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Koreans react to startling results in Pew "what makes life meaningful" poll (koreaexpose.com)
89 points by debo_ 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments





Besides material well-being (19 percent), the things that are more likely to give Koreans meaning in life are health (17 percent), family (16 percent), general satisfaction (12 percent), society (8 percent), personal freedom (8 percent) and work (6 percent).

But even then these higher levels of interest are far below the median, except in the category of general satisfaction, where Korea has the second-highest portion of respondents (12 percent) saying they are satisfied with life, after Germany at 17 percent (at the other end of the spectrum only two percent of Americans say they are satisfied with life, and one percent in Greece).

If "material well-being" was at 19%, health 17%, and family 16%, that doesn't sound like an outlier in and of itself, and not entirely that alarming. Somewhat concerning to me is in the next statement, where it's stated that only 2% of Americans say they are satisfied with life, compared to 17% of Germans. As an American, that speaks volumes about our lifestyle and culture, and I find it disappointing. Satisfaction is contagious; I want to live among others who feel this way. Most of my friends work from home and are either alone most of the time, or have significant others but few friends whom they see on an active basis.

Secondly, I wonder (not trying to cast doubt, genuinely wonder) how surveymakers level-set these questions to be linguistically neutral. How do they account for "material well-being" translating perfectly across most European and some Asian languages? Or even the expression "meaningful"? Just something I think about when it comes to large surveys.


>* As an American, that speaks volumes about our lifestyle and culture, and I find it disappointing. Satisfaction is contagious; I want to live among others who feel this way. Most of my friends work from home and are either alone most of the time, or have significant others but few friends whom they see on an active basis.*

This puts into words my motivation to enact policies that would free up time and resources for people to better optimize or remove unnecessary weight from their lives. Whether it be healthcare, childcare, rising rents, etc. – the time-suck nature or just constant level of financial stress created by some issues weighs on the individual psyche, and in turn the collective one. When you can't leave your job because of healthcare, need the money for childcare or to service debt or pay rising rents, of course personal life and overall outlook on life take a hit. I may not live in a cycle like that, but I don't want to walk down the street knowing how common it is among the people around me. Death by a thousand cuts, it seems like.

And yes, much of this lives at the societal / cultural level as well, not purely the political. But in my opinion the collective burden of the problems that can be fixed by political means imposes an inertia on life that drags everything else down with it.


Very nuanced take; I agree.

Unfortunately, it's impossible for the societal / cultural to progress at all without having the free time and tranquility-of-psyche to actually reflect on life.

Concurrent is a severe lack of noblesse oblige in the U.S. The highest strata has forgotten its cultural roots, and lacks spiritual depth in this age.

Take for example Beatrice Webb calling Andrew Carnegie a "reptile" -- a time-honored tradition. Now, there is a complete lack of self-policing within the betters, a la "Michael O. Church."


"Unfortunately, it's impossible for the societal / cultural to progress at all without having the free time and tranquility-of-psyche to actually reflect on life."

I mean, this take isn't wrong, but it implies that society isn't the best it's ever been. People used to have to work themselves to the bone resisting death by nature. Some people have to work 2 jobs, maybe 60 or 70 hour weeks - that sucks, but it's still better than literally being a serf.

"Concurrent is a severe lack of noblesse oblige in the U.S. The highest strata has forgotten its cultural roots, and lacks spiritual depth in this age."

When has noblesse oblige ever been a main proponent of change? I don't think there was noblesse oblige during the french revolution. Did Webb's spatter with Carnegie _do_ anything? I feel like rich people have spatters all the time, none of it material to actual cultural change


"Some people have to work 2 jobs, maybe 60 or 70 hour weeks - that sucks, but it's still better than literally being a serf."

This is definitely someone who was never in desperate poverty, lol


Spoken like someone who has never been a serf.

I mean, you are kinda flippantly dismissing my claim... do you disagree? You would rather be a serf?

Today we have all of modern technology to help us - we have vaccines for debilitating diseases. If you break your leg, you don't just die... And even the lowest class of people can afford smartphones and access the internet.

These are all vast and material improvements to quality of life


Having been in that position, I can genuinely say I would rather be a Russian serf, absolutely illiterate and uneducated, knowing nothing at all about how destitute my conditions are, than being in the position I am today (or especially in the position I once was).

