Is it Time to Embrace Generation Zen?

‘Live fast, die young’ was once the mantra for generations of angsty teen rebellion, but as Generation Z enter the era of cautious hedonism, is it being laid to rest?

Amid the increase in educational and performance pressures placed on young people, a collective shift towards health and wellness, and far greater online visibility of their generation, there’s little room left for adolescent debauchery. In fact, some 60% of 16-22 year olds feel the need to succeed and make money, according to Ipsos.

We know that Gen Z are using fewer Class A drugs than previous generations. Illicit drug use by US high school students fell from 22.6% to 14% between 2007 and 2017, while cigarette smoking among adolescents has decreased 81%, reaching historically low levels since its peak during the 1990s. Higher taxes on cigarettes, increasing bans on smoking in public spaces and off-putting packaging have all played a part in this, however the biggest factor could easily be Gen Z’s prioritisation of healthy long-term habits over the short-term satisfaction of mindless rebellion.

At present, a quarter of teens aged 15-17 state they worry about staying healthy, so when they do seek escapism, anything with added mind and body benefits is proving popular – but in its more subtle forms. With 91% of Gen Z reporting that they have felt depressed or anxious due to stress, it’s evident that the need to unwind is more crucial than ever. But when you know too much to care too little, is there any space left for exhilarating and exceptional delights?

One facet is the pursuit of natural hedonistic alternatives for work and play. Where Millennial and Gen X workers opt for amphetamine-laced performance boosters such as Adderall or micro doses of LSD, younger generations are exploring magic mushrooms as a means of enhancing productivity and creativity.

Having recently been proclaimed the safest recreational drug study, according to the Global Drug Survey, these natural mind-expanding alternatives speak to younger generations more so than their highly-synthetic, harmfully cut counterparts. In fact, they could be an aid for boosting mental wellbeing. ‘Recent trials of psilocybin, a close pharmacological cousin to LSD, have demonstrated that a single guided psychedelic session can alleviate depression when drugs like Prozac have failed,’ explains Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind.

But with daily lives that are overloaded with stimuli, the real and more accessible vacation from reality has driven a surge in spiritual practices. According to a recent NIH survey, the number of Americans aged 4-17 practicing yoga has more than doubled in the past five years, while those exploring meditation has grown from 0.6% to 5.4% of the population. As Gen Z Insights reports, this generation is entirely consumed with the concept that health equals happiness: ‘This doesn’t just mean jogging a couple of times a week and ordering the occasional salad; Gen Z consider their wellness as part of a larger holistic puzzle, encapsulating fitness, eating right, and mental health.’

Perhaps, then, it would be too puritanical to claim that hedonism has had its heyday. As Voltaire once said: ‘The pursuit of pleasure must be the goal of every rational person’. But tomorrow’s audiences are awakened to the fact that escapism needn’t come at the cost of personal health.

Health and wellness enterprises will of course reap the benefits of this new mindset, but what about brands selling health-impacting products such as alcohol, tobacco or confectionary? They may have been able to coast through thanks to older generations’ tendency to give into temptation, but for Generation Zen, it means overhauling their offers and finding new product pathways to non-damaging decadence.

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