The jury's out. Being in your late 20s can kinda suck. Even though Millennials actively tout their picture-perfect lives on social media, things aren't always so rosy on the other side of the screen.

Studies find that the concept of a  quarter-life crisis becomes a real thing as Millennials transition through several stages of adulthood in which they gain and lose friends, start and leave jobs, and become parents.

But is there more to it than simply a challenging phase of life? If Millennials really are that unhappy, what's the cause of their turmoil?

The data science team at Happify decided to find out. Happify strives to help its users boost their happiness through short activities and games. The exercises are developed using happiness science. So Happify dug into their user data to better understand the motivations and values of the people who use their platform--and to identify what's making them unhappy.

But first, a caveat: In exploring this topic, Happify examined their own users, which are a self-selecting group of individuals actively working towards increasing their happiness. So know that these results don't necessarily apply to all Millennials. This is more a study of Millennials who have already decided that they'd like to be a bit happier.

What the Happify data scientists found was that these Millennials were overwhelmingly--and, depending on how you read into the data, perhaps even obsessively--consumed with work. So consumed with work that they don't place as much value on relationships with friends and family. And it's making them unhappy.

Happify used the data from 250,000 users and examined over 12 million words they wrote about expressing gratitude and describing their goals. Happify's data scientists looked for words that users aged 25 to 35 used significantly more or significantly less that other age groups.

As Chief Data Science Officer Ran Zilca wrote on Harvard Business Review: "We looked for topics that occupy the Millennial mind much more than people in other age groups and for topics that occupy other age groups very much but Millennials only marginally."

What three studies in happiness revealed

One of the happiness-boosting exercises Happify gives users is to jot down a few things that recently made them feel grateful. A popular response users of all ages gave was spending time with family and friends. But for Millennial users, most of the responses referenced work. The top six were:

  • Positive interactions with colleagues
  • Having a low-stress commute
  • Getting a new job
  • Being satisfied with an existing job
  • Sleeping
  • Relaxing in bed

When Millennial Happify users weren't expressing gratitude about job-related wins, they were reveling in not working, it seems.

When analyzing responses about long-term goals, Happify found similar results. Other age groups strived for better work-life balance, to reduce stress, or to improve their fitness. Millennials were more likely to reference work-related goals such as finding a more fulfilling job or one with better pay and fewer hours.

Lastly, the Happify data scientists studied short-term goals. More than other age groups, the Millennial responses trended towards applying for a new job. Other popular responses included "do things from my to-do list," "get out of my comfort zone," and "stop worrying."

The study examined three different paths commonly associated with improving happiness--expressing gratitude, achieving short-term goals, and achieving long-term goals--and job-related satisfaction was a recurring theme for Millennials. "If we overlay gratitude with long-term and short-term goals, a picture surfaces of a Millennial mind that is mainly occupied with landing the perfect job and that is subject to a good deal of stress and anxiety," says Zilca.

Based on these results, it can be concluded that some Millennials place far too much emphasis on work as the key to their happiness.