That reminds me of a major example of noblesse oblige: the emancipation of all serfs by Alexander II. Many went on to own and operate factories, and improve their material circumstances greatly (before Stalin destroyed it all) -- but some did not. And those that did not were likely spiritually worse-off being factory-hands working directly for a petit bourgeoise.

Whether or not this event was good or bad is subjective to one's personal values.


If you think serfs did not know how destitute they were because they were "illiterate and uneducated", then you have a far too rosy view of history.

If you were in their shoes, you would have clearly known how desperately poor you were. You knew because they lived in a hovel and can only heat it when it gets super cold. You knew because you saw a child starve to death after a bad harvest because you don't have any money to buy food for them. You knew because you only have a few sets of crappy clothing and holes in your shoes but can't afford to buy new ones. You knew because your mother died from a painful illness dies because you can't afford the medication.

You knew because, despite being a serf, despite being uneducated, you are not a complete moron.


I don't think its a matter of being a moron or not.

I've been in the conditions you describe, even much worse. Rarely does the mind wander to "this sucks, this really fucking sucks. Things need to change." You're too preoccupied with survival, and doing what you need to do. There is simply no time or extra energy to ruminate on one's material -- much spiritual -- state.

The only reason I got out of such a situation was because I knew there were things I could do to change my material circumstances, and escape such a fate. Had I not---had I not been educated or lived in "greener pastures"---I'm certain I would've continued to live like that and made peace with my circumstances, and made the best of them.

Materially, the circumstances were awful. But the few people I was surrounded with, who shared in such destitution, really made it very bearable, even pleasant. Having "lost" some, really did not give the same anguish as it does now. At the time, it just meant I had one less person to rely on, and one less person that would make the day go by faster, and so on. It wasn't emotional. Such is a luxury for others with time and resources.

Being "in the moment" and always working hard to survive gave me purpose. Being surrounded by others of the same fiber gave me belonging.

Would I go back, knowing what I know about the world? Never. I know far too much about how things "could be" to ever be in those material circumstances again.

Were the entire world to collapse, and I to lose my memory of all the past, I'm certain my spirit would be better off.

Alas, I and all the people around me, are too educated. We've been taught of bad and good. Of what we should strive for; of what "success" means; how we should think and act so as to be "good"; and what "bad" things and circumstances we should avoid, even be sad, shameful, or any other array of negative emotions, about.

The world we've been born into is hyper-focused on materialism, and there is no escape. There's no way to survive outside this system; and so those neural pathways rebalance and rewrite themselves so that we may find a place, any place at all, in this place.


The hypothetical surf that we talked about would readily trade their existence of starving to death and watching their their family die for one of materialism. if you say that you would rather be such a person, in their shoes, you are fooling yourself

We value different things.

I would rather be a serf, or even a golden retriever.


On society: simply a matter of personal values -- and subjective to its core -- especially in the case of defining "best." The only other "branch of thought" that shoots out is that the current U.S. society is the most enmeshed within the lives of its people. Again, whether or not this is a "good" thing, something to be lauded or decried, is individual.

In the past, you were not a "part" of society; you simply co-existed. Your main "society" was local, and its influence and demands did not have the same reach for the commoner until mass-communication took off, and became readily (and cheaply) available.

To some this is regressive towards individualism. To others this is a glorious advent towards improving material circumstances.

On the last, while material circumstances have improved, those of the spiritual (non-religious) nature have dwindled. There is ever less room to be human, "boxed-out" by the burgeoning, frenetic, and all-encompassing need to be a useful part in the whole.

Materially, the person working 2 jobs is better off than a literal serf; but in the incorporeal, both are still slaves in soul -- needing to labor for another in order to survive (while the other can simply live idle, and survive by virtue of his slaves).

Another branch could be that the serf didn't know he was a serf. He was not educated, nor cognizant of much but the (few) people around him. His spirit was simple, and wanted of little but base primal needs. Were he to learn he was as serf, I'm sure his spirit would become broken, knowing full well how terrible his circumstances are (in relation to his betters) -- and its crushing inescapability. But without such, he simply lives his life, as that's all he's known. There is no ephemeral "greener pasture" to keep on striving for until he drops dead (spiritually, and physically). He knows not of anguish. Discomfort and physical abuse? Yes. But of spiritual anguish he knows not.

This can go on and on in many different directions, but suffice to say I see it as moot.

On noblesse oblige: main proponent of change? I believe never. Its simply theatre; a social nicety. All it does is "smooth" any "ruffled feathers," and helps hide the disparity in material circumstance; as well as soothe negative emotions -- stopping them from cascading into general class-antagonism, and slave uprisings.

