Y.O.L.O. – Really?


I’ve been asked to address concepts related to YOLO. YOLO is an acronym for You Only Live Once. It is thought to have gained a great deal of attention as a result of a hip-hop song recorded in 2011 by Lil Wayne. Since then it has been further popularized by Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar along with Miley Cyrus and other pop “artists” and even the actors in the “Jackass” movies. It seems as if the primary reason for the, I hate to call it a movement, attraction is the abandonment of responsibility for individual actions or the outcome of the actions. It has been used to attempt to define the attitude of a generation.

News Flash  The problem with that approach is that virtually every generation has flirted with exactly the same attitude. The James Dean era, and other social rebels for trade-in movies and songs seem to follow easily from the title of the James Dean movie “Rebel Without a Cause” which tended to morph later into the joke “Rebel Without a Clue.” Early motorcycle movies, gang related movies and songs throughout time have related to the idea that each generation, in fact each individual, is entirely unique and completely unrelated to, and unable to be understood by, almost anyone. There are many songs and entertainment venues that push the idea of “love the one you’re with” “leader of the pack” and stories of the success of people from “the wrong side of the tracks” who were horribly misunderstood and defied society and logic to become either immediately gratified or tragically dead.

The idea of YOLO has been compared to nihilism and existential nihilism. There are references in literature to atheism and these topics. Nihilism, and other fancier and more sophisticated sounding names, really comes down to the concept that nothing matters, not even a life. In that sense there seems to be an automatic escape clause for individuals who subscribe to nihilism as a means to avoid morality since nothing matters an ex-essential nihilist goes further to say that even your own life does not matter. In mental health terms this hopeless, helpless approach to life’s meaning seems to carry a great deal of depressive significance. The damage to society in this case is the spreading of the symptoms of an individual and using them to describe a societal depression. The problem with this is that too many people will use this idea as a reason to act a particular way rather than a description of how someone acts.

The entire concept of YOLO and nihilism would seem to be in direct opposition to the idea that there is a God that loves and brings meaning to life. If there is no meaning to life then it is not difficult to imagine that there would be no God. That seems like backwards logic to me. It can’t be proven, or really even supported well, that there is no God; therefore no meaning to life. The backwards approach begins with a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and then coming to the conclusion that there is no God. I think a similar analogy could be: “there is no water available and so I am thirsty” becoming “I am thirsty so there must be no water.” Such backwards logic can obviously be refuted but it does require some level of thought.

At the root of all of this seems to be a large and unhealthy dose of narcissism. This is a kind of narcissism that I believe predisposes individuals to believe that they are owed something with no effort on their part. Happiness becomes rooted in things and also rooted in immediate gratification. In this context it’s easy to see the mistaken concept that happiness is an external phenomenon. It then becomes something that a person feels inside is a result of something happening on the outside. In reality, happiness and contentment are internal and are the result of an individual doing things that reduces or eliminates the probability of a negative outcome. Since the 1960s we have seen the evolution of sex from an intimate activity that enhances the probability of love to a recreational activity that provides immediate gratification and often long term grief in the form of unwanted pregnancies, venereal disease and broken relationships.

It is my belief that the concepts of YOLO, various forms of nihilism and a lack of individual moral knowledge will all have a much higher likelihood of providing grief than goodness. The lack of morality is included here because of its narcissistic characteristics. All of these carry the basic message of “I am the most important thing in the world and I don’t think much of me”.

My individual message to clients is consistent when I say “whatever you want more of you should give away.” If you want respect you should give respect. If you want kindness you should give kindness. If you are getting drama and selfishness you are likely contributing drama and selfishness.

My take-home message is: you are important and your life matters. Even when you think no one cares, you have no idea who may be watching and caring. It’s not true that you only live once. How you live today and the risks you take now quite likely will have an impact on your future. The lives you live as a toddler, preadolescent, adolescent and hopefully as the adult are each different but are impacted by how you lived the previous phase. You either learn and improve or stagnate and decline.

Remember, life is built on choices. Make choices that are consistent with improvement of the different lives you live here and in eternity.