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[Trending] ‘Sohwakhaeng’ taps into Koreans’ desire to find happiness in little things

July 29, 2018 - 17:00 By Chyung Eun-ju
In a country where working long hours used to be seen as a badge of honor, more people are adopting a new way of life in search of happiness. But there is one “small” condition.

Instead of pursuing the purchase of an apartment, marriage or employment, people are simply looking for ways to be happy with the little things in life.

The Korean phrase “sohwakhaeng,” which translates into “small but certain happiness,” is trending on local online communities in a big way.

The emergence of sohwakhaeng as a trendy word suggests that people are trying to find happiness in small things as the future appears more uncertain.

A Twitter user referred to sohwakhaeng as the “2018 survival guide” as he prefers to use his money right away to travel rather than save up to buy a house.

Another user also posted about how he is afraid of investing in an uncertain future. “I do not plan on getting married because having a wife makes life more complicated. Living in the present is already too much for me, why think about the future. Happiness can be found in drinking a can of beer.”

Pictures posted on Instagram with #sohwakhaeng (Instagram)

There are nearly 300,000 posts uploaded on Instagram with the #sohwakhaeng hashtag about finding happiness in a meal, the weather, watching a movie or just resting at home.

As the search keywords “student loan,” “youth unemployment” and “unmarried” emerged more on Naver, youths having a difficult time started to also search for sohwakhaeng, according to the CEO of Data Marketing Korea Lee Jin-hyung. If “YOLO” (You only live once) was the trending phrase a year ago, now it’s sohwakhaeng.

People in their 20s and 30s also refer to themselves as the “n-Po” Generation, with “n” being a variable of exponential growth and “Po” from the Korean word for “give up.”

Trying to find happiness from things that can be controlled is an attempt to grapple with the hard realities of life.

If Korea was known for “palli palli” or “hurry hurry” in the past, the trend has now shifted toward relaxation. Instagram users post pictures of a coffee shop and a view of nature, highlighting how happiness is found in the calm.

However, a Twitter user said there was a downside to sohwakhaeng.

“I’m sad that people are trying to find happiness in little things instead of trying to save up for years to buy a place. It just means people have given up on their future.”

The concept of sohwakhaeng was first introduced in a 1986 essay titled “Afternoon in the Islets of Langerhans” by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The writer described happiness as eating a freshly baked loaf of bread or wearing a new shirt that smells like clean cotton, among other mundane things.

By Chyung Eun-ju (