The Meaning of Life to Millennials: Connection, Experiences, Impact


“What is the meaning of life?”

As part of our Millennials Social Values Segmentation, we posed this question to Millennials (also known as Gen Y) consumers at varying life stages. Understandably, many found it difficult to articulate their perspectives on such a weighty question. The answers they did provide, however, presented a paradox. Millennials stand out on two seemingly contradictory social values: anomie-aimlessness, defined as a void of meaning or goals in life, as well as personal optimism about their future prospects.

Millennials are worried about factors outside of their control. Top-of-mind concerns that might impede their plans for their future include financial security, the housing market, and climate change. Uncertainty in these areas may contribute to their sense of aimlessness and disconnectedness. But far from giving up, Millennials aspire to overcome these difficulties and find meaning in life. They are optimistic about the life they can achieve by doing what brings them happiness and fulfillment.

So, what does bring meaning to their lives? Three common themes emerge across Millennial segments: building meaningful relationships, experiencing life to the fullest, and making a positive impact in the world around them. A closer look through the lens of social values reveals insights into how Millennials differ from other generational cohorts, as well as the differences that exist between Gen Y segments.

Nurturing meaningful relationships and forming connections

When describing what is most important in their lives, Millennials consistently come back to their relationships with family and friends. They value meaningful connections and place great importance on growing and maintaining their relationships.

Accordingly, Millennials score higher than other generations on social intimacy – the desire to connect with small, tight-knit groups of people and have shared experiences. They enjoy spending quality time with their social circles, usually by participating in shared interests like hobbies, sports, and travel. Although some Millennials describe their social circles shrinking as they grow older (and, like Canadians of all ages, this cohort felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in their social lives), they will often turn to digital platforms to maintain close connections.

Making the most out of life and living in the moment

As younger consumers, Millennials over-index on pursuit of intensity, a social value that represents a desire to live intensely and go outside of one’s comfort zone to experience new sensations. This cohort values new experiences as opportunities that challenge them to learn and grow as individuals. They believe that experiences are central to a meaningful life, and so they try to be open to unexpected events and live in the present moment.

Nevertheless, time can be a barrier to their aspiration of living life to the fullest. Millennials struggle with time stress, meaning they feel as though there is never enough time in a day to get everything done. As Millennials progress in their careers and start families, they may feel overwhelmed by responsibilities and grapple with balancing work and play.

Work-life balance is a key goal, and while many admit that it is difficult to find, it is something they intentionally work to achieve. ​They actively reflect on how to use their time wisely, gravitating towards activities that keep them grounded and making time for friends and family.

Striving to leave the world in a better state

Millennials have a strong desire to leave the world in a better place than they found it. They talk about wanting to make a positive impact and feeling a sense of responsibility for creating a better society and environment. What drives this desire is a feeling of uncertainty about the world the next generation will inherit. They express concern about the current state of the world, tying back to their sense of aimlessness regarding external factors like climate change, economic outlook, and the socio-political climate.

While recognizing that some problems may be too big to shift, Millennials focus on taking personal action in areas within their control. They discuss the importance of giving back to their local communities and making sustainable changes in their own lives, such as using public transportation, recycling and composting their waste, and purchasing reusable household items.

When it comes to macro-level problems, they may not know how to take individual action, believing the responsibility lies with governments and businesses. Millennials exhibit strong support for active government – a desire for more government involvement in social and environmental issues. Furthermore, they are inclined to bring businesses into the discourse, believing that companies should be held accountable for their impact and walk the talk of any corporate responsibility rhetoric.

Although Millennials overall rank lower than other generational cohorts on social values related to social and environmental responsibility, some Gen Y segments do register strong commitments in these areas. Millennials in the New Traditionalists​ and Critical Counterculture segments rank higher on social responsibility and community involvement, expressing a sense of responsibility for helping those less fortunate and demonstrating an interest in participating in their local community. For Engaged Idealists and Diverse Strivers, ecological lifestyle and ethical consumerism are top of mind. These groups are willing to pay more for eco-friendly or ethical products and services, and they are attracted to companies that are good corporate citizens.


Broadly, Millennials bring meaning to their lives by prioritizing time spent with social circles, searching for new experiences, and leaving a positive impact. However, Millennials cannot be painted with a broad brush. Uncovering differences between segments can help organizations identify their brand champions and discover ways to effectively reach them by appealing to the social values that matter to them most.

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