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How to Find Joy in Your Life

A film review: Look at life differently and find happiness.

Key points

  • Whatever our work is, if we do it to the best of our ability it becomes meaningful.
  • Acts of kindness to strangers can bring great joy.
  • Look around at the nature above and below us—love trees and cherish plants.

Last night we went to see a wonderful film called "Perfect Days" by Wim Wenders with a marvelous Japanese actor, Koji Yashuko who plays a man who spends his days in menial labor. The hero, Hirayama works each day meticulously cleaning toilets, only escaping for moments to eat his lunch under the trees, drive home listening to his cassettes, eat his dinner alone in a bar, and read before he falls asleep.

What makes the film so wonderful is Koji Yashuko's face, he says almost nothing, which somehow manages to convey his joy, in the small blessings of his day: a child he rescues shut in a toilet, a young girl who steals a cassette but brings it back and asks to listen again to the music; the sight of a tree with its branches spread against the sky that he photographs with his old camera; a young niece who arrives out of his past.

The film's brilliance is that it never explains why the hero, HIrayma is cleaning toilets for a living. There is no back story or moment of revelation. We do learn he has wealthy relatives. His sister, whom he loves, comes to claim her daughter at one point in a fancy car with a chauffeur. But we gradually learn that our silent hero loves the world around him: the trees, the light in the morning when he steps out the door, even a moment when he sees his lazy coworker responding to a friend who plays with his ears! He loves reading and books and is intelligent, responsive, and generous to others. There is a wonderful scene when he listens to a woman singing a song about a bar in New Orleans called The Rising Sun.

By the end of the film, which centers on the actor's face as he drives once more to work, we understand that surely he has had great tragedy in his life but has managed somehow to overcome his sadness and find joy in the small blessings of his day: by performing his menial work with great diligence, doing it to the very best of his ability, by small acts of kindness and generosity to the people in his life, by looking around him at the city (Tokyo beautifully filmed all the way) and the sky, the plants which he succors, and by reading which he does until he falls asleep at night. It seemed to me very sad and yet uplifting! Above all, it's a lesson for all of us to find in our days, however, we pass them the small joys that nature, art, compassion—be it music or literature, a small act of kindness to those around us, and above all the trees and nature above and below us—can bring to all of us.


Perfect Days, a film by Win Wenders acted by Koji Yashuko.

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