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What’s It Like Being 20®? – Chapter 4: Philosophies Of Life

What’s it Like Being 20®? – Chapter 4: Philosophies of Life

The 4th installment from an enlightening study of GEN Z: 20-year-olds and their attitudes, behaviors, and feelings about their world and future.

This release examines a pretty heady topic for any generation – PHILOSOPHIES OF LIFE. What is a 20-year old’s view on the meaning of life? And how well are they actually living that philosophy?

Well – philosophically speaking – we may have stumbled upon a common truth across all generations: the belief that life should be about being happy and having fun! Sweetness and light. Rainbows and balloons. Sigh. If only…

But it is this theme that nearly 40% of our sample had in common.  The idea of YOLO – “You only live once” – provided much of the support behind the “happiness and fun” philosophy.


The 20-year-olds we surveyed embrace a (perhaps surprisingly) more mature perspective of YOLO.  Despite their relative youth and inexperience, they readily recognize that they only have one shot at life. But they lean into the idea of YOLO not so much as an excuse to pursue the frivolous, but more as a rallying cry to push boundaries that will drive growth and empower them to live life to the fullest. For them, YOLO goes deeper and is more closely tied to getting busy with the important stuff.  Having one chance to make life right means they have to work towards knowing themselves and becoming the best version of that by acting accordingly. 


For our Gen Zs, life is – or at least should be – about achieving happiness. Appreciating the beauty of life itself – in any given moment, developing meaningful, mutually-rewarding relationships and recognizing that you’ve got one shot to do all of this.  For this generation, born at the dawn of a new millennium, self-actualization once again tops the pyramid of Maslow’s legendary “Hierarchy of Needs.” Today’s 20-year-olds seem to not only recognize and want to fulfill that need, but also to have laddered it up to an experiential benefit of achieving happiness by truly LIVING and having fun – saying “yes!” to new adventures and experiences.

“Saying ‘yes” and taking on new experiences even though they’re out of your comfort is experiencing life to the fullest. Like kind of putting yourself out there, doing things that you wouldn’t usually do. Like I hear my friends all the time saying, “come on, when’s the last time you’re ever going to blah, blah.” And then I’m like, ‘yeah, you’re right,’ and I do it.” – Irene

“I don’t really like worrying about things… but like just kind of want to experience new things. And like why not just say yes? I am in a sorority on campus, and we had a person come into my group and she was talking about instead of saying, “yes, but”, saying “yes, and.” And I was always that person being like, “yeah, but like I have to do this tomorrow”. But now I’m trying to say, “yes, and let’s do this” kind of things. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so why not go do it?” Catherine


If the right to pursue your own happiness is the end game, then the way to reach it is through self-actualization – becoming your best self by living in and enjoying the present. Another 38% of respondents tell us that life means working on trying to discover who you are and staying true to that image, while at the same time learning, growing, pushing your boundaries and evolving to become the best version of yourself.  The way you live, love and do right by others – being “a good person” and being a positive force in the world (“having an impact on the world while having fun”) and the lives of those you meet – is of utmost importance and critical to finding and fulfilling your purpose in life for this generation.

“It’s live your best life and be yourself one day at a time. It’s just trying to be the best person that you can be, like each and every single day.” – Cole

“(Life is) all about finding who you really are and…to make the world a better place. I think as I get older, I’ll keep learning more and more about myself.” – Kailey


The thing is, though, 20-year-olds don’t seem to feel they are actually living their philosophies. In a focus group setting, they agree philosophically with the idea that life should be about the pursuit of happiness. But in reality, they express a frustration that day-to-day life, the intrusion of mobile devices and social media, worries about their future, and the sheer unknown sometimes get in the way of that pursuit (could be another common truth across generations). In fact, some wonder if they will ever be able to achieve such lofty platitudes and maintain true human connections. 

“Who knows if we’ll always ever  be truly happy with ourselves?” Holly

“I think we’re a generation that really looks on our phones, so I think life is more now trying to live a life off the phone and it’s not all about just that Instagram post or that Snapchat video. Its more about like, yeah taking the photos and memories, but actually being and living in the moment kind of thing.” Catherine

“I feel like as a society, a lot of our anxieties come from thinking about the future or like even social media, looking at other people’s lives, having anxiety that stems from that. But like, if you literally live in this exact moment and only focus on what will make you happy right now, that’s like the way to do it.” – Justin

“I do think about like, “what if this happens or what if that happens?” Whether it’s about like friends or family or like – just something bad, like someone gets sick. Like I think about that all the time. Like, “what would I do? How would my life change?” Irene


It’s a tricky issue – how do marketers address Gen Z’s desire for discovery, self-actualization and happiness while still being authentic and trustworthy?  We know from our research with this group that being “real” is a critical delivery requirement among 20-year-olds from any brand they adopt. 

We delved more deeply into this with our focus groups.  The “BS meter” has a low threshold among this age cohort and it can be a challenge to earn their trust (see Chapter 3 on Brand Affinities).  The first step in doing this is to PERFORM: consistently and reliably do what your brand promises to do and deliver on your stated benefits.  Brand loyalty must not only be earned, but consistently nurtured by providing what is expected. 

But for a brand to truly resonate, it also needs to align with this group’s altruistic values – to give back and support meaningful causes.  Remember this generation wants to have fun, but also to have a positive impact on the world at the same time.  As a brand, you need to connect and deliver on that ethos.

Next up in the “Being 20®” Series: The Best and Worst of Being 20®  

Gen Z-ers give a candid revelation about the ups and downs of being who they are and why they are different from those who came before them.

Our “Being 20®” series: As Consumer Truth® celebrated 20 years of Truth Discovery™, we wondered about today’s consumers who were born when our business was created.  A group that’s on the precipice of adulthood, straddling the end of the Millennial generation and the beginning of Gen Z.  How do they perceive their world and future and what are the implications for marketers?  To find out more, we launched a proprietary study among this specific age group.  We want to share the results, to provide valuable insight and understanding to better inform strategy, communication and connection with today’s 20-year-old and the Gen Z generation.

Our research partners in executing the “Being 20®” study:
Quantitative study fielded; tabs provided  by Dynata
Qualitative: Respondents  provided by Find Your Influence

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