Skip to main content

I recently learned about the term, “goblin mode.”1

If you are also hearing this phrase for the first time, it refers to “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”2 Caleb Madison of The Atlantic described it as “a complete shedding of the mask of public life.”3 To use examples familiar to us in academia: it’s the student who shows up for their morning class in their pajamas; or the student who noisily devours their lunch in class, despite the discomfort of other students sitting next to them; or the student on Zoom who appears to be lying on the ground, next to piles of papers, books, and used dishes. This mentality of “going goblin mode” resonated with so many young folks in 2022 that the term was voted Oxford’s Word of the Year.4

In the same conversation I learned about goblin mode, I also learned another word, this time in Korean: “godsaeng (갓생).”5

This word is a combination of an English word (god) and a Korean word (saeng, which translates to life). So, god + life. You might think that the term is intended to refer to a great or epic life. But this term emphasizes that what makes one’s life great are not dramatic and grandiose things, but rather, consistently doing the small daily things well: exercising, rising early, eating healthy, journaling, meditating, and so on. Godsaeng is a defiant contrast to goblin mode in a generation of young people who are jaded by empty promises of quick success stories and epic achievements; they seek to find wisdom and fulfillment in doing the small things diligently. Another important component of godsaeng is that it has to be documented—most often, displayed through social media—for the world to admire and label as exemplary. It’s the student who wakes up at 5 am daily and fills each minute of the day with productive activities. The student who you would describe as the epitome of self-discipline or consistency. In South Korea, godsaeng was voted Instagram’s Keyword of the Year in 2022.6

As I reflect on these fascinating terms that capture the mindset of young people around the world during these globally troubled times, I also notice that these two terms connect to content that I regularly teach in my Cross-Cultural Psychology course: Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Value Orientation Model.7 This model captures several domains in which cultures differ in their worldviews; the domain of interest in this blog piece is the “Human Activity” domain, and the model asserts that worldviews can emphasize being, being and in becoming, and doing as human activities. Being emphasizes the acceptance of self, doing values the behaviors or activities of people, and being and in becoming captures both the importance of self-acceptance but also self-development.

It seems to me that some element of goblin mode is essentially capturing the being mindset to human activity. That one is encouraged to show up in their full self, unabashedly unapologetic about who they are. Godsaeng, on the other hand, overlaps with the idea of doing as a human activity emphasis.

I often talk to my students about the need for a balance between doing and being (yay for being and in-becoming!) whenever I introduce the Value Orientation Model. But learning about goblin mode and godsaeng has provided me with another entry point into this conversation with students. The other day I tried to introduce these terms to them and make connections with being and doing, and it didn’t go well; so, I am motivated now to write out something that one day, I hope to deliver to my students more effectively.

Here is what I might say to students:

Students, who enjoy going goblin mode…

Yes, at times, I encourage you to go full goblin mode. Be unapologetic to who you are as an individual. Know that God created you and that you are an image bearer (Genesis 1: 26-27). You have gifts (and faults) that uniquely make you, you (Romans 12:6-8). Come forward as you are, in confidence, with no shame. I will strive to love you and accept you unconditionally (and please forgive me if there are times I do not). Feel free to go into goblin mode with me when you deem it is necessary for your well-being. Share with me your successes, but also show me your failures. Hopefully, I as your instructor can also do the same to model appropriate vulnerability in our Christian learning community.

But also know that goblin mode is only one part of the picture, just like “being” as a primary descriptor of human activity falls short under the Value Orientation Model. That is, we are invited to come to God as we are, but we are also transformed by the Holy Spirit to become different compared to where we started (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romains 12:1–2). That means, yes, you can be boldly you when you “come to the table,” but be prepared to be different in some way when you leave it. Indeed, my prayer and aspiration when teaching is that whenever you spend time in my classroom, you will have experienced some form of change when you exit it, even if miniscule.

Also, when you enter goblin mode, don’t forget about the community that you are connected to, the body that is made up of not only you, but others around you who are also in this family of God (1 Corinthians 12:14–26). Maybe a good question to ask yourself is this: is your goblin mode lifting up those around you, or is it bringing others down? Certainly, we can engage in some things with a clear conscience at the individual level, but some of those things might not always be edifying to those around us (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Students, who are inclined toward godsaeng…

Yes, pursue a life that is godsaeng. Live a life that is exemplary to others around you. I genuinely admire your diligence and commitment to the mundane tasks of life. That you are living into the call to “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV). Keep going, continue the fight, even if you do not see the immediate rewards.