The increased visibility of the vast swathes of nouveau elite means their actions are under constant scrutiny by their lessers. Instead of reveling in degeneracy and exuberant opulence "behind closed doors" as the old elites did, they now broadcast it to the billions of proles, inadvertently reminding them that there is a "greener pasture." And as our hypothetical serf, all-aware that it is an utterly unreachable height (that is, if one hasn't been completely deluded by one's society or oneself into believing it is possible).

The simplest rule of governing over the masses is to make them believe their lives are good and well -- that they have everything they could ever want; that there is no "greener pasture." That the encroachment onto the soul of the common man by society is for the benefit of the common man, and not simply a way for the uppermost crust to simply subsist on their labor. Perhaps even that there is no encroachment onto the soul at all, it simply is "all they've known," and "how life is."

In this respect, a lack of noblesse oblige is just one example of the failings of our betters in managing societal progression, in-spite of the boorish and ever-deepening entanglement of "society" within the life and spirit of the commoner.


>But of spiritual anguish he knows not.

Thank you, Count Tolstoy, for that insight.


I had never read anything of his, but just now read through an article[0] and it seems like our observations match up (if only due to the shared ethnicity of our souls).

Do you know which of his works pertains most closely to his thoughts on "what should be done?"; where he writes more on non-religious faith, and "taking the meaning given to live by real humanity and merging myself in that life?"

[0] https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/06/03/tolstoy-confession...


Most people in the US probably only know he wrote "War and Peace". I started reading it online, but got bored and quit before long.

However, reading about Tolstoy as a person, and some of the shorter stuff he wrote is way more interesting, at least to me.

Andrea Dworkin wrote about Tolstoy's story "The Kreutzer Sonata" in the book "Intercourse" and compared it to his real life relationship with his wife. Which seems to have been horrific...according to her, who posterity has not esteemed like her husband.

Dworkin focused on misogyny, but other people have found aspects of Tolstoy's thinking or behavior repellent for other reasons. Here is something G.K. Chesterton wrote (since on HN only his fence ever seems to be mentioned)

"It is difficult in every case to reconcile Tolstoy the great artist with Tolstoy the almost venomous reformer. It is difficult to believe that a man who draws in such noble outlines the dignity of the daily life of humanity regards as evil that divine act of procreation by which that dignity is renewed from age to age. It is difficult to believe that a man who has painted with so frightful an honesty the heartrending emptiness of the life of the poor can really grudge them every one of their pitiful pleasures, from courtship to tobacco. It is difficult to believe that a poet in prose who has so powerfully exhibited the earth-born air of man, the essential kinship of a human being, with the landscape in which he lives, can deny so elemental a virtue as that which attaches a man to his own ancestors and his own land. It is difficult to believe that the man who feels so poignantly the detestable insolence of oppression would not actually, if he had the chance, lay the oppressor flat with his fist. All, however, arises from the search after a false simplicity, the aim of being, if I may so express it, more natural than it is natural to be. It would not only be more human, it would be more humble of us to be content to be complex. The truest kinship with humanity would lie in doing as humanity has always done, accepting with a sportsmanlike relish the estate to which we are called, the star of our happiness, and the fortunes of the land of our birth."


Serfs had more time off.

"it's stated that only 2% of Americans say they are satisfied with life, compared to 17% of Germans"

This isn't actually what the original study says, it was quoted in a confusing way by this article. 2% is the number of Americans who "refrain from offering detailed responses, responding instead that they are satisfied with life, that they feel fulfilled, or something else broadly general but still positive." [0]

So 17% of Germans find life fulfilling but don't particularly feel inclined to share their reasoning.

The percentage of Americans who find meaning from some source is clearly much higher, although I'm having a hard time finding that number.

[0] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2021/11/18/general-rather...


Current statistics seem to suggest that around 82% of people in the US are satisfied with their lives [0].

I wouldn't be surprised if these numbers are inflated, but it's way more than 2%.

Actually US mean satisfaction is higher than most places in Europe [2]. I don't doubt that social isolation and culture are a problem, but it's nothing compared to extreme poverty and not being safe.

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/happiness-cantril-ladder [2] https://thehill.com/homenews/news/537118-americans-personal-...


And yet look at how many comments in this thread are breathlessly accepting the idea that only 2% of Americans are satisfied with life, and drawing a variety of philosophical and political conclusions from that absurd statistic.

