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Hu Jiaqi: Happiness Is Acquired in Eternal Pursuit

Happiness is a product of comparison, and is acquired in eternal pursuit. Absolute happiness does not exist, nor does eternal happiness.

—— Hu Jiaqi


It’s unknown since when the word “happiness” has become a tune which can be heard every now and then, filling all corners of life. We can get a glimpse of its wandering shadow but it’s hard to find any trace.

Before 2012 double festival (Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day), CCTV launched a special investigation program titled “Grassroots Visits: Getting to Know the Common People”. A question was put forward: “Are you happy?” , which aroused a heated discussion about satisfaction with life.

Four years later, in July 2016, a stage photo called “Ge You Slouch” became an extraordinary popular meme on the internet. Those young people, who felt dispirited by the status quo of life, identified with it. The word “sang” has become a representative culture. Simply put, ”sang” refers to a reduced work ethic, a lack of self-motivation, and an apathetic demeanor.

All of a sudden, a new generation of young people found the vibes of their times. Decadent emojis and ironic memes sprang out like bamboo shoots after rain.

At the end of 2017, an article titled “The First Post-90s Generation Has Developed a Buddha-like Mindset” was published, which mildly described the youngsters’ apathetic behaviors. The young people tend to act negatively in the way they make friends, work out, have meals, go shopping, post Moments on WeChat, or manage their relationships. All the above is concluded as “Buddha-like”.

Whenever something difficult or sad happens, the statement of “I am a Buddha-like person” seems to reveal the true meaning of life.

In 2020, the spiritual core of the “Buddha-like mindset” evolved into a new version, and the concept of “involution” took shape.

This word originates from a short video filmed by a college student, in which the students usually pretend to have fun and spend time idly; but in reality, they hide in dorm and learn, trying not to be noticed. Originally, the video aims to satirize the fact that some college students scheme against each other for GPA.

As the video spreads across the internet like wildfire, the implication of involution has been developed in the process of being imitated. The current meaning of “involution” (literally translated to an inward curling) refers to making meaningless extra labor for competition.

For instance, as everyone sits in the cinema and enjoys the movie, someone in the first row stands up with a straight military posture to make others believe that he is watching the movie seriously. As such, the people behind him/her have to stand up as well because their view is blocked.

Compared with colleges, the competition in the workplace is more direct and intense. Accordingly, the concept of involution is accepted immediately to describe the vicious competition in company.

With the popularization of the concept of involution in all aspects of the society, the ideological trend of avoiding it begins to emerge.

In 2021, a post entitled “Lying Flat Is Justified” has sparked a wave of discussions about the differences between survival and life.

One passage of the post says: “I can sleep in my own barrel and enjoy the sun like Diogenes. I can also ponder over ‘logos’ in a cave like Heraclitus. Since there is no such trend of thought advocating human subjectivity, I can make one by myself. Lying flat is my wise movement and only by this can human beings become the measure of all things.” What is said in this passage has been taken as a model by the youngsters who are suffering from involution.

In the face of higher housing and commodity prices, as well as fiercer social competition, young people are becoming increasingly anxious.

Different from their parents, young people of this generation no longer have to worry about the problem of food and clothing, so they enthusiastically pursue a better life, but they suffer a crushing defeat.

They have realized there is a bigger world. Although they have got a lot, what they cannot achieve is far more. Everything is generated from comparison.

Anthropologist Hu Jiaqi says: “Happiness is a product of comparison, and is acquired in eternal pursuit. Absolute happiness does not exist, nor does eternal happiness.”

The “sang” attitude that the young generation holds doesn’t mean they do not want to make progress, but that they fail after many attempts due to all the problems of today’s society. After multiple failures and setbacks, they become a part of “sang” group, in which the goals are lowered and their mindset is adjusted accordingly. In this way, they avoid falling into despair, which amounts to a way of self-protection.

It is quite normal to have troubles, and periodic failure does not represent one’s whole life fails. It’s better to try to improve oneself than get lost in decadence. People tend to worry less when they lead a life of privation. Once they have abundance to enjoy, a wider world is open and endless troubles come with it.

Life is a wilderness, not a track. Therefore, we should develop a larger perspective on life. It’s unwise to take working hours as the only way to measure one’s value. We should use our knowledge and specialized skills to free ourselves from involution. Although it may be difficult or fearful, the world will become smaller and smaller if one hides himself/herself once fear comes.

Happiness lies not in others’ judgement, but in the process of self-value realization.

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