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The Power of Nunchi

The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success

By Euny Hong
15-minute read
Audio available
The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success by Euny Hong

The Power of Nunchi (2019) is an introduction to the subtle Korean art of gauging other people’s moods and thoughts in order to create trust, connection, and harmony. While nunchi has its roots in Korean culture, its lessons are applicable to contexts far beyond Korea. That’s because nunchi is a social skill that’ll empower you to read a room and understand others so that you can improve your relationships, get ahead at work, and influence people in any context and place. 

  • Employees who want to get ahead at work
  • Wellness seekers who want to better connect with others
  • Korean culture enthusiasts

Euny Hong is the author of the book The Birth of Korean Cool and a journalist who has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. At the age of 12, she moved from suburban Chicago to South Korea without knowing how to speak Korean. Within a year she was at the top of her class – thanks to her mastery of nunchi. 

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The Power of Nunchi

The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success

By Euny Hong
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success by Euny Hong
Synopsis

The Power of Nunchi (2019) is an introduction to the subtle Korean art of gauging other people’s moods and thoughts in order to create trust, connection, and harmony. While nunchi has its roots in Korean culture, its lessons are applicable to contexts far beyond Korea. That’s because nunchi is a social skill that’ll empower you to read a room and understand others so that you can improve your relationships, get ahead at work, and influence people in any context and place. 

Key idea 1 of 9

Nunchi is the subtle Korean art of reading other people’s thoughts and moods in order to build trust, harmony and connection. 

Suppose you’ve just started a new job. You’ve been invited to a work party, and you want to make a great impression. You walk into the room and notice that everyone is laughing at a not-particularly-funny joke made by an older woman you’ve never seen before. What do you do in this case? 

If you have good nunchi, you might guess that the woman telling the joke is important, and quite probably the boss – after all, everyone around her is laughing at her bad joke. You’d then find the first tactful moment to introduce yourself to her. 

Nunchi – the Korean art of gauging other people’s thoughts and moods from their behavior – is key to navigating complex social situations. In Korean, the word nunchi literally means “eye-measure.” It’s the ability to see or sense what is around you and to constantly recalibrate your assumptions based on changes in your environment.

A key aspect of social life in Korea, nunchi is an art that developed out of that country’s unique history. Korea lies at the crossroads of the two Asian superpowers, China and Japan, and it has been invaded as many as 800 times. Yet despite this tumultuous history, Korea has not only survived, it has thrived. How? Through the art of nunchi. Korea was too small to fight these large invading empires, so it had to accommodate and work around them. When their country was colonized by the Japanese from 1919 to 1945, for instance, Koreans had to walk a fine line between appeasing their Japanese overlords and protecting themselves and their culture by tactfully preserving Korean newspapers, non-Japanese religions and Korean instruction in schools.  

Because of its important contribution to Korean history and culture, nunchi is celebrated in the country’s folk tales – such as the one about the sixteenth-century “Korean Robin Hood” Hong Gildong. Hong used his nunchi to overcome an assassination attempt, overthrow a king, and then become king himself. 

But just because nunchi has its roots in Korean culture doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable in other contexts. In any culture, nunchi can help you choose the right romantic or business partner, help you advance at work, and protect you from people who might want to pull you down. Indeed, Jeohong Heo, professor of psychology at Kyungpook National University in Korea, found that people who scored high for nunchi skills also had higher senses of self-esteem and satisfaction with life. 

So, to lead a happier life, consider embracing the subtle power of nunchi.

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