Millennials are the demographic cohort of people born between 1980 and 2000. Globally they are one of the world’s largest generations and as they move into their prime spending years they have become of huge interest to brands.

Millennials have grown up at a time of global recession, rapid urbanisation, emerging middle classes, and digital revolution. This backdrop to their formative years has given them a set of expectations that differ sharply from that of previous generations. The Millennial mind-set is characterised, amongst other things, as valuing authenticity, having a desire for autonomy and being more socially-minded than previous generations. They are regarded as the first global generation, with more overlapping values and shared experiences than any before them.



In this series of articles we explore Millennials in three very different global cities – London, Shanghai and Mexico City, to understand how closely Millennials are aligned and in which, if any, areas they differ due to unique local circumstances, culture and tradition.

It makes sense to focus on urban Millennials since cities are a hotbed of change. Life moves faster, things change dynamically, and emerging behaviours are adopted more readily. Observing life in leading cities allows us to predict how trends may play out elsewhere in their countries, as well as helping brands understand the different lives and expectations of Millennials.

Before we dive into the content, this article introduces our happiness and trends framework and sets the broad context within which we will explore Millennials in cities, the implications for brands, and the knock-on effect this will have for researchers.



Our analysis begins by looking at national culture (using Hofstede’s Cultural Compass) and then understanding the key forces of change within each market context. Next, we apply our Drivers of Happiness model to explore how Millennials are responding to the world around them.

Using this model we are able to qualitatively build a picture of Millennials within local markets and identify opportunities for global brands looking to more effectively target this important demographic group.

Through the application of a cultural and psychological framework we are able to deliver rich comparative insights on the consumer mind-set in each market, whilst mitigating against cultural bias.



Philosophers and psychologists have long been fascinated with understanding human motivation, dating back to the ancient times of Epicurus and Aristotle. The most recent incarnation of this, Positive Psychology, a term coined in the 1990s, has since spawned a huge amount of research into not only what makes people happy, but who is happiest. In 2003, the emergence of happiness theory proposed that our choice of life-course is frequently an attempt to maximise our feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

Happiness and wellbeing has attracted the attention of governments across the globe; the UK has even made it a core national statistic.

There have been a number of attempts to list the key factors that are linked to happiness, from Martin Seligman’s PERMA to the UK government’s Five Actions framework. We’ve developed our own list of happiness drivers:


Karma is all about positive emotions. We know that our psychological view on life is important for overall happiness. People who are able to approach life’s many challenges and stresses with positivity can alleviate many of the negatives associated with stress, and genuinely live a happier life.

Focus relates to engagement. It’s similar to what psychologists describe as being in a state of ‘flow’, which typically occurs when you’re doing something that plays to your natural strengths. Happiness can be obtained from being in tune with our surroundings and being aware of what is going on. Heightened awareness also enhances our self-understanding and allows us to make better choices.

Success, or achievement, acknowledges the sense of wellbeing we derive from accomplishments. Goal setting not only helps us achieve things, but also provides a sense of purpose. Achievement can be via formal learning at work or in education, or a type of challenge that involves learning something new.

Our fourth driver is Relationships. Evidence shows that having family commitments, friends and social contacts not only promotes a sense of belonging and wellbeing, but also strongly protects against mental health issues. In addition to having deep relationships, happiness is also obtained from having a breadth of social connections.

Our final driver is World, which relates to having a sense of meaning and purpose. Feelings of happiness can be strongly associated with active participation in social and community life.

Our philosophy at Join the Dots is that consumer trends are a result of our desire to satisfy basic human drivers, and in particular the need to increase happiness. We believe that brands that can tap into these trends, and hence enhance happiness, are going to be sought out. Moreover, reinforcement theory shows that we will seek to repeat any behaviour that is pleasurable and so such brands will have higher loyalty and enhanced sales.



The rest of this series will focus on what it means to be a Millennial in London, Shanghai and Mexico City. We’ll look at the key forces of change within each city, and how the happiness drivers are playing out in these different markets.

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