Why Gibun (기분) Matters in Korea

Why Gibun (기분) Matters in Korea

Want to know how the Korean concept of gibun is different from mood in English?

We’ve got you covered!

It includes:

  • what it means
  • how to read it
  • how to improve it
  • and more!

Gibun is a less talked about part of Korean culture that’s just as important as the others.

Let’s dive right in!

Gibun is an underrated concept in Korea. Understanding how it affects relationships and even business will do wonders for your social life. It’s a must for anyone interacting with Koreans!

Korean has some great idioms and concepts that make it worth learning. They are:

Knowing these will be bring you one step closer to understanding Korean culture!

What does gibun mean?

Lingua Asia_Pajeon Gibun
I had gibun for pajeon this day (normally when it’s raining). Photo taken at the House of Choi Champan, Hadong, South Korea

Gibun (기분), sometimes written as kibun, is the mood or atmosphere of a person, group or place.

At the heart of it, gibun determines interpersonal relationships and how to maintain harmony with others.

Gibun is a relatively long-lasting emotional state. It’s different from gamjeong (감정 or emotions) since it’s not specific or strong, and not easily triggered by specific events. It’s more like background music that sets the mood of a café.

For example, near the end of the year, Koreans get into a “year-end gibun (연말 기분)”. People are focused on maintaining old relationships instead of forming new ones.

Or, when it’s raining, people get in the mood for pajeon and makgeolli.

Types of gibun

A temple where you feel calm (차분한 기분 or chabunhan gibun). Photo taken in Tongdosa, Yangsan, South Korea

There are many types, but here are the most useful and easy to decipher:

  • Bad – indicated by dark circles under eyes, low energy, short responses and low tone.
  • Good – indicated by bright complexion, smiles, high tone and longer responses.

How to read gibun

It takes nunchi to read gibun, so many of the same principles work.

  1. Start fresh. Lose your preconceived notions while interacting with someone, such as their personality or opinions.
  2. Start with the face. Facial cues like dark circles under eyes, unwashed hair and make-up coverage can tell you a lot about gibun.
  3. Watch carefully. Pay attention to body language like posture and hand gestures.
  4. Listen. Note voice pitch, volume and intonation.
  5. Read between the lines. Is the overall tone of conversation negative or positive?
  6. While listening to someone, ask yourself what they feel, what they think and what they want.

Or, friends will tell you straight up by saying “기분 나빠” or “기분 좋아”.

How to improve gibun

Lingua Asia_Busan_Nakdonggang_River_2021_2
Sometimes, changing the atmosphere helps change your gibun. Photo taken in Nakdong River, South Korea

Listen and empathize. Just being heard goes a long way for most.

Reword. Don’t get emotional with them but instead rephrase what they say.

Don’t give advice unless asked for. Most people just want to vent. Give them an opportunity to do so.

Get specific. Ask about quantifiable things like number of times someone did something or said something. Thinking mathematically activates the rational side of the brain and quiets the passions.

Gradually sway the conversation to things they like. Moving to topics they enjoy like movies and travel will cheer them up.

If nothing works, cut things short and say you hope they feel better. (himnae!)

Learning Korean

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Did we miss anything?

Let us know your experience with gibun in the comments!

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