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In the midst of our lockdown, there seems to be a race to find productive solutions to our boredom. Even I wrote a column about finding purpose in quarantine. Yet despite increased awareness of mental health challenges during the pandemic, it seems to me that we can still pay more attention to the emotional needs that this virus has exacerbated. Especially at home in Long Island, where everyone knows someone affected by the virus, its impacts are much more intimate, and listless boredom is just one trivial tribulation.

For a while, I struggled to find a way to keep my emotions at bay. I could redirect my attention to work that I had to get done like helping out around the house, but all of this was a mere evasion from the inevitable emotive fog that would occupy my idle moments. But when I failed to evade the burden of feeling like the world around me was crashing down—I learned to escape to a happier place, through a medium that I had discovered once before: K-pop.

It seems trivial now in the face of the existential fight that the world is dealing with, but my first year of college was difficult. When I did get time to breathe and take a look out the window onto the lawns, I saw people who had it more figured out than I did, who navigated a world that they seemed to confidently call theirs. But somewhere in the middle of my first year, YouTube presented me with “Bad Boy,” the hit song of the year for the K-pop group Red Velvet. It was a nice song, so I put my problem set to rest, opened Spotify, and played the album on repeat.

As it kept playing, I felt a smile come across my face for the first time in a while. I wasn’t feeling some grandiose spiritual fulfillment but just an ephemeral rush of joy, the same feeling I got from the ice cream sandwiches I’d surreptitiously grab on my way out of JJ’s Place. I went back through Red Velvet’s discography and discovered that although the group’s music was simple, it was absolutely indispensable. Red Velvet was my safe place. Sure the music didn’t make me think, but it made me happy; it became one of those small comforts in life that gently nudges us to persevere.

I’m still listening to Red Velvet in quarantine. When every facet of my life is a brutal reminder that nothing is normal, I need to take the time to reassure myself that everything will be fine. I know that things will be different, but the point of being told that everything will be OK isn’t that life will go back to normal, but that there are a reason and way to push through all of this. And it is this purpose that Red Velvet’s music serves; it reminds me of what life was like before this whole mess and that it’ll be there for me through this difficult time.

Looking at the bigger picture, I think, as Columbia students, we’re often held to an extraordinary standard. For the many of us who started and will conclude our time here with incredible achievements, there is an expectation that we deprive ourselves of our indulgences in order to serve the greater community. As I believe many people in our community have been doing, we should continue to raise awareness, do good for society, and fight to protect what is right.

However, this standard has permeated the deepest spheres of our personal lives to the extent that many of us feel guilty for deviating even slightly from our productive endeavors. We exhibit a constant need, not only in our schoolwork and professional obligations, to feel as if we have accomplished something of value at the expense of more simple pleasures. While we might be able to make this sacrifice in normal times, when the material results of our endeavors were more accessible, when our livelihoods weren’t under the same perpetual threat, and when the institutions we attended were still functioning normally, it is my contention that now, more than ever, we must embrace unilateral happiness.

Of course, life isn’t easy by any means; I’m still susceptible to the emotional pressure caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but that won’t completely go away until the ramifications of this are well in the rearview mirror. Until then, it’s important to take note of the trivial joys in life. Those little moments, as basic and unimportant as they may seem, make everything feel brighter for just one second.

Maybe it’s the way your cat forgets to put his tongue back in after grooming himself or the smell of that steak your mom has overcooked again. Who am I to say? Part of finding joy in these personal moments is that they are personal to you. When it seems almost every aspect of our lives has been radically altered, it is in these secluded and unsullied moments that we retain ownership of our happiness. So yes, you’re allowed to be happy—and I’ll be wishing you well as I put another Red Velvet song on repeat, and let myself smile.

The reader is advised that the author has very strong opinions regarding K-pop that might not be entirely guided by logic and reason. Please send all memes and questions to philip.jang@columbia.edu, Kimchi Fridge Runs on alternate Tuesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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