The world is full of irritations, whether it’s the record heat during the day, the sleepless nights, a messed-up class schedule that’s already gotten you worried about next semester, or that part-time job you couldn’t get. All around you are so-called “golden spoons” and “perfect sons” and “daughters”, but that doesn’t seem to be your story. You’re spending your youthful days harder than other generations to overcome an uneasy reality but don’t see a breakthrough to a happy future ahead. To make matters worse, the gloomy prospect of “the current young generation being the first to be less well off than their parents since the Korean War” is being cautiously presented.
Reflecting the gloominess of the times, college students have made a social issue out of something called “so-hwak-haeng” ‘소확행(小確幸)’. It’s an abbreviated way of referring to small but definite happiness. Instead of searching for happiness in big things you won’t get easily, it means finding happiness in the small things around you. I try to put this into practice in my own life. On the other hand, when the ways of the world get too hard, I am actually sad in finding my own happiness in small things. While I am fully sympathetic to the fact that these small bits of happiness can come together and enrich everyday life, students in their early to mid-twenties are so focused on being happy in the future that they forget to look for a little happiness each day.
Then how can we make a happy future? I think the first step would be to figure out what makes us unhappy. I recently read a book called “Mr. Coupe’s Happy Trip” by Francois Lelord in which he suggests the first secret to happiness is not comparing yourself to others. Because we are social animals, however, we compare ourselves to each other from the moment we are born till the day we die. In the process, competition occurs. Through this perpetual competition, you feel happy when you think you are superior to others and unhappy when you don’t. Our dichotomous happiness based on material things is something we’re used to. Now more than ever university students are fiercely competing with each other over qualifications like TOEIC scores, internships, competitive exhibitions, course credits, and part-time jobs, making up the whole of university life. However, rather than from a conclusion drawn from a serious contemplation of happiness, I’m afraid these efforts are unquestioningly following the formula of “winning = a happy future” created by a failed older generation.
Here I want to tell college students that they need to have some perspective to be able to critique this competitive structure instead of merely accepting society’s demand that they compete with one another. Furthermore, do not waste your precious youth in competition with others but instead hope to find out what really makes you happy. There is a saying from the Analects of Confucius: “知之者不如好知者, 好知者不如樂知者.” It means “To be fond of it is better than merely to know it, and to find joy in it is better than merely to be fond of it.” The process of finding meaning in life is necessary for college students at this moment, not by doing better than others but by finding out what you like and striving for what you can enjoy doing. If you base the happiness of your future on material success like your salary and your title, you will someday find yourself unhappy when you compare yourself to someone with a better salary and higher social status. But if you choose to do what you enjoy, even if you don’t have much, I think you’ll be able to find happiness in your life.
The present and future are always connected. If the current generation goes through the unhappy process of trying to live up to the older generation’s definition of success, the result will not be a happy one. From this moment on I advise that as the students of Kangnam University dream about the future, they also look at what will bring them lasting happiness.
Translated by Charles Ian Chun