More and more people today are reporting feelings of listlessness, tedium, boredom, and general dissatisfaction with life. This at a time when the available choice of stimulation in our world has never been higher. We have 24-7 entertainment available at the touch of a finger. The movies are full of stimuli designed to peak excitement. Our theme parks increase the stimuli with wilder and wilder rides every year. The news, while often bleak, is full of threats, dangers, and fear-building information. Many new technologies are breaking ground in ways that both empower and potentially threaten us. I could go on—but with all this stimulation, why would so many people feel ennui?
There are two factors that I think undergird the foundations of this situation, especially among many of our younger generation. The first is stimulation overload. That is, as stimuli increases our threshold of arousal systematically and incrementally is increased. Consequently, the old Henry Fonda war movies are drab when compared to today’s Hollywood war epics. Pacman is boring compared to Call of Duty WWII. In short, in attempts to win attention, drive profits, and build audiences, our entertainment world has systematically desensitized our threshold of arousal. In so doing many find themselves lacking excitement and this can lead to listlessness and despair.
The second, and perhaps the more important reason comes down to the pace of life and the possibility of actualizing the reward incentives that have traditionally driven production in our country.
Our culture prioritizes money so much so that it nearly totally dominates the thoughts of all. Money is security. Money seems to outweigh the importance of good, and unfortunately, we see this altogether too much in the corporate boardrooms. Indeed, it’s the “fiduciary duty of the board to promote the value of the corporation.”1
This is not totally new, for business has always sought out greater profitability. However, more and more the world has become unaffordable for many. Young people cannot afford to buy a home, so they rent available space from corporations who keep raising the rent. Corporations have discovered the profitability in owning multiple single-family dwellings, used as Airbnb’s, lease rentals, and inflation hedging investments. As a result, prices soar, and that first-time starter home no longer exists. Add to this rising interest rates, money tightening, and young people are facing more and more work with diminishing returns and little hope of ever owning their own home. This is a broken American dream.
If you can’t get ahead, own your home, your so-called castle, what is the payday for subsisting in an ever faster-moving world? What is the purpose of life? And this is a question on the top of most people in the Millennial and Gen Z generation. No doubt it will be on generations to come as they graduate and enter the workforce.
Meantime the older generation, parents, and grandparents alike, often attempt to offer meaning in things like God, children, and legacy. But for the tiger chasing its tale, none of these things are satisfactory.
So, what is the answer? Obviously, the answer exists in the problem. How does society change the rules so young people can share in the pie? How does society dim down the stimuli so it’s not a constant bombardment of fear, anger, rage, and sexual stimulation? In other words, how do we turn the clock back or can we?
I have long advocated for more civility in our everyday lives. We need leaders who can disagree in a respectable manner. We need legislation that prevents corporations from buying up all the housing. We need starter programs designed to make it easier for young people to own their own homes. In short—we need to become more involved and less ignorant of the problems our younger generations are facing.
I like to close my thoughts on a positive note, but I must tell you, it’s hard to do when you get honest with yourself about this problem and the direction in which it is heading. The best I can do is to flesh it out some, bring attention to it, and encourage all of you to get involved. If you’re selling your home, refuse to sell it to anyone who is not going to live in it. Write your legislative representatives and make it a local and national issue. Turn off some of the stimulation, especially the divisive sort. Spend more time listening to young people and what they’re dealing with. Encourage the young people in your own circle of influence to take up activities that give them a sense of well-being, a break from the rat race. Encourage them to step away from the constant bombardment of negativity but don’t deny them the validity underlying their frustration.
In the end, hopefully, if we all do what we can, our actions will not be futile. We can only hope so. My thoughts anyway, as the father of two fine young men forced to deal with the world we have allowed to be created.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
Eldon Taylor, PhD
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusion
- Frankel, A. 2019. “If Corporations Don’t Put Shareholders First, What Happens to Business Judgment Rule?” Reuters. August 22, 2019.