Citrus Rhapsody

Writing the Way to Happiness Today, the book read by Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) and featured in episode 14 of 2015 Korean drama Twenty Again 필사의 발견 오늘, 행복을 쓰다 : 아들러의 행복과 긍정 메시지 99

Is it ever too late to chase a dream?

Twenty Again juxtaposes its 38-year-old college freshman heroine’s regrets about her past passivity with some of her youthful schoolmates’ indifference to their hearts’ desires. While she does not think it possible at her age to pursue the dancing career she had wanted as a youth, they, sticking to dogmas and cold pragmatism for the larger part of the show, are not always objects of envy either. As the show nears its conclusion, it shares these lines from a book titled Writing the Way to Happiness Today:

결정하는 것은
경험이 아니다.
그 경험을
어떻게 해석하는가가


It is not past experiences that determine the future.
It is how you construe those experiences that determines the future.

A compilation of messages inspired by Austrian physician Alfred Adler, this 2015 publication, launched only eight days before the debut of the miniseries and less than two months before the airing of the episode, formed part of an Adler boom South Korea has been experiencing since 2014. Simply put, the psychotherapist was often the polar opposite of Sigmund Freud. And one of their key differences lay in their attitudes towards determinism. Whereas Freud believed that a person’s past shapes his present self, Adler thought that both past experiences and goals for the future influence an individual’s psychological present. Even where the past is concerned, Adler asserted that individuals have the conscious choice to take advantage of or ignore—as in the case of the schoolmates—hereditary talent and environmental opportunities, and the creative power to convert their sense of inferiority into a drive to cooperate for the common good. Thinking it almost totally erroneous to regard particular experiences as determinants of the future, he proclaimed that “[m]eanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.”

From this standpoint, wounds need not fester into psychopathological problems, which, Adler theorized, arise when people succumb to an inferiority complex or overcompensate for it by turning to aggression. Far from it, setbacks can inform individuals what landmines to avoid and who their real allies are. The trying circumstances past adversities may have left behind are challenges to rise up to and make eventual victories in otherwise ordinary endeavors all the more sweet and satisfying. Having experienced devastation, one may also be better positioned to identify and empathize with those silently undergoing the same struggles. His insights into human pitfalls and the unsavory side of life can empower him to change the world for the better. Sufferers are not victims by default; they can be sages, fighters and reformers.

Those pluses pertain to making the best of adverse situations without necessarily remedying losses. Yet, it is not absolutely impossible to recover missed opportunities. If a goal remains physically attainable, it may be waiting for a trailblazer to overcome any social obstacles lying in the way. If it cannot be pursued in one form, it may yet be feasible in another. If paid positions are completely closed, there are still entrepreneurship and amateur practices to explore. Even if everything turns out to be physically unattainable, technology and human creativity may change the situation down the road. In this regard, it seems inexplicable that, after enthusing about its lead character’s passion for dance and how her jaw-dropping performances still draw in the crowds, the drama has her abandon the field altogether with a resigned tone, when numerous possibilities like freelance choreography, teaching and establishment of troupes for older dancers exist.

The passage "Interpreting Happiness" in the book read by Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) and featured in episode 14 of 2015 Korean drama Twenty Again

There is nevertheless a paradox about second chances: if it will never be too late to fulfill dreams, what reason is there for a person to do so immediately? Mortality is one stimulus (or rather, it solves the conundrum by eliminating the first premise in cunning ways) but it has its limits. The heroine’s quest for higher education is originally powered by a desire to communicate with her sophisticated husband, and later, a wish to experience college life for its own sake when a cancer scare reminds her of her mortality. By the end of the series, though, she shockingly drops out, citing expenses issues and finding no courses that interest her, aside from dance. Neither does she still think she needs qualifications to be compatible with any romantic partner.

That last part is a very salutary notion and makes for a strong statement against conformist attitudes towards college education. The problem is, however unenthusiastic she now is about academics, they have actually given her new ideas about living and relationships throughout the drama. In one instance, she derided her psychology don husband’s narcissistic personality with insights from his own discipline. Furthermore, at 38, a woman is not really old. There will likely be scenarios in her long journey ahead that she needs inspirations like these to resolve. Heartwarming as the finale is, it seems myopic for the show to satisfy itself with her establishing independence and finding new romance, without seeking for women like her some affordable avenues for intellectual exchanges and stimulation (e.g. adult education courses). Some solace can be found in the heroine capping off the series with books, like the one under discussion, as symbols of continual reflection and self-improvement, but they are relatively static and probably not as effective in helping one navigate difficult and unfamiliar terrains. In a nutshell, death enhances the appeal of dreams but it is sometimes life, with its never-ending line of problems, that confers upon them utility value, which should be a cause for not giving them up. Hence, at times, dreams ought to be chased exactly because it is still early.

Writing the Way to Happiness Today, the book read by Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) and featured in episode 16 of 2015 Korean drama Twenty Again 필사의 발견 오늘, 행복을 쓰다 : 아들러의 행복과 긍정 메시지 99

Two other considerations supports the carpe diem mentality when it comes to dreams. The first is, although the past need not determine the future, a checkered one often raises the difficulty of achieving objectives. There can be a trade-off between the joy of going with the flow of the moment and the relative peace of mind many people secure by working on effort-demanding but important dreams. If it is needless prospective troubles that one fears and particular types of future happiness that one values more, then plans for such dreams should not be delayed. Secondly, many moments are unique, a truth for both simple moments and moments when dreams are realized. Even if an objective can be accomplished later on, the experience may not be the same. Some people who fulfill their aspirations at advanced ages treasure the achievements but also wonder what it would feel to have done so in their younger days, when emotions flowed more readily.

Another trend Writing the Way to Happiness Today has joined is that of South Korean self-help books encouraging readers to hand-copy uplifting sentences from the pages. Part of this activity’s appeal is thought to stem from the comforting physical touch those suffering from digital fatigue derive from it. The book adds that passive reading will not enable anyone to internalize Adler’s ideas; one can start changing his way of life only by writing out the lines—a proactive attitude the physician would certainly approve of.

Writing the Way to Happiness Today, the book read by Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) and featured in episode 16 of 2015 Korean drama Twenty Again 필사의 발견 오늘, 행복을 쓰다 : 아들러의 행복과 긍정 메시지 99

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