Shōgakkō

小確幸 |shōgakkō|
noun • Japanese

a small but certain happiness.


Before I begin to write a post, I research the word to make sure that it’s real and legitimate, and to make sure I have a thorough understanding of what it means before I begin to write about it. This one surprised me with a bit of a challenge, though, because information about it is sparse and scattered, with no one source containing the full story. For those interested in etymology, I’d like to start off by rectifying this. In the beginning I was convinced I had the wrong word, until I figured out that there are two Japanese words that share the romanization shōgakkō: 小学校, which means “elementary school”, and which search engines will assume is what you’re looking for; and 小確幸, the one we’re interested in, which is harder to pin down — in part because its origin makes it ambiguous which language it properly belongs to. It’s what’s called a wasei-kango, a Japanese-made Chinese word: coined by a Japanese writer, composed of Chinese characters but obeying Japanese pronunciation. So although it is technically Japanese by origin, it can also be read and pronounced in Chinese and Korean. In fact, its most popular form right now is the Korean variant: 소확행, sohwakhaeng.

Regardless of what language it’s spoken in, shōgakkō is a lovely word. In the essay where the concept was introduced, the author, Haruki Murakami, cites examples such as tearing off and eating pieces of a freshly baked loaf of bread, or wearing a new, clean-smelling shirt. It’s the little day-to-day things that are easy to overlook as insignificant, but that bring us a sense of coziness and joy. Another interpretation I came across is “a small but meaningful happiness”, like receiving an unexpected letter from an old friend, or making a loved one smile. Either way, it’s exceedingly pleasant. What I like about it the most is that everyone who talks about it (without directly referring to the original essay) has different examples of what the word means to them, different small happinesses that are uniquely important to them. Some of mine are turning on the indoor water fountain I keep in my living room and watching it bubble, wearing a favorite pair of socks, and sharing moments of laughter with people I care about; what are yours?

The power of positivity is largely underrated, but it’s beginning to get the recognition it deserves. The concept of shōgakkō was first introduced over 30 years ago, but it has recently become popular in a big way. Sohwakhaeng, specifically, has been a big trend in Korea. People are starting to look more to the little things in life as sources of happiness — learning that a little certain thing is better than a big uncertain thing. We can’t always count on the big stuff, but the little stuff will always be there if we look for it, no matter what else is happening in our lives or how stressful they may be. Shōgakkō reminds us that there’s always something to be happy about, and that’s really important. A little happiness can go a long way.

Take some time to be happy today. Pay attention to the little things. Small happinesses are all around us, as long as we’re willing to look.

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