Imagine how many man-hours were expended in composing those comments

Misery Loves Co...is a Swedish thrash/industrial metal band:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misery_Loves_Co.


sounds like 90% of the political takes i see on twitter and cable news

> As an American, that speaks volumes about our lifestyle and culture, and I find it disappointing.

I wonder if the dissatisfaction started the tribal political wars, or if the wars precipitated the dissatisfaction. In the end, I think that much of the problem lies with politics at this point, regardless of whether it was the chicken or the egg.


The problem lies with all of the little ways a dysfunctional democracy fails to take care of it's people. I don't think it makes any sense to suggest dissatisfaction causes these policies.

Politics is the culprit only in the sense that many otherwise straightforwardly practical issues have become politicized to the point that objectively poorer and often dangerously irresponsible choices are preferable to any choice that is associated with one's political opponents.

Looking at it this way, it is clearly the political situation that is causing dissatisfaction.


So in a way, does the current political atmosphere fulfill our need to feel dissatisfied?

I think that's probably true for some. It's a kind of perverse power fantasy. Fills the void of knowing deep down that you've never done anything worthwhile, and never will.

You may have a good point there. Life has been so peaceful over the last 50 years or so (at least in the grand scheme of things; by comparison the earlier part of the 20th century was all kinds of exciting). So we need things to complain about.

That question which the article claims is asking whether respondents are generally happy with their lives was completely misinterpreted. I had a difficult time discerning the meaning of it without seeking out the actual appendix from the PEW study. But certainly more than 2% of americans are happy in life, we're not all that depressed and stressed out.

Yeah, the actual pew summary for that question was "Germans more likely than those in other publics to say they are satisfied while offering few specifics".

It seems like the takeaway is only two percent of Americans say vague positive things when talking about what gives them life satisfaction, with many more saying specific positive things


We all get heavily sold the “American dream” which is a lie to keep the lower classes constantly working hard.

I strongly disagree with the statement, United States, although behind a lot of countries in social mobility index, still ranks pretty high in the world. It also leads with 8.8% of the adult population being millionaires, only behind Switzerland and Australia. That speaks volumes on how many opportunities exist in this country to make yourself better.

Superstarism is the bias of only looking at success (which here is defined in a very narrow which betrays a secnd bias but that's another discussion).

Superstarism is a old tool and well documented (for those who read) tool of the rulers of courts to keep their entourage in check. In brief: be an abbedient lackey or lose the favour of the court. Because it misses the bottom percentiles overlooking, it overlooks them; as e.g. the French revolution shows, it may become untenable, for good reasons, at any moment.

The existence of opportunity is best proven not by looking at how high one might go, but at how many are left behind. And how, according to certain measures, they are in fact regressing.


>Superstarism is a old tool and well documented (for those who read) tool of the rulers of courts to keep their entourage in check. In brief: be an abbedient lackey or lose the favour of the court.

This isn't really an argument against as much as a reason to be suspicious. It still can be a useful metric, it says something about social mobility. I'm unconvinced.

>it misses the bottom percentiles overlooking, it overlooks them; as e.g. the French revolution shows, it may become untenable, for good reasons, at any moment.

The French Revolution was precipitated by large scale starvation, conditions that the US is extremely far from. This is, ironically, a case of bias looking at successful revolution-- most revolutions historically aren't successful and certainly not to the extent the French Revolution was(influencing later revolutions and the political thought). Looking at recent revolutions across the Middle East and Africa in the past decade, most of them largely fizzle out when the ruling party pushes back with force. Even when everyone want a revolution, most people aren't willing to put their own life on the line for it. Not unless the alternative is worse-- bringing us back to the conditions that started the French Revolution


I was shocked by a statistic I saw somewhere that one million millionaires live in the new york metro area - it made more sense once i realized anyone who bought a house in the 80s is now a millionaire thanks merely to rising cost of housing. I don’t think this metric is very useful for measuring economic opportunity.

or, it means that 80% are left behind with no real opportunity for advancement whatsoever. I'm not saying this is true - but largest number of millionaires isn't maybe the best metric for the overall happiness of the population?

Thats why the comment also mentioned social mobility index. But curiously, everyone seems to be ignoring that.

The # of millionaires have nothing to do with the overall happiness of the population.

