Tag Archives: happiness

YOLO and Happiness

YOLO. You only live once. It is a popular phrase in North American society among the 20 somethings. Often yelled out before undertaking audacious actions which express the spirit of youth – after all, this phrase is said to remind you that you only live once and therefore must live to a fullness without regrets – this phrase represents a mentality for the generation. What better can    represent this generation who is on the lookout for happiness? A generation who actively seek out new experiences for the semblance of fulfillment? YOLO has caught on for a reason; it touches and impresses deep into the heart. YOLO is not just a catchphrase. It is the affirmation of a lifestyle.

After being caught up in YOLO North America, I was given the chance to move away and examine YOLO while undertaking a YOLO trip in Asia for a year. In the process of a gradual de-YOLOization, I started having thoughts about YOLO and the happiness it represents.

When I was in the “Spring City” of Kunming in the Yunnan province of China, there was a clear blue sky and sunlight and some friends to get drunk with in the hostel, so I stayed for a week to restore my energies after a 20 hour train ride to the city. I studied Chinese during the day and drank beer and baijiu (Chinese white wine) at night, and in the midst of this routine I came across Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ by Nietzsche in the hostel library. One sentence I distinctly remember remarking upon was this one, “… for him (Nietzsche) the only happiness worth having is that which is the by product of strenuous efforts in various directions, effort without a thought for the happiness they might produce.” Upon reading a brief history of his life, in which the latter part was marked by illness, solitude and a lack of success or recognition, it seemed that this phrase described his own life pretty well.

A month passed in the sunny Yunnan province, and I went through various conditions, from the warm tropical town of XiShuangbanna in the Southwest to the cragged snowy Tibetan mountain town of Shangrila up 3200m in altitude in the North. It was time to move on to the next province, to Sichuan where I made my homebase the provincial capital of Chengdu, a city that was humid and cloudy in contrast to the sun. From this ancient city famous for its spicy cuisine and “spicy” girls, I made a trip to the neighbouring city of Leshan, which held the monumental Leshan Stone Buddha.

It was still the period of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and the whole of China was on holiday. Many Chinese people had the same idea as me and there was a three hour line up to see the Buddha. Slowly the line crawled, from behind and around the massive head of the Buddha, snaking down to the feet, as the immensity of the Buddha revealed itself. In the line I felt increasing reverence to this figure, which was 70 metres tall and made the worshippers below seem like clothed ants.

Once at the bottom I looked up, craning my neck to see the whole figure. Carved into the mountain facing a flowing river rushing past, the Buddha seemed as though it was a hidden extension of the mountain that found expression. I leaned back on the railing which blocked the river, and stared up for a long time at its head, which seemed to be a part of the ceiling of the darkening sky. The eyes were in a placid meditative state, staring across the rapid river and far beyond the city and through it, resting its gaze past the world of smaller sentient beings to a world of mortal incomprehensibility with fullness and compassion behind a knowing smile. Sitting straight on its humble mountain throne, as it had done for centuries, weather worm but without a hint of cumbrance, there was a feeling of naturality in its deportment, as if it was comfortably waiting for the right moment to awake from its age long meditation. I felt humbled and although I am not Buddhist I felt compelled to bow down to this great figure before me to express my veneration.

I then imagined the building of the Buddha from the point of view of its constructors. It took almost a century in its making and its makers toiled assiduously, removing morsels of stone at a time, meticulously chiselling through rock over decades and generations of man. The end result: what was once a wall of stone, now a towering Buddha. What an inexpressible feeling of delight one must have felt at its completion! To look up, exactly as I had, toward the Buddha, up to the head that seems to be a part of the ceiling of the sky, looking to the same tranquil, meditative eyes that I had stared at. Examining every detail of the limbs and body and understanding, with the process of work deeply impressed into the body, what exactly every inch of the Buddha meant. What a feeling it must have been to have one’s existence tied with this creation, which will be admired for centuries to come. All out of a lowly and insignificant being with human flaws and a weakly mortal body did such a manifestation of grandeur appear.

The YOLO mindset could not have built such a marvel. Focused on fleeting instants of “happiness” and momentary gratification, there is no ensuing fulfillment in the YOLO mindset. All that results is a hollowness and growing anxiety, mounting as the years mount on the physical body. Perhaps inside all of us there is a Great Buddha that lies in wait, waiting to be revealed. Unworked on and only with brief flashes of its true figure, we may pass over it while living for the moment, scrambling after quick “hits” of “happiness.” But what if we started this slow arduous process of sculpting? Working with patience towards an End, with care and painstaking effort? I think it would be marvellous to look back (and up) at personal creations, and feel warm waves of contentment emanating from deep within. After all, you only live once.

