What makes life truly meaningful?

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What makes life truly meaningful?


The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“What makes life meaningful?” At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring, Pew Research asked this question to 19,000 adults in 17 developed countries. The overwhelming answer was “family.” People in 14 out of 17 countries agreed family is the priority.

The three countries where family was not the top priority were Spain, Korea and Taiwan. People in Spain said “health” while those from Taiwan said “society.” How about Koreans? The most common answer was “material wellbeing.” Material wellbeing was second in the Netherlands, Belgium and Japan, but Korea was the only country to put it at the top. The United States and Britain valued friends after family, while Australia, Sweden, France and Singapore chose jobs after family.

As the survey outcome was released in November 2021, the research firm explained that the purpose of the study was to understand how cultures are similar or different in what they consider meaningful. Korea is clearly distinguished from other cultures. Koreans put health and family in second and third place after material wellbeing. Friends and hobbies, which were ranked high in other countries, were not among Korea’s top choices. 
As I have often thought that no other group of people care about their families as much as Koreans, the outcome was surprising to me. Last spring, when the survey was conducted, Western countries were in lockdown and people were separated from their loved ones. However, as Korea did not enforce such strong travel or gathering restrictions, Koreans could have a different standard for the importance of family.

Yet it is bitter news to hear Koreans find the greatest meaning of life in material wellbeing such as their house, money, wealth, and financial stability rather than friends and family.

Material wellbeing is certainly important. Korea has grown so far thanks to its pursuit of a higher quality in life.

But we may lose other precious things while pursuing material wellbeing. We are starting the third year of living with Covid-19. A gift that the pandemic has brought to us is some composure to make our lives simpler, allowing us to have time alone and think about what is around us.

What makes our life truly meaningful? I hope we can take the time to search for the answer to this question and readjust our lives for that purpose. 

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