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Choi In-cheol, recipient in society

‘Happiness evangelist’ wants children to chart path of their own lives
May 20,2017
Oprah Winfrey came from humble beginnings to become one of the most admired women in America, so what could be the secret behind her success?

Choi In-cheol, professor of psychology at Seoul National University, says Oprah’s gratitude journal was pivotal.

Choi, who works with the “Korean Happiness Class Project” at elementary, middle and high schools countrywide, says a student’s success does not depend merely on grades and numbers.

Happiness stems from finding meaning, setting goals and forming relationships in everyday life. But because teenagers are pushed to focus on university admissions and extracurricular education, they lack the opportunity for reflection.

“What is actually needed isn’t prerequisite education, but happiness, but because our students aren’t receiving this and [Korea’s] happiness index is dropping to the lowest in the world,” said Choi. “Like Oprah, I think emphasizing positive thinking is important.”

Choi initially majored in nuclear engineering at Seoul National University for two years and then transferred to the psychology department in 1988. He has since acted as a psychologist and happiness education evangelist.

His first success was in 2010 when he established the Center for Happiness Studies with SNU’s Center for Social Sciences.

The institute, sponsored by an anonymous donor, published the “Happiness Textbook” in 2011, which is filled with examples and anecdotes of people such as Oprah. The institute has provided 310,000 copies to 2,200 elementary, middle and high schools since 2012.

After publishing the book, the institute also set up a teacher training program and 7,300 teachers have attended and gone on to hold happiness classes for 960,000 students.

“The success is due to the enthusiastic participation and passion of educators who taught and learned from each other,” said Choi.

The instructors recently established a civic organization, Haengbokgagyo, to pass on their knowledge beyond the educational sphere.

The happiness class is one hour a week for a semester. Five questions form the basis of the course: have you received praise today, did you have a family member or a friend to lean on, did you learn something new, did you do something you’re the best at and were you able to freely use your time?

“Children should not be discouraged,” Choi said. “They should play a role in deciding what they want to do, and they have to know the goal behind why they have to do. Happiness comes from that.”

BY YANG YOUNG-YU [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]