I need to schedule in time to do nothing. Sometimes, it takes a few weeks of ‘active rewiring’ before my brain finally stops feeling the urge to check social media, google the sustainable lunchboxes I ‘need’ or watch 30 cat videos in a row.
So, there you have it. My little two cents on generation burnout. To come back to my grandma’s point of view, I completely understand her. It must seem strange from the outside that our generation seems so ‘delicate’. We don’t work harder, and we have never had to worry about where our next meal came from (hopefully!).
But when you factor in all the choices, information and opinions we are bombarded with 24/7, it is easy to understand how it all becomes too much sometimes. We might not have to work as hard as previous generations, but we do need to work twice as hard to keep stress at bay. In the coming months, I will explore different ways to keep the stress at bay and see what works best for me. Stay tuned!