A lie? Americans have the highest median disposable income in the OECD after adjusting for government transfers like healthcare and education and for purchasing power parity. And it's not even close. US is at $54k, second place is tiny Luxembourg with $49k, Germany is at $42k, United Kingdom and Sweden at $35k, and Korea at $27k.

https://data.oecd.org/hha/household-disposable-income.htm

(change net to gross adjusted in the menu to view the data)


Dane here. I work 30 hours per week as a programmer. My wife works full time for an NGO. Looking at that chart I think we're fairly average for our country, maybe a little bit higher.

My wife is currently on maternity leave with almost full pay. I am allowed by law to take paternity leave, and as is common my contract gives me several months with full pay. Even if you don't get paid by your work, you have the right to take up to a year off (in all for both of us) with government support.

Even if we both lost our jobs, our (government-subsidized) unemployment insurances are enough to mean we would be able to live more or less as we do now for the two years that the insurance covers, without finding jobs. With some adjustments to our living standard, we might just about be able to at least stay where we live now, even with just the lower benefit rates that we would be able to collect after the two years. We are, however, both in positions where finding new work is fairly simple.

Health care is free and not tied to our employment situation. If either of us become gravely ill, we can worry about the illness, not the cost of treatment. There is no such thing as a "medical bankruptcy" here, and we don't have GoFundMe.

We were paid a little to go to university. I still have some (government) student loads from that time because I was a bit of a fuck-up and didn't work while studying, but it's not so bad.

All in all, I live mostly free of fear and certainly free of want. You think I'd trade that for 18k per year? Would saving up all of it mean I could get even close to this? And how do the people who are below average fare?


When James Truslow Adams coined the term "American Dream" in 1931 he defined it as: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement".

Social mobility in the United States is better than most countries in the world but not particularly high compared to similar countries. More worrying is that it has been falling over time. This kind of social stratification eventually results in large swaths of the country and citizenry for whom life is not better and who do not have the same opportunities.

Having more money certainly helps -- it's hard for anyone to live a "better and richer and fuller" life if they cannot afford necessities. But past a certain point the correlation between a country's wealth and measures like happiness, life expectancy, social mobility, life satisfaction, etc seem to break down, especially in the US. Which to me indicates that we're probably not using our wealth efficiently.


Social mobility in the States is lower because the income quintiles are further apart.

The US has substantially larger household sizes than any, except Korea, of the rest of the top 5 by household income, so comparing median household figures is misleading:

https://www.oecd.org/els/family/SF_1_1_Family_size_and_compo...


How much income does your four year old haul in on an annual basis?

The US has a much higher than OECD average share of households that are neither single, single-parent or couple with or without children, because of non-family adults living together for economic reasons.

The difference in household size isn't just kids.


I think the argument is that it is a lie that this will translate to life satisfaction. Americans could probably take more vacation, for instance.

The survey is being misinterpreted though. Its not that only 2% of Americans are satisfied, its that 2% of Americans offer vague positive vibes rather than a specific answer to what gives them meaning. I don't think I am stereotyping when I say Germany, Japan, and South Korea are more reserved culturally, so of course they're going to be more likely to say "yeah things are going fine overall".


But what are you gonna do with that income if you're constantly working?

Americans work only an hour more per week than the OECD average.

https://data.oecd.org/emp/hours-worked.htm

Americans watch an average of 600 hours of Netflix per year. They aren't short on time.

https://www.nexttv.com/news/analysis-americans-averaged-600-...


> Americans watch an average of 600 hours of Netflix per year.

Ah. So that's why they're dissatisfied.


Given the American ethos, I bet the USA will be one of the last countries to introduce the 4-day work week.

Median disposable income has nothing to do with how well the bottom part of society is doing. 40% of Americans have limited or no health insurance. And Americans in general live shorter lives than Europeans. 100% of Western Europeans have full health coverage and free or close to free access to top Universities. Comparing different countries can’t be boiled down to median disposable income. Unless you have a very simplistic view on what matters in life.

https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/central.html

Mean income (the more useless measure) is about $54,000.

Median income (the meaningful, realistic number) is $34,000.

How many of these people $34k jobs do you think come with actual health, dental, and other benefits?

The middle income families are barely scraping by.


> Secondly, I wonder (not trying to cast doubt, genuinely wonder) how surveymakers level-set these questions to be linguistically neutral. How do they account for "material well-being" translating perfectly across most European and some Asian languages? Or even the expression "meaningful"? Just something I think about when it comes to large surveys.

We're talking about survey professionals here. Experts. To suggest that they did not take care in aligning translations in an international survey is borderline insulting.

