In the past several weeks, I’ve been dealing with chronic fatigue and lack of motivation. For me, this is a big deal. I’m known as a hardworker, and my work ethic is one of the main qualities with which I self-identify. So when I feel listless, foggy, and lethargic, I get worried that I’m losing one of the vital parts of who I am. I tried to reason with myself: constant flying, an intense work trip with a lot of public speaking, and wedding planning are all pretty big stressors, objectively speaking. Then I wondered whether my fatigue had anything to do with the collective fatigue that nearly all Millennials seem to be experiencing. In fact, there’s a name for it: “life fatigue.”
Born between 1981 and 1996, Millennials are 27–42 years old. (At 36, I fall slightly toward the upper-middle of that range.) While this is quite a range, many (older) Millennials experienced the worst effects of the Great Recession early in their careers. I graduated in the nadir of the recession and it definitely informed a survivalist mentality that people who graduated in better times absolutely can’t appreciate. Our generation has been caught between sky-high housing costs, exorbitant education costs, stagnant wages, and a gig economy that devalues workers. What’s also glaring is the disparity within Millennials: some of us are definitely well-off, while many of us are trapped in a cycle of working hard to just barely scrape by. I find myself somewhere between the two (I bought my first home four years ago and have no debt other than the mortgage). But I can definitely relate to the life fatigue of “when is it going to get easier?”
Enter the scariest TikTok trend I have seen yet. The trend is #softlife, which has 944 million views as we speak.
What is Soft Life #softlife ?
A confused older Millennial, I clicked through TikTok after TikTok to understand what this phenomenon is. There are many variations of soft life. It can look like cottagecore: leaving the busy city life to cozy up in a cottage and spending time reading, sipping tea, and watching the wind caress the wild flowers is soft life. It’s also related to the Rich Young Wife and Rich Mom trends, for which you can thank Sofia Richie, a 25-year-old who has never had a day job, who recently passed from being a very wealthy man’s daughter to a very wealthy man’s wife. (Sidebar: another related 2023 word of the year, Quiet Luxury.) If you dress in discreetly luxurious labels and fly on a private jet to expensive vacations and shopping trips, that’s soft life.
@kellyhennessy88 #stayathomemom #sahgf #sahm #sahw #feminineenergy #feminineurge #softlife ♬ original sound – bollybeo
Essentially, soft life rejects the notion that life has to be a struggle to be meaningful. And that’s not inherently wrong. Suffering shouldn’t be put on a pedestal, and sleeplessness isn’t a badge of honor. Because where has all that overwork gotten us? A planet destroyed by our greed. Soft life of the cottagecore, “reject the rat race” variety has undertones of conscious objection to our capitalist fallacy.
Why soft life isn’t helpful to our burnout—or society at large
But there is a difference between being a real idealist or an ascetic and #softlife. When an idealist rejects an exploitative system, it’s usually with a goal of making the world a better place. Soft life doesn’t try hard at anything that’s not related to one’s ease and pleasure. Soft life by definition is rejecting struggle—and struggle indeed is exactly what we’re called to do, if we are to save ourselves and the planet from total destruction. While that might make one’s personal life easier, not engaging with the broader world isn’t the attitude we need right now.
@alltheferalfawns Soon, so soon…life will look like this again🌼 #spring2023 #warmweather #cottagecore #fairycore #softlife #farmcore #slowliving ♬ Return to Versailles – Joshua Kyan Aalampour
And then there is the Sofia Richie variety of soft life. It’s actually the opposite of the ascetic soft life, in that it wants to reap all the benefits of capitalism without actual labor. Indeed, it combines the worst of capitalism and “checked out” behavior. Invariably, this #softlife is pursued by female influencers who sell this parasitic dependence as a model of femininity. I fear for the younger generations who are absorbing this, and I can’t believe that this is the state of feminism in 2023—just 6 years since the pink pussy hat Women’s March on Washington.
Ultimately, burnout isn’t solved by relinquishing your responsibility for your own life. Because guess what happens when you aren’t responsible for your own life? You are beholden to someone else. (I wish the #softlife influencers would take a good, hard look at Melania Trump.) The best solution to burnout is conscious resting and finding meaning. Knowing that your work adds value can re-energize you, even if you’re still working the same job. Cut back on unnecessary tasks (do I really need to unload the dishwasher right now, or can it wait?) so you can have rest every day. Do something joyful every day! You can even decide that moving to a cottage in the middle of the woods is exactly the right thing for you. But do not check out forever from engaging with the world and struggling as long as there’s need. Don’t let finding your bliss make you blind to others.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Storiès via Unsplash