The Quarter Life Crisis is a million different things to a million different people. To me, it's the reason why I ate an entire pack of biscuits in bed last night and also why I can recite entire episodes of Sex and the City, but couldn't tell you what I learned in my lecture this morning. It's how I somehow afford to buy a long black on the walk to work every morning, but haven't had the leak in my roof fixed since brownish-coloured water started dripping down my bedroom walls six months ago. For such a long time now, my quarter life crisis has been who I am and what I do, but I've never really thought much about what is actually happening in my brain. I generally prefer to focus on convincing myself it's OK to be a little bit useless and lost.
But because it's nice to have an actual scientific reason why it's fine to wallow, it was to my delight that I discovered some diligent psychologists somewhere, who obviously don't shy away from Asking the Big Questions, have identified the quarter life crisis as this thing called a "paradox of choice".
The paradox is that, in this crazy modern age where we have so many more options than previous generations did (from what we can buy to where we can live to who we can marry to what we can be when we grow up), the array of possibilities is leaving us unable to make any lasting and satisfying decisions. So, basically: your quarter life crisis is about having too many good options. POOR YOU.
The problem with having too many good options is that it doesn't even feel like you have any option except to put off choosing for a long, long time. The psychologists called this 'decision fatigue', which means we reach a point where we just can't be fucked weighing up possibilities anymore, and we stop even being excited about them. Put simply: we get tired of making decisions, so we give up.
The "paradox of choice" totally explains why the quarter life crisis is a modern phenomenon that our forefathers wouldn't dreamed of indulging in during the Good Old Days. In the last fifty years, there has been a sharp rise in depression, despite the ever increasing per capita income, quality of education, life expectancy and overall quality of life. Basically, as life has gotten easier, we have gotten worse at enjoying it; we're too used to being content, and have grown so accustomed to doing what we want, when we want to do it, that we've lost our capability to make the hard decisions and do all the hard work that it takes to Be Adult. Quarter life crises are a thing because life is getting too easy. POOR US.
The value that we put on money is also much higher than it has been in the past. In a research of 200,000 university students from 1966 to 2010, the percentage of students who rated a life of "being very well-off financially" as very important/essential has grown from around 40% to nearly 80%. Meanwhile, the students who rated "developing a meaningful life philosophy" has decreased from above 80% to below 50%. Young people have seriously changed their ideas of what it will take to "make us happy". Sadly, due to the new importance placed on wealth, what will "make us happy" always seems to be things we don't yet have. Instagram, I think, is definitely part of the problem, because it builds up the idea that every else's lives are so much more plentiful and perfect than our own: everyone else's breakfast looks so much prettier than mine does! EVERYONE ELSE'S BEDROOM IS SO MUCH MORE TASTEFULLY DECORATED THAN MINE IS. What is life?!
There's an end in sight though - basically when we find more important shit to care about like love and kids and jobs. Jobs are super important now that we're all such gold-diggers (and relatively more educated): studies say that somewhere between making $20,000 to $75,000, correlation between income and happiness breaks down.
But how we're meant to get those jobs is still somewhat of a mystery and if I knew I would probably definitely not be sitting here at 2 a.m., writing this and listening to ABBA when I could be getting more than 8 hours sleep for the first time in a week. I don't know what's meant to help, but I do know what won't (from experience): Buzzfeed quizzes. Going vegetarian for a week. TED talks. Tequila.
Just because we now have a better understanding of what causes the quarter life crisis doesn't mean we're any closer to figuring out how to get past it. But a good place to start would probably be to figure it out for yourself, you lazy piece of shit.
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