On the other hand, the article says:

> But in these four European countries many provide more than one answer to the question on what makes life meaningful so material well-being is pushed down to the position of the second- or third-most common answer.

> (Interestingly, in Asian countries respondents were far more likely to mention only one source of meaning in life, with Koreans most likely to do so at 62 percent.)

Which to me sounds like most Koreans might have not realized that they were expected to provide multiple answers. I can easily see that happening, given that European languages tend to have grammatical plural ("Please list the most important things that give meaning to your life"), while Korean doesn't, AFAIK.

So yes, I guess it's entirely possible that they fucked up the basics of their international survey.


> "Please list the most important things that give meaning to your life"

The actual English-language version[0]:

> ...What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going and why?

So respondents in English were not prompted to list more than one item. What is not marked for plurality.

Unfortunately I've only been able to turn out the English-language prompts for this study.

As far as Korean goes, it might not require speakers to mark (certain) nouns for plurality, but there are of course common ways to do so when desired. There is a particle (들), and there are various modifiers that could be translated to e.g. some, several, many, a few, one or more... The difference is that if you use these modifiers, you don't (as in English et al.) have to make the noun "agree" in number. Roughly speaking, one or more thing would be fine.

[0]: https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2021/11/18/what-makes-lif... (under "How we did this")


A society made up of large amounts of satisfied people is also a society that isn't advancing. New companies are born chiefly from strong frustrations with how things are going. If there aren't frustrated unsatisfied people then society stagnates.

So 83-98% of people are unsatisfied with life regardless of what country they're in. Maybe humans have evolved to be unsatisfied because those who are unsatisfied have outcompeted those who are satisfied.

Or maybe "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."

I'm surprised by some of the things reported by zero percent of respondents to make life meaningful, particularly pets and nature. It's been reported that Koreans are obsessed with their pets and that hiking is practically a national sport. When I lived in LA, there were huge groups of Korean hikers on popular trails. I wonder if there is a language barrier in Pew's survey, if "life meaning" carries some other nuance or significance to Koreans (maybe it means "outward life" or something?).

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-economy-pets/l...

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/travel/along-the-trail-of...


I wonder if the people who find pets give them meaning might consider pets as family

I think oftentimes people find meaning in what they can have, because simply put, you have too, otherwise your life would be meaningless.

So I wonder if that means a lot of countries still see that material wellbeing, health, hobbies, nature, travel, new experiences, romantic partners, friends, etc. are all too hard to have or keep or sustain, where-as family is all you end up with, and thus what you have to find meaning in of itself?

That would mean from a different lens, seeing family as number one would be indicative of issues in that country in acquiring anything more? And if you were to see family rank low, it be a good sign, which means that you don't have to find meaning in family, because while you have family, you also have other avenues you can rely on to find meaning.


I don't think this is true. I feel like we started to realize that money isn't buying you happiness. The previous generations were proud to work hard so they can buy big houses and big cars and be really proud of that and show it to all their friends and neighbors.

The next generation wondered if maybe not getting the biggest car possible, but in return having to work a little bit less and actually spend time with your kids while they grow up etc isn't such a bad idea at all.


if it’s worked for 10000 years I wouldn’t be so quick to knock it.

That just reinforces my statement. For 10000 years, most people only had family, because they couldn't afford the cost/time for friends, material wellbeing, good health, nature, travel, new experiences, etc. Thus you had to find meaning in family.

My thesis is that you will always find meaning in what you have. If your whole family is dead, you might find meaning in your pet dog for example, or in your friends. Similarly, if you only have family, you will find meaning in them.

Family tends to be the only thing you are given for free at birth, so it makes sense that it ends up what most people find meaning in. All the other stuff require work/chance on your part to acquire. And are thus much harder to lean on to find meaning, since they can be easily taken away, or simply be unaccessible to you.

Which means maybe in a country that shows other things beyond family as what they find meaning in is actually a sign that in that country people are easily able to have a lot more than just family, and can thus find meaning in more things.


That doesn't seem to be what the article is suggesting.

The actual survey results seem more interesting: https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2021/11/18/what-makes-lif...

For instance it highlights the finding that 62% of South Koreans and 58% of Japanese respondents provided only one source of meaning in life vs only 1% of Spanish respondents and then goes on to clarify how that skews the results:

> These differences help explain why the share giving a particular answer in certain publics may appear much lower than others, even if the topic is the top mentioned source of meaning for that given public. To give a specific example, 19% of South Koreans mention material well-being while 42% say the same in Spain, but the topic is ranked first in South Korea and second in Spain. Given this, researchers have chosen to highlight not only the share of the public who mention a given topic but also its relative ranking among the topics coded, both in the text and in graphics.


