There is a Korean word called han. Not easily translated into English, han is both an emotion and a theme. Han is the feeling of grief and despair. In the TV show “The West Wing,” one of the characters, Josiah Bartlet described, “It’s a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet, still, there’s hope.” The idea of han drives Korean society and makes up its identity. The idea of han is that everyone will suffer at some point during their lives, but still, life goes on. Instead of ignoring the pain, han calls Koreans to embrace it.
However, in American culture, there is no concept like han at all. Instead, starting from a young age, ideas like the American Dream and stories like Cinderella and the Little Mermaid encourage us to follow our dreams and tell us that we will be happy when we fulfill those goals.
At its roots, this message is reasonable, as it encourages us to set high standards and work towards our goals. However, the implications of this idea are concerning. When we finally reach our goals, what’s next?
We think that everyone is doing better than us. The grass always looks greener on the other side. Pictures on Instagram and other social media platforms advertise incomplete realities of the people that we know. Because we are not as happy as they seem, we wonder what we’re doing wrong.
Living in Clayton, it is especially easy to fall for this illusion. Surrounded by people who lead seemingly perfect lives, we do all we can to succeed. Thus, when we struggle to balance extracurriculars, schoolwork, sleep and social lives, we feel incompetent. We think that taking more AP classes means that we will be closer to success. We think that joining every extracurricular will help us reach the college of our dreams. However, we never think about what happens after we reach that college or goal.
We feel happy when we get a good grade or project. But as soon as we get a bad grade, our day is completely ruined. There is not a single person at CHS who has not experienced that feeling. Understandably, receiving a less-than-average grade after working hard is disappointing. However, when students begin to work hard only to receive good grades, we lose sight of the more valuable process and instead, merely focus on the result. In the grand scheme of life, grades are insignificant, so why is so much of our happiness dependent on the results of our grades?
As a result, we look for an escape. To avoid the pain of everyday life, we turn to harmful activities like drugs or smoking that temporarily take away our pain and make ourselves feel better. We use these more, slowly getting addicted, thinking we are happier. However, the opposite effect is observed. As the temporary distraction fades away, we realize we must face reality again.
We need to rethink our idea of happiness. Happiness should not depend on matters that change easily like grades. Along with major life events, our happiness should come from the little moments of life. To be truly happy in life, we don’t necessarily need to be happy all the time.
Through my years at high school, I have learned to look for joy in the simple moments. High school is a time in life that is truly unique, and once we finish, we can’t go back. There is no other time in life where all your social circles and job are together in one building, all working towards the same thing. Through high school, I have realized that part of life is understanding that there will be good times, but there will also be bad times. Those bitter parts of life will help make the good days even better.