An increasing number of South Koreans are breaking away from the country’s collective culture to bask in the joys of their own company, a trend aptly called the “YOLO” lifestyle.
The social shift is evident in the country’s booming market attending to the needs of singles, from bars to restaurants to photography studios that offer services for “single weddings.”
According to Quartz, the change comes as South Korean youth experience bleak feelings about their future, just as much as their counterparts in other countries.
For one, it is no secret that hypercompetition remains prevalent in South Korean society. The assumption that studying hard leads to a good university, which in turn yields better job prospects that translate to high-paying careers and ultimately define “the good life,” is classic in contemporary Seoul. This appears to have held many in the conventional lifestyle for a long stretch of time.
More and more South Koreans are defying norms by staying single, seeking more “me time” that would otherwise be spent, perhaps, on after-work drinking with colleagues nearly every day.
The word for this refreshing breed of individuals is honjok, meaning loner. Park Da-som, a 25-year-old bank employee who dined by herself at a ramen restaurant catering to singles, told Quartz:
“In the past, people used to give me looks when I ate alone, but these days I think people don’t think it’s weird. It’s become a social trend in Korea.”
According to Yonhap News, this emerging motto is “YOLO,” or “You Only Live Once,” introduced by Canadian hip-hop artist Drake in 2011.
Park Sora, a 23-year-old nail artist based in Seoul, is living this lifestyle. She has no plans of getting a stable job, marrying or having kids.
“I once went abroad and met a group of foreigners there who found more happiness in drinking a good cup of coffee, for example, than in increasing their savings,” she told the outlet. “I completely agreed with them.”
Placing importance in the now, Park barely has interest in the distant future as she spends her income on daily needs and, typical of a millennial’s profile, travel. She plans to visit Paris in December.
“Even if I saved more money, I’d only have enough to travel. I have no interest in buying a house, but even if I did, I don’t think I’d be able to with the money I make,” she said.
Clearly, Park is representative of South Koreans embracing their individuality. Katharine Moon, a political science professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, told Quartz:
“A lot of Koreans, until recent years, didn’t know how to resist the social pressures from the collective. They’re [now] getting their toes wet a little bit and stepping gingerly into individualism.”
Not everyone is embracing the YOLO lifestyle. The major concern over this millennial trend is South Korea’s low birth rate. However, businesses are seeing increased profits as more and more young people spend their disposable income breaking free from the herd and living the lives they only live once to the fullest.