I was watching this video series, which contains interviews with defectors from North Korea. These people underwent ordeals similar to the Underground Railroad, except they were leaving mental enslavement and starvation in North Korea, for the uncertainty of freedom, first as illegal immigrants in China, then ultimately to South Korea where they were welcomed with open arms. What do they day about happiness?
This link takes you to the topic of happiness. I'll embed the entire video below.
"Even when I was starving in North Korea, I was happy".
"I actually feel sorry for them [South Koreans]. They lose out on the most important things. Like happiness, love, relationships etc."
I found it compelling to listen to what they said. These people went through incredible privation and suffering, both during their lives in North Korea, and in their journey to where they are now, a society that is much more free, successful, technologically advanced, economically vibrant. They would not go back. But they note the price, which is that the more successful society is not as happy.
Then I thought about my own life. I went from a rural and small town world, where my horizons were very limited, to two doctorates and a corporate life, in search of having a life that was both meaningful, and secure. Growing up, I wasn't happy, but my family was, and many people around me seemed happy and satisfied with their lives. I knew I had to leave, and I did. I never cared about "winning", or about accumulating riches, but I knew that if I fell on hard luck, no one would help me. In fact, at one point, that happened, and it was my own stubbornness, work ethic, resourcefulness, and bootstraps, that kept me going. Ultimately, ,career was stopped by cancer. However, by then, I was able to retire with benefits, and things are as secure as one can expect. I am fortunate. Other than the sense of losing meaning - which is somewhat false meaning - I am happier. None of the corporate dysfunction, back stabbing, credit theft, incessant ambition, lies, demands, and my own daily anger and sometimes, near panic. I miss many things, the sense of accomplishment, and collegiality - also often false - and the sense of being someone who mattered, but in retrospect, those things exacted a harsh toll. Now, I have cancer to thank for stopping me, and forcing me to live a simpler life, moving the scale from the sense of day to day corporate oppression, to much more happiness than I had before.
Last year, one of my colleagues, 10 years younger than me, died of a rare and rapidly advancing cancer. Similar to my own, except in my case, I'm lucky to have a medicine that holds it in check. She also made the careerist decision, and won, but in the end, did she find happiness? I don't know. She won't get a second chance, and neither will I. (article in Chicago Tribute about mean bosses, who are possibly miserable. To be honest, I think some of my mean bosses were too sadistic to be miserable)
I would never claim that poverty brings happiness, or that one shouldn't strive for a better life, even if it means sacrificing some happiness along the way. In fact, I know that often, even usually, poverty is misery. But it think it's good, sometimes, to think about the choices that we make, the changes that are forced upon us, and the price of security, fortune, and success.
p.s. the Youtube series for that video, Asian Boss, has interesting insights on North/South Korean life, and on what Koreans think about Americans. Worth watching.