You only live once (YOLO): lessons from Día de Muertos on living life to the fullest

"Be as happy as you can, oh king Tecayehyatzin;
You who appreciates the jewels that flourish!
Will we live again?

Your heart knows this:
We only live once!"

-Xayacamachan 1510 A.D.

The Aztecs had the right attitude about living life to the fullest. Various sources dating back to pre-Colombian times point to the idea of celebrating life and death. As the poem above says, "be as happy as you can" because YOLO. 

Today is November 2nd– the days leading up to today and afterward are of great significance to Mexico and its many cultures. This time of year commemorates life and those that have passed on– it's a tradition that dates back 3,000+ years. For me, it's quite literally the "most wonderful time of the year" and one that is both emotional and uplifting. It's the time of year that I look forward to the most. For our artisan families and colleagues in Oaxaca, preparations start well in advance to ensure that the ancestors are welcomed in a proper manner. This comprises of setting up an alter with photos of deceased loved ones, preparing offerings such as food and objects that loved ones enjoyed during their time on earth, as well as other items (marigold flowers, salt, etc.) that are essential for this occasion. Families gather, reflect, and love on each other as they await the arrival of ancestors– reminding them that they are not forgotten and that their memories and teachings continue to live on. 

In today's world, it's not easy to have a YOLO mindset 100% of the time. Most of us have lost loved ones during the pandemic and the stresses of everyday life (pandemic-related or not) consume us at times. I admit, I struggle with this myself but if there is something that this pandemic has taught all of us, it's to appreciate the little things and to live with as little regret as possible. 

Here are some lessons that I'd like to believe my ancestors would approve of based on their YOLO approach:

  1. Set goals for yourself and maintain a positive outlook. Recognize that you may not accomplish everything in one day– and that's OK. Celebrate what you did accomplish and leave everything else for later (or tomorrow). You did enough for today and that's what really matters. Reward yourself with a sweet treat, an evening walk, or a favorite Netflix show– you choose!

  2. Surround yourself with objects and items that bring you joy. We spend so much time indoors and at home that we might as well be among the things that make us happy. Take out that piece of artwork that you bought while on pre-pandemic travel and never unpacked– put it in your favorite corner. Re-organize that space in your home that you've been meaning to get to where you like to read your favorite book, write in your journal, or where you drink your morning coffee. Fill that space with items that make you feel good and inspired. 

  3. Do that one thing that you've been wanting to do! Go on that hike that you've bookmarked for months now. Try that one (food) place you drive by every day on your way to work. Buy yourself that thing you've been eyeing and saving up for a while– you've worked hard for it! Find that recipe that you bookmarked long back and cook for that one person that has supported you when you haven't felt your best.

This year, I made pan de muerto with my Mom. We usually support our local L.A. and Inland Empire bakeries during this time but this year, we decided to make mini versions of this traditional bread together. It was lots of work and we worked up quite a sweat but it was SO worth it. This quality time is one that I cherish.