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So Long YOLO, Young Koreans choose 'Godsaeng'

So Long YOLO, Young Koreans choose 'Godsaeng'

Jung Hye-in, a 32-year-old office worker in Seoul, takes dietary supplements with warm water, does a few yoga poses and reads at least one economic report every morning before starting work. During lunchtime, she takes a TOEFL class or goes for a 30-minute walk. Before going to sleep, she writes a blog about her daily life and her interest in fashion, home decoration, music and books.


"I'm naturally a planner, but I started keeping track of my habits more precisely after moving out of my parents' house in 2020. Setting a goal and diligently working toward achieving it is meaningful and fulfilling," she said.

Like Jung, an increasing number of young people in Korea are adopting simple and healthy habits ― things like keeping a tidy and organized living space, drinking 2 liters of water per day, and cutting down on screen time.

They do so in order to "lead an industrious and active life" in what they see as uncertain times. Known as "Godsaeng" in Korean ― a portmanteau of "God" and "saeng" (which means "life" in Korean) ― many Millennials and those of Generation Z strive to get the most out of their time.

However, that doesn't mean they follow grandiose plans. Rather, they find meaning in completing day-to-day tasks.

Kwak Geum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, explained that deep-rooted frustration among young people and the COVID-19 pandemic have fueled this trend.

"The stress of constant rejection in the job market and making social comparisons have led young people to look for small moments of happiness. Instead of setting big, long-term goals, they set a series of small objectives that seem attainable and measurable," she said.

"Long periods of limited physical contact under lockdowns have also stimulated the creation of new routines for them to focus entirely on themselves. This way, they can better cope with stress, fear and anxiety during the pandemic," Kwak added.

Asked how Godsaeng differs from the "YOLO" (an acronym for "you only live once") trend, which refers to a lifestyle that encourages people to cherish the present moment without worrying too much about the future, the professor explained that Godsaeng is more pragmatic.

"For some reason, YOLO has found negative connotations in Korea. The term was used to represent young people who abandon their stable jobs to discover what they really want and to splurge on experience. By contrast, 'Godsaeng-ers' believe their small endeavors will build up and help them to create greater achievements in the future. They've grown wiser," Kwak said.

Lee Kyung-min, a psychiatrist and CEO of Mindroute Leadership Lab, said pursuing a Godsaeng lifestyle can help improve one's self-esteem.

"Millennials and GenZers have less control over how their lives turn out, such as work promotion or real estate purchases, so they have a deep-seated desire for control over a productive daily routine. Of course, they want to improve their daily lives, but their bigger goal is to improve self-esteem” she said.

Companies have been quick to commodify the concept and started using the phrase to advertise their products and services, holding various events under the theme of "Godsaeng."

The productivity app “Challengers” helps users achieve their goals by offering them a chance to bet on achieving a goal with their own money and getting payouts and even prizes for completing tasks. “Cashwalk” is another rewards-based app which converts users' outdoor activities into virtual coins per step taken as they walk.

Youcandoo, a service launched by education technology firm Yanadoo, allows users to receive rewards ― coffee coupons or gift cards ― when they achieve their personal learning goals. It helps users gamify their daily tasks and improve their productivity and personal habits.

Flo, an audio content platform, recently launched a Godsaeng challenge event, which offers coupons to users who listen to podcasts, language tutorials, mental health information and well-being lessons for at least 10 minutes a day for three straight weeks.

"We held the event to promote how our audio content can help people acquire knowledge in various fields, manage their mental health and support their active lifestyle," an official at the company said.

An undeniable fact is that this lifestyle has attracted many followers.

"While the trend has been somewhat exploited by companies, it is true that it has been accepted by many Koreans as a cultural code of living in the present," Kwak at Seoul National University said.

However, Lee warned that excessive pursuits of such productivity can have a negative impact.

"The people who engage in a Godsaeng lifestyle are often high-achievers. I have observed that these individuals push themselves too far and experience burnout," she said.

The psychiatrist stressed that we should tell ourselves that it's okay not to achieve self-improvement every day or to fail to achieve our goals sometimes.

"Please be more generous with yourself," she said.

Source: Kwak Yeon-soo from The Korea Times (March 13, 2022)

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