This might be a direct consequence of language; in Spanish, when you ask questions like this you are normally specifying whether you expect a single or multiple answers by default (akin to "what thing(s) make life meaningful", noting that you can ask with or without the "s" but that is a choice). In Japanese, singular and plural are not distinct except in very particular situations, and IIRC the singular is normally the default unless context makes you think it's plural, so I expect this to contribute greatly (akin to "which makes life meaningful?"). I don't know Korean to comment on that though.

That Koreans and Japanese only choose one answer would suggest to me a poorly worded form that made most of them think they were only supposed to choose one.

In Korean and most Asian cultures, it goes without saying that material well-being is a means to supporting your family.

I wouldn't take much away from a multiple choice question about such big, abstract, interconnected concepts.


I wonder how much this has to do with language barriers? I doubt these terms have the exact same meaning in every language as they are very abstract.

Pew is not some random company doing research - it's a well-respected non-profit that focuses on demographic and religious research and has been operating for ~17 years. I'm quite sure they know how to run a proper survey to account for things like language differences.

> I'm quite sure they know how to run a proper survey to account for things like language differences.

I'm quite sure it is impossible to do that since there are no perfectly equivalent terms between languages for these things. The results can still be interesting, but if there are big outliers I'd look at that first. For example, what is included in the word "family"? Or "health"? Those things can cover very different things in different languages.


You'd be surprised at how incompetent big companies are sometimes. Used to do a lot of work with S&P500 companies and the amount of times we used to have problems with incompetent translations was startlingly high

I've got a feeling that the reason most Koreans only gave one answer as opposed to western countries where most gave multiple is language barriers.

The article didn't talk about how S Korea was dirt poor two generations ago. All the other countries have been wealthy for centuries.

First you buy a house and get established, then you start family. In Asian culture it is not even possible to get married without that.

In Spanish the idiom "Salud, dinero y amor" (health, wealth, and love, in that order) is (very) commonly used when talking about what's important in life. I wonder if that had an influence in the results for Spain, which seem quite different from the rest of European countries.

My grandma used to say that and added "que lo demás, todo se arregla" (that everything else can be fixed).

I'm not from Spain but from a Spanish speaking country


Perhaps this explains the quirky TV shows like Squid game, which basically revolves around the misplaced idea that if one can't have wealth, they might as well be dead.

The characters weren't just poor, they were in crippling debt or desperately needed money for other pressing reasons.

Definitely. Some of the most powerful scenes in that show stem from the notion that a life crippled by debt is worse than no life at all.

Supposedly the group is more important than the individual in "Eastern" cultures, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170118-how-east-and-wes... so it's perhaps curious that Korea is the outlier in rating "family" relatively low.

That is a rather superficial "narrative" article that ignores the major impact of industrialization on culture. It is not Western vs. Eastern cultures, it is pre-industrial vs. industrial cultures. Obviously, within those two big clusters there are differences, the point is that those differences are dwarfed by the industrialization variable.

Anecdotally I first heard this distinction from a Japanese person, that Japanese culture is more "collectivist" than in the US. The article includes general statements like this that also include Japan:

> Generally speaking - there are many exceptions - people in the West tend to be more individualist, and people from Asian countries like India, Japan or China tend to be more collectivist.

One thing Japan is not is "pre-industrial"!

As an aside, you labeled the article as superficial, but I thought it actually went deeper into some nuance. For instance, it mentions that in Hokkaido, people tend to be more individualistic, possibly because it's a "frontier" of sorts compared to the rest of Japan. And the US is largely populated by people who (themselves or their ancestors) went to a similar "frontier".


To be fair, if you don't have material well being, you can't afford your partners healthcare and ...

The ability to provide for your family is also key .


That's mainly in the US; in e.g. EU you can afford your partners healthcare because it's been already paid with your taxes. In Japan it's "affordable" and I am unsure of Korea but if media is correct it's not as cheap as Japan.

What if said partner can't work due to illness, what about kids who generally like eating.

You can't live a decent life in poverty


Social security pays you if you need to take a leave because you are sick of course. 60%-75% of your salary if you get sick/injured outside work, 75% if you get sick/injured at work (in Spain, YMMV).

