First, we were curling up in our coziest sweaters in the name of hygge. Then we tossed out all our sweaters in an attempt to “spark joy.” And now another wellness philosophy is making waves—and this time, all you need are your eyes and ears. Enter nunchi, a concept hailing from South Korea that’s all about picking up signals from your environment. Korean American journalist and author Euny Hong explores this in her book The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success. Here’s how to become a “nunchi ninja.”
What is nunchi? Literally translated, nunchi (noon-chee) means “measuring with your eyes” and refers to “the subtle art of gauging other people’s thoughts and feelings to build harmony, trust and connection,” says Hong. Here’s another way to think about it: Nunchi is the power to read a room in seconds.
Oh, I know how to read a room. Do I have good nunchi? First of all, when someone is skilled in nunchi, Koreans don’t say that they have “good nunchi.” Instead, they say the person has “quick nunchi.” Speed matters. And this ancient Korean art goes beyond general observation. Per Hong, “a skilled nunchi practitioner understands they are seeking answers to these two questions: ‘What is the emotional energy of this room?’ and ‘What kind of emotional energy can I emit in order to flow with that?’”
Give me an example. Let’s say you want a raise at work, but you know that your company is struggling financially. Instead of barging into your boss’s office and asking for more money, you observe what’s going on at work and notice that she’s always stressed out after catch-up meetings with her direct reports. So at your next catch-up, you propose a new team structure where five of her direct reports now report to you, thereby taking a weight off her shoulders. Salary bump, granted.