Posted in Miscellaneous

Are you happy, contento, or glücklich?

For Americans, happiness isn’t an elusive concept. Multiple surveys, including this one by Myers and Diener, have found that North America has the highest concentration of happy people in the world. Moreover, one-third of Americans report that they are “very happy,” compared with 10% of Portugese and similar percentages of Italians and Frenchmen. Yet for Polish linguist Anna Wierzbicka, this is a deceptive statistic that misrepresents key linguistic, semantic, and cultural differences. In a sharp rebuke of cross-cultural happiness surveys that make sweeping generalizations, Wierzbicka urges a more sophisticated approach to the question of global well-being.

“Being happy” doesn’t mean the same thing to Americans that “sehr glucklich” does to Germans.

Happiness is a complex concept informed by the surrounding culture. Thus, each language brings a nuanced connotation to its word for “happiness.” For instance, Mandarin has two putative counterparts for the English “happy” (xi, which means…, and li, which means…), neither of which exactly matches the meaning of the English word. Cross-cultural surveys such as those referred to above require a common, universal measure of emotion for definitive results; this is difficult to achieve in studies in which participants are provided with a translated version of an originally English survey.

 

The meaning of the word “happy” has undergone a significant semantic shift as part of the gradual dampening of emotions in Anglo-Saxon culture.

Languages are cultural entities in flux: meanings meander and new words appear according to societal trends. In the words of lexicographer Kory Stamper, “…language is a true democracy, built entirely by the people who use and have used it” (Word by Word). For many centuries, the English language has gradually shifted away from expressing emotional intensity. Words like “grief,” “woe,” or “sorrows,” that were once used frequently in daily conversation today refer exclusively to bereavement or similarly bleak situations. The use of the adjective “happy” has expanded to apply to a broader spectrum of situations. I can be pretty happy that I received a passing grade on a test, but also very happy that I received the job appointment of my dreams. This has led to an especially interesting phenomenon: while English speakers can express their “level of happiness” on a gradable scale, other cultures refer to “happiness” (in their language) as an absolute or peak experience. The implications are clear for cross-cultural surveys that ask whether respondents are “very happy,” “happy,” or “pretty happy” with their current life.

 

Local cultural norms produce different attitudes toward experiencing and expressing positive emotions.

Wierzbicka cites numerous memoirs and poems by foreigners that attest to the uniquely American tendency to smile, always display positive thinking, and engage in cheerful small talk. It is clear that different cultures place different emphasis on verbal and nonverbal expressions of positive emotion. Future surveys must therefore take into consideration the impact of cultural norms on a respondent’s assessment of his emotions and his self-reporting of his emotional state.

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Posted in Miscellaneous

Diminutive Domiciles with a Meaningful Message

I will be the first to admit that I am an enthusiastic follower of the tiny house movement, a corollary of the rise of relevant segments on Home & Garden TV. At the center of this trend is the tiny house, a compact 100-400 sq. ft home that can be self-built and is often constructed on a trailer. Moving into a tiny house, or “home downsizing,” has been offered as a means to reduce housing costs; lead a less wasteful, energy efficient lifestyle; gain more time and freedom; and simplify one’s life. Yet I recently began to contemplate the concerns associated with what I once considered the cutest panacea to a disorganized life.

Beneath the facade of cheap housing costs and satisfied new homeowners are the problems of local land laws and neighborhood land use covenants. In many cases, local zoning laws state that homes must exceed a particular size in order to qualify for registration; other neighborhoods prohibit parking of large vehicles or ancillary home units on one’s property. Frequently, tiny houses require residents to pay for and install power separately. Depending on the homeowner, the cost of power hook ups and energy generators inflates the deceptively manageable upfront cost. Tiny houses also pose a unique challenge in the real estate market; these miniature abodes attract a very specific demographic of buyers, and selling a tiny house can take a considerable amount of time.

Regardless of these inherent concerns, widespread media coverage of and rising (albeit passive) interest in the tiny house movement offer important insight into our society.

First, reality television and social media–unsurprisingly–play a major role in shaping modern lifestyles. Shows such as Tiny House, Big Living, Tiny Nation, and Tiny House Builders have caused many people to make adjustments to one of the significant economic decisions in modern life. Traditional advertising techniques continue to have a strong impact on American consumers: the bandwagon phenomenon motivates buyers to join the seeming flood of tiny home-owning families that are paraded across television screens. Similarly, the exclusive portrayal of designer-style homes associates the miniature houses with an ideal of cleanliness and order rarely achieved in daily life. Even the “3-months after moving in” photo shoots bear a suspicious resemblance to the model homes on display in IKEA stores.

The tiny house movement also captures a common desire to escape life’s burdens. Thus, the physical act of eliminating nonessential furniture and material possessions appeals to a generation of homeowners eager to shed the strictures imposed by previous generations, established social norms, and past mistakes.

Finally, many homeowners have expressed environmental concerns as their primary motivation for choosing a tiny house. These abodes require fewer raw materials and less energy input for day-to-day activity; coupled with energy-efficient household appliances, tiny living is a lifestyle change with vast appeal for any environmentally conscious soul. Though tiny house transactions make up less than 1% of the current real estate market, it’s clear that they’ve “rolled” over deeply ingrained sentiments in contemporary society.

Posted in Miscellaneous

Ambassadors that Cause a “ROK-US”

While serving in Korea, one suffered from a knife attack by a militant Korean activist. Another was dismissed within a year for his excessive alcoholism. Two helped to save the life of a future Korean president. Over the years, the US ambassador to Korea has played a pivotal role in guiding collaboration between the two countries on a number of issues, including trade, cultural exchange, and North Korea. Yet the men (and woman) that served in this position each brought unique life experiences and skills that, for better or for worse, shaped the contours of this Asia-Pacific relationship.

