South Koreans Use Pet Rocks for Burnout and Loneliness

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  • South Korean millennials are turning to pet rocks to combat loneliness and burnout at work.
  • Originally a 1970s joke gift, pet rocks can give a low-maintenance sense of companionship.
  • This phenomenon shows rising issues of isolation and overwork in South Korea.

Adults in South Korea are using pet rocks to help with loneliness and burnout at work.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the unusual trend taking off in the country.

Pet rocks were a popular joke gift in the 1970s US, when their creator, ad exec Gary Dahl, sold 1.5 million of them for about $4 each.

Now the rocks seem to be back, but in Asia, where they aren’t played for laughs.


Pet rock creator Gary Dahl

Pet rock creator Gary Dahl.

Bettmann/Getty Images



Instead they are seen as a way to mitigate the loneliness and burnout spreading through South Korean society.

The Journal’s Jiyoung Sohn spoke to millennials turning to pet rocks to help them through difficult periods in their careers.

Koo Ah-young, 33, told Sohn she didn’t have anyone to talk to about the burnout she experienced after starting a new office job in Seoul.

She didn’t want to worry her friends and family, but she also felt that getting a pet animal, like a cat or dog, would have been too much responsibility.

So Koo got a pet rock and named it “Bang-bang-i,” inspired by the Korean word for jumping in happiness, according to the Journal. She said she talks to the rock about her day and carries it in her pocket when going out for walks or to the gym.

“There was some sense of serenity, knowing that this natural rock had weathered a lot over the course of time to reach its current state,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted a pet-rock boom in South Korea, according to a July 2023 report by Korea JoongAng Daily.

Some South Koreans have used TikTok to showcase decorating their pet rock or unboxing them. Business Insider found well-reviewed rocks for sale on South Korea’s Coupang e-commerce site for around $9.

The increase might be linked to the rise of single-person households — which accounts for the majority of all households in the country — as noted by The Korea Bizwire in 2021.

South Korea’s Ministry of Interior and Safety reported in December 2023 that the number of single-person households had increased from 9.72 million in 2022 to 9.93 million in 2023, The Korea Herald reported.

And it’s not just the average worker who has one — K-pop stars have their own celebrity rocks, including Yoon Jeonghan of the group Seventeen.

Lonely and overworked

Loneliness and burnout among young people in South Korea are not new.

An estimated 3.1% of Koreans aged between 19 and 39 are “reclusive lonely young people,” according to an April 2023 report issued by South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and translated to English by CNN.

According to the report, several factors are at play, including financial difficulties, mental health, family problems, and overall health, CNN reported.

Those who are in full-time employment in Seoul may not experience the same isolation as those in other areas. Bloomberg reported in November that more than 98% of grade-A offices in the capital are occupied, suggesting that remote work is a thing of the past.

Companies in South Korea also have a history of overworking their employees. In March 2023, the government attempted to increase its 52-hour workweek to 69 hours but was forced to reconsider plans after facing backlash from Millennials, Gen Z, and labor unions.

According to data published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, South Korea was the most overworked country in Asia and the fifth-most overworked country worldwide in 2022.

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