Recently, YOLO fever has taken over Korea. It is a concept that encourages people to live for their own present happiness. Many relevant contents such as books and television programs are loved by the public. People themselves are trying hard to pursue a YOLO lifestyle. In light of these phenomena, it is apparent that many people think positively of YOLO and want to follow it. The Argus looked into the reasons people desire this new lifestyle and what is preventing the public from pursuing it.
In early 2015, a two-minute comic video promoting health care reform known as “Obama Care” became a hot issue. The video clip ends with former U.S. President Barack Obama saying “YOLO, man!” Since then, YOLO, the short form of “You Only Live Once,” became popular throughout the America, and it was newly coined in the Oxford English Dictionary last year.
This YOLO fever has recently taken over South Korea. It is a way of life that challenges people to pursue happiness in the present moment. Lately, Korean people often participate in YOLO-related activities that satisfy their desires to do what they want without any regret. The Argus looked into the reasons why people enjoy YOLO and what casts shadows on it.
Books that really encourage readers to live for their own happiness are gaining popularity. People are fed up with self-improvement books that give a rather dull lecture about things which are often kept too superficial to be put into practice. Books suggesting YOLO are drawing the public’s attention, and some publishers are even launching a literature brand targeting the spirit.
The essay by Kim Su-hyun, “I Decided to Live as Myself” is a YOLO bestseller. Eleven months have passed since its publication, yet it is still loved by many people. This book tells the readers not to feel comparatively deprived by unnecessarily comparing themselves to people on social media pages. It also encourages readers to take time to look back on their lives and it teaches them what is needed to live as their true selves.
“I did not know until now, but after reading this book, I realized that I should always put myself first,” said Moon Chae-un, a student at HUFS from the Department of Russian.
Not only do individual books reflect the trend, but also a literature brand appeared focusing on YOLO. In July of 2016, a publishing company named “Sakyejul,” launched a brand called “YOLO YOLO.” Those who want to make their one and only life truly meaningful, they should first understand themselves thoroughly. In this regard, the brand believes that literature has the power to help them. Therefore, it set the concept of its books as “Books for people who want to live every day fully devoted to their true selves.” It publishes books for people pursuing the YOLO spirit.
In the past, comedy programs were mainly about competition among the guests, and many television shows just made people laugh with exaggerated gestures. However, programs that show people enjoying YOLO life are becoming more popular these days. By watching the cast members doing things solely for their happiness, viewers can gain vicarious satisfaction and serene smiles.
In March, a program named “Youn’s Kitchen” caused a sensation here. It was a story about four celebrities running a Korean restaurant on an island near Bali, Indonesia. In particular, one of the cast members, actress Jung Yu-mi exemplified a day lived to its fullest. She arrived at the restaurant earlier, prepared for the day’s business and helped other people cook. At times, she enjoyed her free time feeding dogs with milk.
Public culture critic Jung Deok-hyun wrote in his column that Jung Yu-mi epitomized the spirit in that she performed her job responsibly and cherished the things around her.
“I have been busy doing lots of things since my early 20s. After watching Youn’s Kitchen, I decided to do things that make me happy from now on,” one viewer wrote on its viewers’ online bulletin board.
“Hyo-ri’s Guesthouse,” which aired in June, is another program showing a YOLO life. It is the story of singer Lee Hyo-ri running her house on Jeju Island as a guesthouse for travelers. Putting aside her career for a moment, she enjoys the small pleasures of life such as yoga and going for a drive.
Despite “Hyo-ri’s Guesthouse” being a cable television program, it scored the highest viewer ratings among the programs that aired concurrently. After its first episode, the number of applicants for lodging there went up to over 20,000, hinting at its explosive popularity.
An increasing number of YOLO-related contents and their popularity reflects the level of desire invested in both the producers and consumers to live for the present for once.
People themselves put YOLO into practice as well. It is not just a mere chant asking for a daring lifestyle - it can often be found in practice around us.
