Is this the year of meong – a wellbeing trend I can actually master? | Emma Beddington

I subscribe to Vittles online magazine, because reading evocative writing about food I’m too lazy and incompetent to prepare or seek out is one of my favourite hobbies, and because I always learn something. In a recent edition, I discovered a captivating Korean suffix. “There are no thoughts, just meong, the suffix in Korean used for activities of staring into stillness, like bull meong – staring into the fire,” wrote the author, Songsoo Kim, in a beautiful article with recipes about preparing a feast that I would dearly love to eat, but absolutely will not cook.

As a black belt starer into stillness – it’s my other favourite hobby – this spoke to me deeply. I asked Kim about it and she explained meong (also written mung) is colloquially used to describe zoning out, but without a negative connotation. This, she explained, was “an organic linguistic development, as more and more people started mentioning how staring at the fire at campsites or fireplaces together is rather healing.” There are also forest, foliage and water versions of quiet, empty staring and cafes where you can “hit mung”. “It’s a moment we all need,” Kim said.

We do. I’ve always been a big fan of that Blaise Pascal saying: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” (often whispering it crossly to myself as my husband embarks on another self-imposed DIY challenge that involves him turning off the water and wifi). If Pascal had met a smartphone, I feel like he would have added “without his phone”. We’re overstimulated and our whirring and clicking brains desperately need quiet no-thoughts time.

It’s almost irresistible to look to other places for life philosophies that can be condensed into one, usually misunderstood, word. South Korea is also home to an annual “space-out” competition, where people try to do nothing for the longest time, suggesting a desire to address mental overload and our collective need for mental stillness. And despite a brief flurry of interest, niksen – a sort-of similar Dutch term, meaning “doing nothing”, never quite achieved hygge-like global traction. So if we’re looking to adopt (and probably misunderstand) another word to improve our lives, could this be the year of meong?

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Emma Beddington is a Guardian columnist

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