Cindy with kiss on eye. Shot inside hotel room. Saigon, 2017

Dear friend,

I’m gonna try to share some personal thoughts on purpose and happiness.

DOWNLOAD PDF: Purpose by eric kim

My definition of happiness

To start, what is “happiness”?

I define happiness as creative flourishing (eudaimonia in Greek). Creative flourishing is like you’re a fountain, constantly overflowing with creative water, force, and power. In practical terms, to creatively flourish means to keep making art (making more photos, paintings, pictures,etc) and to keep pushing your skills to the next level.


Cindy red and green. Saigon, 2017

I feel the most happiness and joy when I’m drunken off the Dionysian flow of creating. I’m only happy when I’m in the process of writing, researching, watching engaging film that requires 100% of my attention, when I am performing and teaching, when I am analyzing art, when I am dancing to music, having an engaging conversation with Cindy or friends or family, or when I’m making photos, or making pictures.

Pleasure isn’t happiness

I used to think that happiness was pleasure —but that’s wrong.

Pleasure: if we wanted to just keep feeling pleasure, it would be best to just constantly partake in drunken orgies, constantly taking ecstasy and heroin, and eating foie gras. But alas, this type of pleasure would wear off quickly — imagine having sex 10 times a day —wouldn’t that be more pain than pleasure?

Owning stuff isn’t that fun

Also it is obvious that happiness doesn’t come from material possessions. Because it isn’t fun to possess something —it is only fun to create, make stuff, and play.

For example, I’ve always lusted over owning a Leica camera. I thought it would bring me joy for the rest of my life, because it would “inspire” me to go out and shoot more, because it would give me more confidence to make more photos, and I would just feel cool having the camera as a luxury-fashion object.

Girl with nails.

I finally got one, and no —it didn’t solve my life problems. The Leica was a lot heavier than I imagined. I ended up not shooting as much as I wanted.

Blue car, red wall. Indianapolis, 2013

The same goes with all material possessions —even if I bought a Lamborghini, I’m sure I would tire of it easily. Even owning a nice home, that would tire quickly. Even owning a bunch of money — having money in itself doesn’t bring joy.

Only the act of creation brings true joy.

Don’t over obsess over purpose

Girl in pink with book. Singapore, 2013

Ok, so the next concept is purpose.

My theory:

Don’t think too much about purpose. Then we stress too much about legacy, pleasing others, and trying to make something really good.

Challenge over purpose

My mom knitting in our old berkeley apartment, 2013

My suggestion:

Challenge Yourself.

Challenge yourself, and have fun. Avoid boredom. Constantly push yourself 25% beyond than you think what your limits are.

But what’s my purpose?

Street photo in Istanbul, 2013

Of course, you still need a sense of purpose.

My idea of purpose, stolen from Cindy:

  1. Make art
  2. Share that art with others

You gotta make art that empowers yourself. Then you have a duty to share that art with others, to inspire others.

But remember, it isn’t within your control whether others like it or not. But still, you must publish and share your work. Even if you have the ability to empower one other human being on planet earth, it is worth it.

Three ideas as happiness as a photographer

Black cop cutout with flash. Downtown la, 2014

An idea I got from the philosopher Democritus:

Happiness as an artist is,

  1. Increase your skills (extension, augmentation of your skills)
  2. Enlargement of purpose
  3. Enhancement of power

1. Increase your skills

Man with curtain on face. Istanbul, 2013

For myself, I improve my skills by cross pollinating my skills I am learning and teaching myself all visual arts. No limits. Painting, sculpture, photography —it is all fair game.

Then, taking those lessons I learn, and apply it to my photos, to make better art.

2. Enlargement of purpose

Portrait of my sister Annette Kim, Hasselblad x Portra 400

To enlarge your sense of purpose:

Build a larger platform for you to share your stuff with.

For example, start your own YouTube channel, your own photography website or blog. I generally recommend avoiding Facebook and Instagram, because you don’t have enough control.

India surreal street photograph of taxi. Mumbai, 2013

To enlarge your purpose —building self confidence in yourself, that your purpose of an artist is epic. Your stuff is really good, and it deserves to be shared.

The more self-confident you are, the more purpose you will feel in your life.

3. Enhancement of power

Two suits in London, 2013

Recognition that your skills are increasing, and knowing you have the ability to birth your creations in your mind, into the physical world.

For example being able to visualize what’s in your mind, and making an art piece from it.

Suit with glasses in teeth, London, 2014

As a photographer, visualizing a picture you want to make, and having the ability to actually create that photo.

Currency exchange, suits, 2014. London.

Thus, power as a photographer-artist is to have ABILITY (power as ability).

Physical strength as an artist

Almonds after doing deadlifts. Emeryville, 2016

Other practical ideas,

First of all, one thing a lot of artists don’t talk about —the importance of physical strength.

My theory:

The more physically strong you are, the stronger you will be as an artist.

For example, the stronger I build my muscles (through squats, deadlifts, pushups, chin-ups, yoga moves, etc)— the more productive I am as an artist.

Shot head on with the “cutoff technique”

For example, after an intense workout of one rep max deadlifts, I feel like a fucking beast, breathing fire. I run home, and churn out new blog posts. The more physically strong I am, the less afraid and less self-conscious I am of myself.

Man in Venice with tattoo on chest.

Even in photography —you need to be physically fit. The more you can walk without fatigue, and the more muscular your legs, the more productive you will be as a photographer.

Diet for artists

Spine in doctor office, surreal abstract.

Diet is also essential. My general suggestion:

Drink lots of black coffee and water during the day, and limit sugar and simple carbohydrates during the day.

A strong photographer and artist needs substantial nutrition. This is why I recommend in the evenings, having a hearty meal of veggies, meats, eggs, and nutrient dense food.

I love the cold

Pink lips and open mouth.

Also another life hack:

If you need a quick shot of inspiration or motivation, take an icy cold shower.

Ice cold showers have been proven to treat symptoms of depression, and also improve our mood and sleep.

Clouds. Tokyo, 2014

For me, as a devoted ice cold shower devotee for the last 5 years, I’ve learned:

Taking ice cold showers is painful, but if you can survive an ice cold shower, you can survive anything in life.

Some practical ideas to jumpstart your inspiration.


Istanbul man in suit, with flash through glass.

Start off with philosophy. I recommend the Stoics:

Then the Zen-Taoist philosophers:

Then, study the masters of photography. The best:

Then, study painters:

Then, study visionaries:

In terms of music, I recommend:

You’re stronger than you think.

Selfie with Cindy in mirror with flash. Marseille, 2017, shot on Program mode, Ricoh gr ii

I’m still trying to figure out shit for myself, and all this advice won’t apply to your or your life.

But, I want to encourage you:

Stay strong.

It’s a blessing to be alive. Sometimes to fight to life is even an act of courage and bravery.

Selfie our Cindy and our friend at local market in Marseille

Find joy in the small joys of life. The cup of coffee, the glass of wine, the nice crispy duck, the hug of a friend, the kiss of a loved one, and the opportunity to run around and make photos.



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