One of such examples is a group called “Single Quotation Marks,” which is composed of young people who aim to create a world where youths can have a better chance of finding their genuine selves.
“Even if we do what we want to do in our daily lives, some regulations and restrictions are not improving and continue to act as a sticking point,” said the group leader Jang Seo-yeong. Thus, she decided to create her own place and her own world where she could do things joyfully with like-minded peers.
The group held a special schooling program to pinpoint the youth’s current aspect of being overly centralized in academic sectarianism. They conveyed the message that everyone has their own unique abilities that can be put to good use. Its members proceeded with the projects in the hope that everyone will live their own lives happily. They have a firm belief that if these lives gather and pile up, ultimately the positive energy will permeate into our society.
In October, 2015, The School of Life was founded in Seoul in the hope of pursuing true happiness. It asks some intriguing questions like “How can I deal with the problems related to love and human relations?” and “What is a better life?” At school, students of all ages can take practical lectures such as how to spend time alone and how to avoid being trapped at work.
“The world doesn’t really teach us how to live a happy life,” said Alain de Botton, the founder of the school.
According to a survey by portal site Saramin, 84.1 percent of the respondents answered positively to YOLO. Ironically, its rise stems from people’s exhausting lifestyles. These days, people have often gotten weary of their work and monotonous routine. In this process, their craving for present happiness naturally went up resulting to the current popularity of YOLO.
People tired of living
In Korea, there are so-called good universities and good workplaces that are generally well recognized by people. Competition has become inevitable and fierce with increased demand for such positions.
Trying hard to survive in this ultra-competitive society, people have become exhausted by life and have started to feel skeptical about the existence of true happiness in life. In this moment, YOLO acts like a stimulant for those who are sick of their humdrum lives to pursue their innate values.
“In the past, I only focused on entering a university and studied hard to survive amidst such harsh competition. Then one day, suddenly a question struck me: ‘What do I live for?’” said Byun Hee-jin from the Division of International Studies.
As a junior, the pressure to prepare for employment sat heavily in her heart. She kept wondering whether it would make her happier to just follow the norms set by society.
“I finally chose to make my own happiness the first priority by doing things I had always dreamed of, such as joining a dance club and learning how to figure skate.”
The future looks bleak
Even if a person diligently plans something and makes an effort for the future, one cannot be certain that the initiative goes along as nicely as planned. There is also no guarantee that one will be properly compensated for the efforts he or she has made. Uncertainty about the future has been increasing and this has made society focus more on the present than the future.
According to the 2017 Deloitte Millennials Survey Report, the index of domestic economic optimism for the Korean millennial generation (people born between 1980s and early 2000s) was minus 1 percent, ranking 20 out of 28 countries.
Moreover, most of the people chose economic depression as the cause for the spread of the trend, according to the survey by Saramin.
In last November, Seoul National University’s Consumption Trend Analysis Center reported that YOLO is an inevitable result of this era of low-growth, low-prices and low-interest. In this situation, the possibility of earning profits is very low even if people try hard to save and invest. Thus, people feel a sense of futility about investing for the future.
It is not easy to imagine a bright future due to the bleak situation people are now facing. Therefore, YOLO is highly seductive for those who have had to ceaselessly work hard for a better tomorrow in exchange for a worse today.
The spread of single households
An increased number of single-person households has allowed those who live alone to have more time and money to spare. As a result, they have shown a greater tendency to expend more than those with families, starting the ball rolling for the YOLO trend.
According to a research by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs announced in 2016, single-person households took up the largest proportion of the total, taking 34.97 percent. As the number of single households grows larger, many products and services targeting individuals enter into the market, contributing to YOLO settling down.
According to the survey done by Daehaknaeil 20s lab, 43.5 percent of the research subjects answered that they consider “personal taste” the most when they buy things. People who form a single household can focus entirely on themselves, and this has allowed YOLO to spread naturally.
“The increase of YOLO people is derived from the change in housing patterns, along with the dismantling of traditional family units,” said Lee Byeong-hun, a professor of Sociology at Chung-ang University.
