SOUTH KOREA - Government Institutes Happiness

Arno Froese

From Jeju’s bustling seaside, South Korea doesn’t look like it has a happiness problem.

Music from an open-air concert mingles with squeals from the funfair as couples snap selfies. Sang-dae Cha is on his summer holiday, propped against the edge of the promenade with a fishing rod while his kids play nearby. He’s an unintentional advert for the government’s ‘worabel’ campaign.

‘Worabel’ is Korean shorthand slang for ‘work-life balance.’

Contrary to expectations, an objectively high standard of living does not necessarily result in a high SWB. Koreans may have everything from BMWs to remote-control toilets, but their life satisfaction has been well below the average for OECD countries since 2013. President Moon Jae-in, who ran for office on a ‘People First’ ticket, is campaigning to close the gap.

To this end, the government is determined to get Koreans out of the office and into a healthier state of mind. One of the biggest reforms so far is the reduction of the maximum workweek from 68 to 52 hours. It’s not just a suggestion; employers who don’t follow the law could face up to two years in prison.

The government has also mandated a dramatic increase in the minimum wage along with a host of supporting measures—parental leave, subsidies for childcare, reduced mental healthcare costs, increased pensions, and an extension of the previous administration’s Happiness Fund, which helps citizens pay off certain kinds of personal debt.

Cha, a product planning and market quality manager for a Seoul tyre company, thinks this comprehensive approach could be just what South Korea needs. And he some of these problems, like the low birth rate, are getting too big to ignore. “I think we should go for this policy. I think it’s the right time.”

In theory, improving quality of life benefits the country as a whole. Lower-income workers have more money, boosting demand for a wide variety of products and services. Leisure industries profit from the sudden abundance of free time. Suicide rates decline, and happy people have more babies. Problems solved.

But success is far from guaranteed. The minimum wage jumped 16.4% in 2018 with another 10.9% raise scheduled for 2019. This rapid change is prompting forecasts of widespread job losses. Already some bus companies have threatened to stop service over the wage hikes, while other businesses have cut employee hours to manage the increased costs.

The shortened workweek is a difficult sell. It is standard practice for South Koreans to work nonstop to meet deadlines. Reducing the hours without reducing the workload could pressure employees to finish projects off the clock. This is a deeply ingrained workplace behavior in South Korea; as of 2012, 40% of workers were not getting paid for overtime., 16 August 2018

Arno's commentary

South Korea is considered one of the super-rich countries. Yet, the workforce—as the article indicates—seems to be overloaded. Quite obviously, they will have to follow the European model, where maximum work hours are regulated by unions, in conjunction with the respective labor department of the government. We publish this excerpt to show that all countries have their own unique problems. While South Korea is extremely successful—producing products well respected throughout the world—individual satisfaction, contentment, and happiness are apparently lacking.

Here we are reminded of the words of our Lord: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Wikipedia reports that in 1946, approximately 2% of the Korean population was Christian. By 1991, 18.4% of the population (8 million) was Protestant and 6.7% (2.5 million) Catholic. Furthermore, it says: “The influence on education has been decisive, as Christian missionaries started 293 schools and 40 universities including 3 of the top 5 academic institutions.”

Faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord is the guarantee of eternal happiness, as documented in the last book of the Bible: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 21:4-5).

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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