When the US first established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Joseon in 1882, the heads of the American legations were known as envoys, resident ministers, and consul-generals. Direct diplomatic engagement halted during the Japanese Occupation; from 1905-1945, the US sent no representatives to the country forcibly governed by Japan. Once two separate Korean states were established after WWII, the US government formally recognized South Korea and sent its first ambassador in early 1949.

Over the past 7 decades, US ambassadors to Korea have overwhelmingly been career diplomats (18 career to four political appointments), indicative of the high priority that the White House places on appointing an experienced leader to manage the strategic relationship. Edwin V. Morgan became the shortest-serving ambassador to Korea in 1905 when, after presenting his credentials in June 1905, he was forced to close the legation and leave the country six months later due to Japan’s take-over. Ambassador Richard Walker, who “transformed quiet diplomacy into a fine art,” served the longest term[1]. Over his five years of service, he helped to secure the release of dissident and future Korean President Kim Dae-Jung from the dictatorial Park regime. And during Obama’s first term, Ambassador Sung Kim became the first Korean-American to serve in this position.

The three most recent diplomats to leave their mark on the position were Ambassadors Stephens, Kim, and Lippert.

As the first woman and first fluent Korean speaker to take the post, Ambassador Kathleen Stephens set many precedents during her term in Korea. She first connected with the Korean people while serving in the country as a peace corps volunteer in the 1970s; in the next 30 years, she toured Europe and Asia as a career diplomat, later serving as director for European Affairs in the National Security Council. For her contributions to strengthening US-Korea ties, she received the Presidential Meritorious Service Award, the Sejong Cultural Award, and the Korea-America Friendship Association Award. To add to her collection, she published a book, Reflections of an American Ambassador to Korea, based on her personal Korean blog[2].

When Ambassador Sung Kim was appointed ambassador to Korea, it was clear that his background and experience would allow him to cement bilateral ties. During his career in the Foreign Service, he gained significant Korea-specific experience as US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Special Envoy in the Six-Party Talks, and Director of the Office of Korean Affairs. His personal connection to both countries and his balanced approach on bilateral issues such as the Free Trade Agreement, the North Korean nuclear crisis, peninsular unification and human rights issues certainly ensured the continuing strength of the diplomatic relationship[3].

Ambassador Mark Lippert was rightly dubbed “the most popular US ambassador in the history of US-Korea relations.”[4] This former NAVY seal served as a senior foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign; prior to his appointment as ambassador, he was a high-ranking member of the NSC and the Department of Defense under President Obama. As ambassador, Mr. Lippert achieved renown for his calm composure and communication immediately after being attacked by a radical Korean militant protesting against US-Korea military exercises. This attack did not affect his open and approachable persona; he continued to walk to work every morning and interact closely with Korean citizens. Ambassador Lippert is also credited for his work in advancing implementation of the KOR-US Free Trade Agreement and supporting Korean reunification and strong military collaboration with the US.

[1] http://www.icasinc.org/2003/2003b/b030722b.html

[2] https://www.umt.edu/mansfield/events/files/kathleen-stephens-bio.pdf

[3] http://www.koreatimesus.com/asia-society-to-honor-ambassador-sung-kim-at-gala/

[4] https://www.voanews.com/a/departing-us-ambassador-to-south-korea-optimistic-despite-uncertain-times/3684476.html

Posted in Miscellaneous

Why we need to study history (Spanish)

Como una estudiante de la clase de la historia de los EEUU (AP), he pasado mucho tiempo en el año pasado, memorizando fechas, aprendiendo sobre unas relaciones de causa-efecto entre cientos de acontecimientos, y estudiando detalles sobre el impacto que individuos y líderes nacionales han tenido en las sociedades. Sin embargo, nunca sentí como si hubiera gastado mi tiempo. Hay muchas personas que hablan de la importancia básica de estudiar la historia—nos enseña sobre los pensamientos y sentimientos de la humanidad, para que no repitamos los errores de nuestros antepasados. Pero, hay razones más sutiles para justificar este estudio.

Primero, en realidad, el estudio de la historia es el estudio de la historia de la humanidad (“the story of humanity”), y el aprendizaje de nuestras perspectivas. Cada década, y a veces cada año, cambia la interpretación de acontecimientos significativos como la formación de la declaración de las Naciones Unidas. Como analizamos y interpretamos nuestro pasado dice algo sobre la sociedad contemporánea; por eso, es tan importante que estudiemos la historiografía como estudiemos los acontecimientos pasados.

También hay razones políticas para estudiar e interpretar la historia; cuando los países participan en actividades bilaterales o multilaterales, es crítico que los actores comprenden las motivaciones de los otros. Cuando, por ejemplo, los EEUU trata de iniciar un programa bilateral con Panamá, los representativos necesitan comprender la perspectiva de las personas de Panamá hacia los EEUU, por la herencia del Canal de Panamá y el imperialismo estadounidense no oficial. Este tipo de conocimiento facilita la interacción fácil, y permite la continuación y la mejora de relaciones.

La diplomática eminente Eleanor Roosevelt dijo que “ayer es historia, mañana es misterio, pero hoy es un regalo.” Sin embargo, quizás es tiempo para considerar nuestros ayeres como los mejores regalos—los que aumentan el conocimiento humano y facilitan la interacción de paz internacional.