Editor's note: Edward Appleton is director global marketing and sales at research firm Happy Thinking People. He can be reached at edward.appleton@happythinkingpeople.com. Tobias Frei, executive project management at Happy Thinking People, can be reached at tobias.frei@happythinkingpeople.ch.

How will Gen Z emerge when the COVID-19 pandemic finally disappears completely? This was the main question behind an in-depth qualitative exploration of Gen Z value systems and attitudes conducted by our firm Happy Thinking People in the third quarter of 2021. We engaged on a series of digital in-depth interviews, inviting Gen Z participants to think forward to a time where the world was virus-free. 

Previous studies had revealed a remarkably resilient Gen Z viewpoint – one that had developed a set of strategies to cope with crises, including COVID-19. We also knew about their activist, politically and socially engaged mind-set, with ambitions to make a difference on a raft of bigger issues such as climate change and social justice.

Would any of this have changed or evolved? What sort of mental shifts or resets could we expect, following two long years of challenging times and multiple lockdowns?

We wanted to find out how the teenagers’ felt, reflecting on the long months of pandemic-induced isolation but mainly focusing on looking forward to how they anticipated and envisaged the future.

Talking to the same group of kids and teenagers in Europe, Asia and the U.S. as with previous waves, we explored the following areas: 

• How had lockdown affected them? Were there any changes in rituals or beliefs?

• How did they anticipate behaving after lockdown was totally over? What were their plans and priorities? What had changed?

• What would be an ideal society for them and how realistic or optimistic were they?

• What were their dreams and hopes for their future social, personal and...