[FOUNTAIN]Living and working together

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[FOUNTAIN]Living and working together

In a special Christmas report last year, the British magazine The Economist described the hard day's work of a Filipina housemaid in Hong Kong: Late at night, she took out chinaware from the cupboard, arranged it neatly in the dishwasher and curled up in the cupboard to sleep.

The article, titled "An Anthropology of Happiness," looked at the true meaning of happiness by looking at the Filipina maid community. According to the article, about 140,000 Filipinas are working as housemaids in Hong Kong. About half have attended a university and are married, but they went abroad to work to support their families. They live in dismal conditions in small Hong Kong apartments. Their employers beat them for minor mistakes.

Surprisingly though, they feel happy. Not just happy, but on top of the world. Referring to a study by the University of the Philippines in Manila, the article said Filipina housemaids in Hong Kong consider themselves happier than the people of any country in Asia or Europe. One Filipina said, "I earn $400 a month, but I have a happy life. My boss makes $1 million a year but he is not happy."

What's going on? The Economist emphasized the Filipino tradition of openness and warm human relations. It focused especially on the Tagalog word kapwa, which means living together or living for others. These Filipinas, alone far from their families, still share their family's love through the money and presents they send back home every month. Work is difficult and they are lonely, but they share their news and food with other Filipinas when they gather in large groups on their day off every Sunday. They are poor, but they share their joys and hardships.

Is this anthropology of happiness a Filipina secret? We had a similar past. In earlier times, many Koreans went abroad to work as miners, nurses, soldiers and technicians to help support their families. Many daughters spent their youth in miserable conditions. Those were difficult times, but were we as miserable as we were poor?

Over the years, incomes have risen and our quality of life has improved remarkably. But now that we are richer, are we happier? If we are not as happy as those Filipina maids in Hong Kong, what is the reason? Maybe we have lost the spirit of kapwa, the spirit of living together. During this Christmas season, Christian or not, we should rediscover that secret.

The writer is the head of Forbes Korea at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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