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The Pursuit of Happiness

how we think
12-05-24 21:01
The Pursuit of Happiness
So Young Bae
Brookline Public School, Brookline, MA, United States

This essay deals with the issue of happiness in a macro environment more specifically, Korea. The purpose of exploring happiness on a national level is to show the distinction between economic success and happiness. The paper will delve into the level of happiness in Korea through statistics gathered from various sources to show how an internal model of success is not currently pursued in the Korean society and should be adopted.
Despite the recent economic recession, the number of students studying abroad has not diminished. I am one of those who study away from home and often wonder, “Why do so many Korean students desire to study abroad?” I believe the most common answer would be “to explore a successful life.” Only recently have I started to seriously think what this really means.
Students studying abroad are not the only ones attempting to conduct their lives in a way that will lead to success. Why do people aspire to have successful lives? Aristotle believes that we are all guided to pursue “happiness.” If somebody asks, “Why do people pursue happiness?” one of today’s most common answers would be that we are programmed to do so (Dawkins, 2006).
In terms of economic growth and industrialization, Korean society is successful. The Korean War (1950~1953) left the country utterly impoverished and devastated, but Korea has made a successful shift towards industrialization in the past fifty years and secured a place on the list of the twenty leading economic nations of the world (G-20). Then, it is surprising to find that Koreans’ notion of happiness, according to the latest OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) happiness index measuring health, environment, social solidarity and economic activity shows Korea ranking 25th out of the 30 member nations (Na, 2009). Why is an economically successful society not happy? Are they still thirsty for success? Apparently, happiness does not come simply from the degree of success measured by the yardstick of external or monetary success
There is another definition of success, other than that measured by money. It is an internal success model, which is defined by satisfaction with life. Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem (1847)  “Success,” describes how to truly be successful.

“To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”(From Our Departed Online Memorials.)

This kind of success is different from economic or technical success which the Korean society has established as the measurement in life. The poem indicates that true success is striving for a meaningful and effective life with a righteous character. Koreans are unhappy because they focus on external success without pursuing internal success. Examples of the Korean society’s lack of internal success can be demonstrated by various facts, and are perhaps best reflected in the latest data from the OECD (2009) which indicates that Korea has the highest suicide rate, the lowest birth rate and the highest divorce rate. These and other negative statistics provide us with an insight into how an internal success model of happiness has not been pursued in Korea.
After all, there are two types of success: external and internal, and both of these influence our happiness. With this in mind, one can infer that people may be happy without external success, but they would not be happy without internal success. Aristotle believes that the purpose of ethics is in the pursuit of happiness. Achieving internal success means conducting a moral life. If Koreans seem unhappy with external success, it is because the success of leading an ethical life is not fulfilled in their society. Perhaps the Korean society has failed to achieve internal success through an obsession with the pursuit of wealth and fame.
When people asked me why I studied abroad in the past, I hesitated. It was not because I had the wrong motives to study abroad, but because I could not think of a logical way to express my ambition. Today, I would tell them the following reasons: it is my life’s challenge to achieve both external and internal success. First, I attempt to take advantage of any opportunity through which I can acquire expertise for my future profession. Also, I aspire to learn about moral and ethical ways of living, especially through education which combines morality and intellect. Moral and ethical living embraces an open-minded world view and focuses on having meaningful and oftentimes altruistic human relationships. With regards to external and internal success, I consider the latter more meaningful than the former.
Mill (1963) argues that, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." This means living by an internal success model is better than a life by an external success model. I hope this truth will spread to all walks of life; especially in Korea where research shows that people are less happy. Personally, I also yearn to be successful from studying abroad and hope that it will not only provide me with educational achievement, but will also transform me into an excellent woman of character, who pays back to her county and society what she owes to them.


Aristotle (2001). Aristotle: Ethics and the Virtues. Retrieved on November 9, 2009 from
Emerson, R. W. (1847). Our Departed Online Memorials : Success by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Retrieved on November 9, 2009 from
Kim, J. W. (2005). Work Life Balance. Seoul: 21st Century Books
Mill, J. S. (1863). Utilitarianism. London: Parker, Son, and Bourn
Na, J, (2009). Korea to Develop Happiness Index The Korea Times. Retrieved on November 9, 2009 from
OECD (2009). Korea Policy Centre (2009), Society at a Glance – Asia/Pacific Edition Retrieved on November 9, 2009 from
OECD (2009). Society at a Glance- OECD Social Indicators. Retrieved on November 9, 2009 from
OECD (2009). Social Policy Division - Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. Retrieved on November 9, 2009 from