26 Jul 2021

Bridie Jabour: How millennials can be happy

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:09 pm on 26 July 2021

When Bridie Jabour wrote a column in The Guardian about miserable millennials, she was shocked by the response.

She had hit a nerve she told Jesse Mulligan.

Jabour, despite having a good job and home life, was unhappy so she pitched a piece which was published during the holiday season.

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Photo: Supplied

“I certainly wasn't expecting any kind of reaction. And then when I woke up the next morning, more than 600,000 clicks around the world and emails, and interview requests from New York, from England, emails from India, parts of South America and Queensland here and they were some from New Zealand as well, actually.

“And so why do I think that I struck that nerve? I still haven't quite figured out, but I guess I just noticed something in common in the people hitting their early 30s around me.

“And then when I took a punt and put something out into the world, wondering if it was a thing, well it was very much confirmed that I’d struck a chord, but I was not prepared at all for the response that it got.”

Jabour has further explored the idea in a new book; Trivial Grievances: On the Contradictions, Myths and Misery of Your 30s.

So, what exactly is going on with thirty somethings? She says it is an existential crisis.

“I noticed it didn't really matter if they had started a new job, if they had a great career, if they were unemployed, if they had kids, if they were married, if they were single, it was right across the board, this kind of existential crisis was happening.”

There are a number of reasons for it, she suggests

“I think a lot of people in general in their 30s aren't hitting the same markers of adulthood, that their parents had made look really easier or made look easy.”

For one thing, full-time, long term work is scarce, Jabour says.

“We're well and truly in a gig economy now, and most people have a few different jobs, including myself, and I've got it good and still I have a few different jobs.

“It’s obviously harder to buy property, most of our parents in general had a family home by this age.”

And this can’t just be written off as a millennial whinge, she says.

“Oh boohoo they can't have a four-bedroom house. I don't think that's the issue, when people are talking about wanting to own property, it's not to be rich or a wealth thing, people want a home.

“Most rental rights in most developed countries aren't that great and you want to be able to settle down somewhere where you're not going to be kicked out at the whim of someone else, because they want to sell it, or they think there's a better way to make money with it, you want to even be able to do simple things like put a it frickin nail in the wall and hang up a picture.”

She writes that her generation seem not to enjoy the simplest of pleasures.

“Lots of people don't just have hobbies anymore, you've got to make them your side hustles or figure out a way to monetize it. You don't simply just read a book or read a few books anymore, you take photos of them and post the stuff on Instagram and show how many books you've read.”

 Cooking too has become performative, she says.

“There's Ottolenghi recipes to recreate and our creations to post on social media so that everyone can see how good we are at this and how well we're doing.”

People are increasingly siloed form one another, she says, although not religious she does see the role faith once played in community life.

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Photo: Harper Collins

“It wasn't so long ago that most people you knew went to church on a Sunday. So, you'd see your neighbours and friends there and then maybe you would have lunch after, but there was a set thing each week, a set place to go and gather and congregate.

“And we're losing those things more and more.”

Home life and work life are also increasingly blurred, she says.

“We're also part of a culture where it's expected of us to work hard.

“There's moral values in working hard, and you're seen as deficient or there’s something wrong with you if you don't work hard, or you don't want to work hard.

“And I think that that is a way bigger issue and something that's isolating people, much more than any smartphone or social media.”

Jabour has recently experienced traumatic events that have made her reassess her priorities, she says.

First her young son had a seizure and then she and her family were involved in a near fatal car crash.

“My two sons my husband and I were traveling on a highway and we got hit by a semitrailer from behind and our car rolled three times.

“The triple 000 said car hit by truck rolled three times. When you get a call like that, they dispatch the helicopter because of what they were expecting to see at the scene.”

“And we all walked away, completely fine - just incredible. The doctors, the paramedics couldn’t believe it.”

These incidents were “very big reminders about the vital stuff of life,” she says.

“When you have a moment like that it certainly brings into sharp relief what is important in life and what is not.”

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