Sebastian Junger brought the understanding of the need to be a part of groups back into vogue when he released the book “Tribe on homecoming and belonging.” Our nation’s military learned during the Global War on Terrorism, that there was a certain fraternal bond (regardless of gender) that developed in units within the military. Our nation learned that ripping this fraternal bond out from under our veteran’s returning home resulted in surprisingly high veteran suicide rates when compared to the rest of the population.
Our veterans are not the only ones suffering from a “tribe crisis” in our society. The entire concept of the quarter-life crisis, is a result of the lack of groups and organizations we can be a part of. Consider a small child first starting elementary school. They are for the first time introduced to a population of people from which they will develop their own social circle (from now on referred to as a pool). It is a limited pool at first and that pool is supplemented by the little-league teams and extra-curricular activities their parents encourage them to participate in.
Throughout life, for the average American the number of individuals in that pool grows rapidly. In my case I entered an elementary school with several hundred children in it. My middle school doubled that number. By the time I was in high-school the pool I had to choose my social circle from was close to 2000 kids. Then I went to a moderate size college and that number jumped again to close to 10,000 people. All the while parents, teachers, and guidance counselors all encouraged me to join organizations like, student government, drama-club, sports teams (one for every season), and a fraternity.
From each of these organizations I was able to find people who satisfied multiple desires in my life. I found friends to have fun with; friends who stimulated me intellectually, friends to play sports with, friends to discuss politics with and the list goes on. At the end of my time in college I had an extremely large pool of people to choose from to satisfy my own desires for fulfillment. I then Joined the United States Marine Corps, and you could argue that I went into a pool of 170,000 likeminded individuals to develop a social circle from.
Even if we were conservative in our estimates and said my pool was limited to people I interacted with on a daily basis, my Infantry Battalion had close to 2,000 likeminded individuals inside of it. My platoon, had 50 individuals in it that I ate, slept, and trained with on a daily basis. If my desire for fulfillment from a strong social circle could not be met in this world, I had my own problems to deal with. Yet at the same time, many of my peers were not so lucky. Even if they joined fortune 500 companies of thousands of people, they very rarely interacted with anyone outside of their teams on a daily basis.
In steps the opportunity for a “quarter-life crisis” the crisis that many of our veterans didn’t face until leaving active duty after high school or college. It’s no wonder that this is happening to our citizens when so many of us are sent down the wrong path toward achieving happiness and fulfillment. Money does solve a lot of problems but the correlation between happiness and income generally falls off after a household income of 150,000 dollars (correlation does not infer causation). Therein-lies the question, what does lead to happiness.
Harvard conducted one of the longest longitudinal studies in history to determine the cause of happiness. They followed individuals of ever sexual orientation, socio-economic standing, race, and religion; all walks of life were a part of this study and they found a single factor that led to happiness in their subjects. Meaningful relationships. Not a lot either. One to two meaningful relationships are enough to provide a person with fulfillment and happiness to make their life one they deem worthy.
In my recent interview with Wes Lyon and the founders of Allegiance Flag Supply, we discussed his Grandfather’s obituary. It read that he was a Veteran of WWII a member of his church, Organizations within the town, local business marketing organizations, and the list went on and on. Similarly my Grandfather, a veteran of WWII returned home and served on his church’s vestry, he was a member of the town Rotary, a Free Mason, a member of the local country club, and a local business owner. Wes and I both recounted these facts and pointed out that our generation seems to have fallen short when it comes to participating in groups like these.
The pandemic, veteran-suicide rates, the emergence of the quarter-life crisis, and the increase in depression and anxiety diagnoses, clearly identify that there is a gap in our lives today. We are more alone than we have ever been, in a time when we need each-other more than we ever have. The Millennial and Boomer Generations speak with awe and reverence of the Greatest Generation. Yet we fail to realize that those people worked their asses off to create that world. The American renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s and the growth of the 1970s were a direct reflection of the nation that the Greatest Generation broke their back to architect and build.
We are on the precipice of a great question that the world has posed. What’s next? Believe it or not, the Millennial Generation is about to inherit control of the greatest country in the world. Our opportunities are endless and we have the power to architect the next American renaissance. I think that it should start small. It should start with an attempt to create groups, communities, and organizations where we are present for our fellow citizens. Ones that increase our opportunity to develop strong relationships. So that we can follow down the correct path toward happiness and fulfillment. Most importantly, so that we can carry on the proud tradition of leaving behind a nation our children desire to inherit.
John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.