Immersed in the college sphere, millennials waste the days away, partying constantly instead of studying or binging on Netflix like it’s a full-time job. But students are also motivated to work hard, juggling work and studying late into the night. Sometimes, media leads us to believe that college students should expect rows of shot glasses and trashcans overflowing with empty Natty Life cans. Harvard University’s Humanist Chaplain, New York Times Best-Selling author and reality show Married at First Sight expert Greg Epstein works with college students on a daily basis, and his experience shows that millennials explore their spirituality more than the world thinks.
We Think About the Future
While you see a student switching majors three times his freshman year, that student only wants to find a subject he’s passionate about to translate into his professional future. We can’t pick majors for the sake of a degree. Instead we need to think about what that degree will limit us to and whether that will make us happy in the long run. “If you don’t answer some of the big spiritual questions you have about life while you’re in college, then you could find yourself on a path 20-30 years later asking yourself, ‘Why did I spend so much time on a career that didn’t mean anything to me?’” Epstein said.
Epstein himself switched majors as an undergrad at the University of Michigan. In finding his passion, he also found his spirituality and his career path. “I got to college and thought I would major in psychology and political science. I thought I would go into politics…but I felt that the material we were studying [in class] was in some ways too pragmatic,” Epstein said. “I took my first religion class…freshman year and I fell in love with it. [To me, it was] the ultimate field of study…because religion classes forced me to ask everything from, ‘Who are human beings anthropologically and psychologically?’ to ‘Who are we scientifically?’ to ‘What is our history, what is our past, what’s our present [and] what’s our future?’”
Many students go into college with one idea of their future, and realize that idea won’t fulfill their spiritual and emotional needs past graduation. The only way to decide the best path takes time. “The future is always new. There’s no one set path.” Epstein said.
We Interconnect With Each Other
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube—these platforms, among many others, offer a world inside technology that allows people to connect with virtually anyone from anywhere. “The internet and the increase of connectedness that we have in our world today have made students more curious than [previous generations],” Epstein said. Instead of letters that take weeks to send to one person, a Wi-Fi connection can spread a message to millions of people in seconds. If we use these resources to work towards a greater good, imagine the possibilities that our parents’ and grandparents’ generations never imagined in their wildest dreams.
“The generation before me…they hardly had any friends from groups that were very different from them,” said Epstein. “Now you grow up with this assumption that you’re going to know a lot of people from very different racial and cultural groups, people of different sexual orientations, people from different countries, people who speak different languages. It raises all these interesting questions and it makes people deep thinkers.” Our personal spheres have grown exponentially with the integration of technology and the Internet, so the millennial generation possesses the tools to use these advantages for good.
We Ask The “Big” Questions
On the not-so-good days when you should be studying, or you feel so tired from studying only to learn you failed that test, you ask yourself some pretty deep questions. Why are we all here? What’s my purpose in life? And then you scroll through TV channels, only to watch a news clip that stirs unsettling emotions in the pit of your stomach. “A lot of the young people I know now ask more questions about racial injustice and feminism and the future of our planet,” Epstein said.
Asking these questions only gives us a start. Thinking critically about the world around us and thinking of rational solutions to carry out with the resources and technology we grew up with offers the next step. “Spirituality can be so powerful and so transformative if it is a path to having real convictions about what it is to live a good life,” Epstein said. “But if spirituality is just about not ever deciding what you believe in, and if it’s just about paying attention to how you feel instead of what you do, then it’s not really that deep [or impressive].”
We Form Communities
“I was raised to believe anything worth doing, I should do it alone…it was all about standing out and being unique,” Epstein said. “And so a huge change in my spirituality has been to recognize that I don’t always have to be unique and I don’t always have to be a star. Sometimes it’s really amazing to be part of a community.”
As a chaplain at Harvard, Epstein started off thinking he would answer all of the life-altering questions students ask themselves. His journey led him to a different understanding not only of his job and his spirituality, but also his outlook on the millennial generation’s future. “I never realized that I was going to find community to be so important but I guess what I found is that the best part of my job is not even teaching other people what the meaning of life is—it’s helping to bring them together to care about one another and help each other,” Epstein said. “If we’re really sincere and resist the temptation to go it alone, then we can have really meaningful individual lives as part of a community…I see more collaboration and more cooperation in people that are in college now than I saw when I was in college.”
With the world at our fingertips, our generation not only holds the resources, but also the time to really make a difference across the board, especially if we work at it together. Take a second to think about that.