Of course it's better not to live in poverty, I'm just saying that in most of EU someone in the family getting sick is normally just a health event in the family, not a financial event.

Edit: landlords will also be flexible with the rent (they are basically forced to it) if with that 60-%75% you cannot pay the full rent for a couple of months.


Such security is unheard of in the US. You can get disability insurance occasionally, but this is often out of reach to working class people.

I often imagine if America would be a better place to live with with basic protections like what you mentioned. A counter argument would look at unemployment in Europe, but y'all have a longer life expectancy, so you're doing something right .

https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/spain-h...


i don't know if the survey stated it as suchs, but material wellbeing doesn't mean you need money (per se). It usually means you have the means to live your life in safety. having proper infrastructure, housing, food etc to not have to worry about basic needs in life. (like, getting food).

These surveys in my opinion are meaningless (pun intended). It depends too much on interpretation, who answered them, what their current life situation is, and most importantly the set of answers is too reductionist, and can't possibly capture a complex dynamic system like human meaning and happiness.

I have read their paper several times, but can't find translation of their question to other languages. Wanted to find the exact question they asked koreans, in korean

This looks like a wishlist, ranked by what people desire the most (but don't have).

I find it funny being Spanish but having lived in Germany how we rank family third and yet family bonds into adulthood seem much more important in Spain than in Germany…

Perhaps more reliance on family makes the relationship more difficult.

I would recommend reading the entire article before drawing any conclusions, not just the headline or the summary graphic.

pretty hard to square the results with lived experience on several fronts. For one Singapore turns out to allegedly rank material well being-relatively low, when from personal experience it's kind of 'late capitalist' on steroids even compared to SK or other East-Asian countries. Often in Singapore when I asked what people do for fun the first answer was 'go to the mall'. SK still does have a fairly active cultural life besides work in comparison and a thriving art scene.

The general trend of a lack of life satisfaction beyond material terms is right but I'd say it's a global condition, somewhat more intense in East-Asia but not by much, the differences in the survey seem random or probably dependent on how open people are about these questions.


What an egregiously misleading title. The actual underlying facts are that South Koreans' resposes to a survey about what makes life meaningful were different (when placed in rank order) from all of the other countries in the survey. Not absent, just different. And also, if you actually look at the numbers, not all that much different.

Yep. I've replaced the title with something more neutral now. Unfortunately I actually had to write something new (this is almost never necessary— https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...).

Ah, I didn't realise I was supposed to rewrite headlines under certain conditions. I understood the rule to be "use the headline as written, even if you can think of a better summary." I'll try that next time.

Thanks! The rule is "Please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait; don't editorialize." https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

There's sort of a subrule, which is below the detail line that makes sense to include in the guidelines, but which is a good practice: when changing a misleading or linkbait title, try to use representative, neutral language from the article itself. You can usually find that somewhere, whether in a subtitle, the HTML doc title, a photo caption, the first paragraph, or even a 'thesis statement', as high school English teachers used to call them, buried somewhere in the middle of the piece. That way the article still gets to speak for itself; more so, in fact, because media headlines are usually written by someone other than the author. It's almost never necessary to make up language to replace a baity title with. I did so in this case, but that's rare.


Maybe? The final two paragraphs:

“What the Pew survey shows isn's that Koreans are far more materialistic than their counterparts in other developed economies. It's that Korea suffers from an absence of existential purpose.

Many of its people say they have nothing to live for, and that's the country's biggest problem.”


But the data don't support that conclusion at all. It's a value judgement that materialism is somehow invalid as an existential purpose.

That’s a good point. Historically, groups religious and otherwise have looked unfavorably on the idea that one’s purpose in life is to concentrate material wealth for one’s self. Acceptable beneficiaries are usually the government or family or religion, depending on the period.

Yes, actually one of the biggest outliers is the importance of "faith" in the US.

People got to consider at least two following points:

- Chosun Ilbo is news media that is right-wing and always produce news articles (even fake news) that against left-wing parties inc. current government. Many Koreans do not trust Chosun Ilbo. I have no idea why Chosun Ilbo was even interviewed. - South Korea has even poorer than any other countries only 50-60 years ago. There was pretty much nothing to feed on back then after the Korean War which was happened after Japanese horrible invasion was just over. This is different situation than any European countries.


Didn’t a lot of European countries have hunger issues after world war 2? Certainly Germany. There’s only 5 years between the end of world war 2 and the beginning of the Korean War



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