Doing nothing has become a competitive sport in South Korea

CultureJune 22, 2016 By Isabelle Kohn

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in Seoul, South Korea, 70 people gather in a serene park to do nothing.

They sit peacefully on yoga mats, some under the shade of umbrellas to protect them from the scorching sun. Others appear to be meditating. Others just stare blankly into space.

Nobody moves.

They are doing something, though.

They're competing. Against each other. To see who amongst them is best at not doing jack shit.

Now, that's a sport we can get behind. Don't ever say we weren't competitive, Stepdad Terry.

The competition is Space Out, an annual contest that began as a conceptual art piece by visual artist WoopsYang in 2014. Intended to highlight the importance of taking breaks and how much people overwork their brains on a daily basis, the piece mushroomed into a full-blown competition as people jumped at the chance to make their own humorous comment on stress by participating.

The rules and regulations of Space Out are as humorous as the concept itself, mirroring the physically taxing social standards people must abide by in the workplace in order to seem worthy and productive. Contestants must sit quietly and stare into space without talking or using their phones, and can be disqualified for laughing, using electronics and sleeping. This goes on for 90 minutes.

Heart rates are checked every 15 minutes, and the person with the most stable heart rate is deemed the winner.

This year, a local South Korean rapper named Crush won the 2016 Space Out title. He was the laziest, and now, the most revered.

If this sounds ludicrous to you, it's probably because you're an American. You're naturally imbued with the sense that doing nothing is both boring and lazy, and you've been taught that the path to success is through hard work and the constant ceremonial sacrifice of your own happiness and relaxation. As Americans, we're taught that taking time for yourself is a sign of weakness, which is probably why we have the least amount of paid vacation time of any country in the world; we're expected to work, not play.

South Korea isn't much different, actually. As one of the most stressed-out populations in the world with the highest rates of suicide, South Korea has been described by The New York Times as "on the verge of a national nervous breakdown."

"I was suffering from burnout syndrome at the time, but would feel extremely anxious if I was sitting around doing nothing, not being productive in one way or another," WoopsYang told Vice. "I thought to myself, 'We would all feel better about doing nothing if we did nothing together as a group.'" He added that the contrast between Space Out and daily life in South Korea would be seen as "a small patch of stillness amidst all the hectic movement."

That anxious, burnt-out feeling is exactly why Space Out has taken off in South Korea, and more recently, Beijing. Not only does it symbolically bring greater awareness to the world that people need to rest and recharge in order to work most efficiently, deal with stress, and create memories properly, but it acts a small stand against the oppressive norms that favor self-sacrifice over health and happiness.

Doing nothing, it seems, is actually doing something.

You could also argue that doing nothing is a sport in North Korea ... they do really like to threaten to do something though.