Jean Yeh, aged 74, is a dynamic person with a range of passions that keep life exciting. Her hobbies include swimming, walking, exploring art galleries, listening to music, and exciting adventures through travel. Jean also finds fulfilment in volunteering, dedicating her time and skills to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, where she serves at the exhibition centre service desk. With a rich career history that includes roles as an administrative officer in a trading company and an accountant in the British Office, she has garnered valuable experiences and insights.
TCL: How would you personally define happiness? If happiness were a recipe, what would you put in it?
Jean Yeh: My definition of happiness is having no worries, an open mind, and being yourself. If happiness were a recipe, I would add love, caring, forgiveness, mindfulness, music, art, good food, and good friends.
TCL: Do you think people become happier as they get older? Why or why not?
Jean Yeh: Yes, because their life missions are completed, their children have all grown up, and their parents are no longer around. I feel good that when I was younger, I overcame challenges and also enjoyed good times. Finally, now I can put myself as the main focus of my life, and now is a wonderful time of my life.
TCL: Reflecting on your own life, do you feel happier now compared to when you were younger? Why or why not?
Jean Yeh: Now is the best time of my life. I still have good physical condition to go anywhere I wish. Due to COVID, I was unable to travel, which is what I enjoy a lot. So, I focus on doing more exercise and getting myself fitter so I can continue to enjoy travelling around the world and visit as many places as I like when travelling is allowed. When I was young, I was so busy, and my life was everywhere because I had to work, manage a busy family life, and time was never enough for me. I also had to face the hard times of my marriage life, so it was less pleasant, and I was just too busy for too many things. Compared to my younger life, now it is so much better. I can choose the life I want, and I have the freedom to decide what I like to do.
TCL: If you had a happiness genie who could grant you one wish to improve your life right now, what would you wish for?
Jean Yeh: I wish I could go back to when I was in my 50s, in terms of health condition and physical condition, because I could take a break from work, book my ticket, and fly anywhere I wanted. I would be able to visit my older daughter who lives in France now. Even when I came back from my holiday, I could still continue to work immediately, without feeling tired. I miss my energy level at my age of 50s. Actually, as you get older, it is just not possible to have the same physical condition as in the past, so if I could have a wish, I would just want my physical condition to be the same as when I was 50 years old. I enjoyed very much of my time in my 50s; I had enough freedom to decide where I wanted to be, and I was still working as an accountant, and my physical condition allowed me to do it all.
TCL: Do you think different cultures have their own secret recipes for happiness? Do you think where you live is happier than other parts of the world? Why?
Whether you feel happier living in your country or not, I think it is based on your mindset.
Jean Yeh: Absolutely. I cannot say that living in Taiwan is happier than other countries; however, I think I am happy to live in Taiwan. Whether you feel happier living in your country or not, I think it is based on your mindset. Based on my current mindset, I am very satisfied with everything around me, so I think where I live is the happy place I like to be. I think it is because I am very satisfied with my current condition, so I am confident in saying I am happy in my part of the world. In addition, the place I live is safe, and the environment is also easy for me to move around. There are more non-barrier walkways in recent years, so I feel comfortable moving around in the cities with good public transportation. There are also many activities provided by my community that allow me to learn new things.
TCL: Do you believe the main responsibility for your happiness falls on your shoulders or on society’s? Why?
Jean Yeh: I think it is definitely my responsibility to make my own happiness. I believe that my happiness is created by myself, and I am also responsible for maintaining it. Human beings have their own emotions, such as joy, anger, sadness, and happiness, which impact themselves in daily life. When you have negative emotions such as anger and sadness, you will have people around to support and care for you, but it is only temporary relief. In the end, you need to use your own strength and your own thoughts to turn things around and change your perspective to see things differently, allowing yourself to recover a peaceful mind. So, I don’t think it is society’s responsibility, and their help is also not sustainable, based on my own personal experience.
TCL: Can you recall a time when you felt unhappy or down? What factors contributed to that feeling, and how did you eventually overcome it?
Jean Yeh: In my life, there is one thing that I will never forget that made me feel very helpless and down. My marriage failure was the hardest thing in my life, and the pain in my heart was unbearable at the time. I was married at 23, and when I was 41, I fully trusted my ex-husband and enjoyed my marriage. I found out in a nasty way that I was betrayed by my ex-husband, and I was so hurt by the whole journey, that I had no choice but to end my marriage. Many good friends were around to support me, but it was just temporary relief from my pain. However, I knew I could not stay down forever, and I needed to restart my life, so I focused more on my job and tried to keep myself busy. I also realised I needed to pay more attention to my two daughters who were still in high school and be their shoulders and role models. I had many friends who were with me at that time to help me get through this difficult period in my life, and I finally moved on with my life.
TCL: How do you think society could work towards increasing overall happiness? What innovations do we need?
I would like to see innovation that allows me to... learn more things in life.
Jean Yeh: The Taiwan government has set up many different (65+) community centers in all cities, and there is one near my house. Only people over 65 are allowed to use the facilities in this center, and you just need to pay a small fee to be eligible to attend all the classes, such as the gym, choir, dancing, and learning different languages, etc. In these classes, you can immediately see that people over 65 in these various classes are very active and happy in this environment, which also builds up their confidence. In terms of innovations, I love to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. For example, I really enjoy listening to TED Talk Shows, attending many seminars and workshops, and it is wonderful to learn that there is so much new information and useful advice from these events. I would like to see innovation that allows me to easily access this new information, allowing me to learn more things in life.