But examine your hearts when you do your activities, so that you are not overly consumed by the thought of being exemplary to others. It is striking that so many Biblical references to being exemplary comes with a qualification or warning about humility and wisdom: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13 NIV). And you are likely well-aware of the Biblical command to do good deeds in a way that does “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3 NIV). It is quite the contrast to the “look at me” mentality that dominates our social media posts.

Indeed, so much of the current emphasis on living a godsaeng life is about the outside—what you do—but the shortcomings of the “doing” emphasis as human activity is evident in the Value Orientation Model. Setting an example for others to follow is not just about being visible to others and getting recognition, but it also includes what might not be readily seen. Indeed, “the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Also, I worry about you when you are in this mode of godsaeng. I worry about exhaustion. I worry about how you might be hyper focused on getting things done that you neglect to be self-compassionate. That you become so preoccupied by the need to be perfect in every little and big endeavor that you forget to show yourself grace. Daily checklist is a wonderful tool for productivity, but don’t elevate it to a status that it is not deserving of. Not every day is going to be godsaeng.

So be diligent, yes. Find meaning in being faithful when doing everyday things, even if some of tasks might not be pleasant. But also know that you are more than the series of accomplishments throughout the day. And I am sorry if I, as your professor, have perpetuated a contrary message that your worth is dependent on your checklist and how much you can show what you have accomplished.

In closing this blog piece, I realize that some students might not be familiar with these two terms, goblin mode and godsaeng (especially this word, since it is Korea-specific). But even if they are unfamiliar with the specific terms, I bet that they will resonate with the mindsets captured by the terms, especially if you are able to give examples. I hope that such conversations lead to deeper self-reflections that help all of us in Christian learning communities to understand the rewards and challenges of these mindsets that are so prevalent today among our students.


  1. I would like to thank Professor David Tizzard for introducing the terms goblin mode and godsaeng to me.
  2. Oxford University Press, “Oxford Word of the Year,” accessed January 19, 2023,
  3. Caleb Madison, “We’re All Capable of Going ‘Goblin Mode,’” The Atlantic, December 10, 2022,
  4. Oxford University Press, “Oxford Word of the Year,” accessed January 19, 2023,
  5. [1]. Byung-yeul Baek, “’Godsaeng’ Becomes Instagram’s Keyword of the Year in Korea,” The Korea Times, December 13, 2022,
  6. Byung-yeul Baek, “’Godsaeng’ Becomes Instagram’s Keyword of the Year in Korea,” The Korea Times, December 13, 2022,
  7. Florence Kluckhohn, and Fred Strodtbeck, Variations in Value Orientations (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1961).

Paul Y. Kim

Seattle Pacific University
Paul Youngbin Kim is Professor of Psychology in the School of Psychology, Family, and Community at Seattle Pacific University


  • Gordon Moulden says:

    As Christians, for valuing ourselves and others, ought we not to begin with “imago dei”, realizing that we each have immense inherent worth being created in the image and likeness of God no matter what our particular “wiring”? That being the case, we are to love our neighbours as ourselves as precious spiritual beings who need patience, kindness, goodness, etc. But we are also commanded to “do all for the glory of God”, to please Him in all things, not for our own self-fulfillment or reputation but for His glory, His kingdom purposes; we are to be productive, for Him, but also to make time to step aside and rest, as Christ did and also commanded His disciples when things got really busy.

  • I am so thankful to you for sharing these terms and how to honor them in the demonstrated lives of our students and our colleagues. You have elevated my perspective of what it means to be respectful to all who share time and space with me so that i am not disrespecting what they offer at any given moment.

  • David Downing says:

    Thank you for this insightful analysis. I’m not sure that the goblin mode and godsaeng should be treated as equal and opposite. The goblin mode comes easy, as young Americans today are encouraged in all the electronic media and social media to be individualists, to “let it all hang out,” to assert their personal rights and act on immediate impulses.

    I think that Christian training should emphasize moving from the goblin mode, unapologetic selfishness, to the godsaeng mode. Part of loving your neighbor is not “acting act” on impulse but considering the impact on the people around you. As C. S. Lewis put it, the whole journey of the Christian life is to follow the example of John the Baptist: “He [Christ] must increase and i must decrease.”

  • There’s an echo of similarity between this and O. Alan Noble’s contrast of over-achieving students and over-resigned students — I think he does this in his book You are Not Your Own. I like “godsaeng”!

  • David Andrew Tizzard says:

    Thank you for taking the conversation further, Paul. Loved reading this.