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The Grass is Quite Green on this Side

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As I travel, the more I learn about it. Travelling is a great way to take break while learning about different cultures. However, I think it is more than that. For me, travelling is also an all too effective method of escape.

It is one of the main reasons why I embarked on my first exchange to Milan. Unsatisfied with the greenness of Toronto’s pastures I wanted to find a place where I could go to find a more fulfilling and exciting life. Undoubtedly life as an exchange student provides ample opportunities for excitement, and my experience there is one that I will not forget in a while. However, in the last weeks of my stay, tired out by continuous travel, my heart looked forward to my flight back to Toronto. The last week of Italy was spent in Florence, and not even the beauty of that city was able to alleviate the continuous lethargy I felt.

Back in Toronto I felt a great excitement for life in the first few weeks. Everything seemed so fresh and full of opportunities. However the cold January weather of Toronto soon got to me and sent me looking for greener pastures again. I was accepted to Keio University in Tokyo but for various reasons changed my exchange institution to the National Taiwan University in Taipei. Regardless, the whole year in Toronto was marked by dissatisfaction. I disliked the cold and disliked the schoolwork and disliked the humble lifestyle I had to lead in order to save money. I unfairly compared Torontonians with whom I interacted with the people I met abroad. I found Torontonians for the most part dull and uninteresting and remembered the people I met in Italy with great nostalgia. I was unsociable and preferred books to people that one year. Nothing especially memorable seemed to happen as days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into unconscious repetition. Life was a blurred, dull picture in contrast to the vibrant colours of Italy. It was happening again and I was looking forward to greener pastures in Taipei. I made very unfair comparisons and did not behave stoically in facing my life in Toronto.

I remember my first day in Taiwan, when I got off the plane in the Taoyuan International Airport. There was a slight drizzle but the weather was a pleasant change to the cold winter of Toronto. The air was slightly humid and there was a fresh breeze in the air and an unending smile on my face. Passing by the mountains and the ceaseless green vegetation and watching them slowly change into the old and characteristic city sprawl on the bus ride to Taipei, It seemed that I was successful in finding my greener pastures.

Being a little over halfway through the exchange now, there are things in Toronto that I miss. There are the occasional Facebook newsfeed posts that I read about Toronto, which make me remember it in a different light. I start remembering the cultural diversity there, the downtown area and my friends. The lifestyle I was once hostile towards comes back to me as small bite sized (Timbit sized) nostalgic memories. The weekly work in the bank on Friday evenings followed immediately by outings with my friends followed by a hung over Saturday afternoon selling cheese in my mother’s store remind me of happy times, despite the inconveniences I felt towards the routine. The weekly Korean barbeque we ate at home along with soju make my mouth water. Walking down St. George to get to my classes and seeing the occasional friendly face and even all my hours spent in the peacock shaped Robarts Library are good memories.

Toronto isn’t the only source of greener pastures for me. I look forward to what will come after Taiwan. I can’t wait to visit all of family in Korea and spend precious time with my parents and my sister and my grandmother. I can’t wait to start the great China trip that I have in my head. Thinking of being in cities like Shanghai and Beijing and Chengdu, all which await me, makes me think of the people I will meet and the things I will learn and the experiences I will have. All around me there seem to be greener pastures.

Greener pastures appear to me in different time periods as well. The latest book I have finished is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, in which he describes the few years he spent in Paris as a poor but happy and married writer. His Paris in the twenties is full of writers and artists that I have read and heard about. To have these almost mythical personalities brought to life by his pen makes me long for this legendary Paris in the twenties, a Paris marked by eccentrics, culture and art spread out through its cafes and worn out streets.

The Paris of the twenties was represented by Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, in which the economically successful but creatively unfulfilled screenplay writer Gil Pender is transported 80-some years into the past to his place of nostalgic yearning. Here he is to meet all his heroes and falls increasingly in love with Adriana, a fictional mistress of Pablo Picasso. Ironically, Adriana longs for the Belle Époque period and thinks of it as the golden age in Paris. Near the end of the story, they are transported to this period in time and find that people there wish they lived during the Renaissance.

Just as what had happened in the film, perhaps it is just too easy for us to romanticize a lifestyle which is different from one which we are living. While we are confronted with daily realities in our current lives, the lifestyle we covet is surrounded by the façade of uninformed idealism. Just as how Gil Pender is able to come to terms with the modern era at the end of the film, perhaps we should come to terms with the lives we live. Instead of looking past our front lawn to feel jealousy for the lawn of a distant neighbour, we should start admiring what we have in front of us right now. You may realize that the grass is quite green on this side.

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(Picture 1 is of my house this winter, not much green though)