He explained that unlike when society was trapped within forms of group and family, the number of people living alone has grown. They can now live a YOLO life by concentrating on themselves more than ever before.
Gap between the ideals of YOLO and reality
For those who yearn for YOLO but cannot pursue it due to their circumstances, watching people leading YOLO lives through the media leads people to view their current status more negatively. Not only do they feel pity for themselves, but also they feel helpless and a sense of despair from the gap between their ideal and reality.
As television programs targeting the concept of YOLO increase, some of them just portray it as only being available to the fortunate. A program called “To the Forest on the Weekends” was aired in April, with the slogan, “YOLO, live your dream.” It is a story about guests being tired of their city lives embarking on a journey to nature and spending leisure time there, doing what they want to do. One man rode a scooter along the coastal roads and a woman enjoyed a nap in a hammock.
Just like the people appearing in this program, many citizens are sick of their complicated city lives. Maybe all people wish multiple times a day that they could take up a YOLO lifestyle, fulfilling their desires. However, ordinary people have their own responsibilities that cannot be ignored, so they feel depressed and experience a relative sense of deprivation in comparison to the celebrities they see on television.
“In reality, it is hard for people to practice YOLO the way it is shown on television programs,” a public culture critic Kim Heon-sik said. “Viewers can get vicarious satisfaction in a sense, but in reality, it only makes them feel the difference between the people in the programs and themselves.”
“Watching TV programs, I sometimes feel the gap between my ideals and reality and fall into a state of low spirits,” said Lee Seung-mi, a college undergraduate at HUFS.
Rejection of YOLO due to miscommunication of its meaning
It can be said that YOLO means the courage to choose the way that someone really wants to go regardless of a uniformly defined meaning of social success. However, in the course of the concept spreading throughout Korean society, its original meaning has altered in such a way that some people feel hostility towards it.
The tendency of some programs to represent YOLO incorrectly is playing a role in this situation. The television program “One Day Suddenly One Million Won” is a representative example. Observing how the guests spend money for themselves is the main point of the program. Programs like these make people see the trend only from the monetary side, such as overseas trips and shopping for momentary happiness. This kind of abnormal consumption behavior that the media displays is far from its true intention - to make people keep asking about their life and identity, ultimately leading them to lifelong happiness.
The television program “Infinite Challenge” once featured a special episode on YOLO in which they displayed the concept in a sarcastic manner. The producer gave members a credit card with a certain limit. With it, the members spent a lot of money eating and shopping by taking turns. Then, when a member tried to pay with the card, it exceeded the limit. He made all the payments and said, “If you pursue YOLO excessively, you kick the bucket!”
However, such a portrayal originates from the wrong premise that YOLO is about spending money without thinking about the future. By showing a distorted version of YOLO and focusing only on consumption and pleasure, which is far from its true sense, the media creates the idea that YOLO is not a desirable thing to seek, consequently discouraging people from practicing it.
“Because the media depicted YOLO negatively, I started to have a poor impression on it. I even thought I should avoid it,” said a college student Jung Ji-su.
“The broadcasters tend to only emphasize the pecuniary sides of YOLO and I think it is a huge problem,” explained culture critic Kim.
He added that some misleading programs can rouse the public’s antipathy toward YOLO.
There is a popular saying in Korea that goes “Pain is a blessing to the youth.” However, how can the youth have hope in a world where this kind of ridiculous and hollow consolation from adults prevails? In a sense, it was inevitable that the lifestyle of YOLO would become popular among people who are barely surviving in this endlessly competitive society. It feels more reasonable to invest in the pleasure of the moment instead of investing in an uncertain future.
YOLO does not incite people to run away from this uncontrollable reality and chase after an unrealistic dream. Rather, it suggests a new way of pursuing authentic happiness in life. HUFSans, seize the day, be true to your desires as if tomorrow does not exist because “You Only Live Once!”
Reporter of Culture Section