Pursuing your hobbies and interests may be both the easiest and most rewarding way to find and experience ikigai. In fact, for many Japanese, their ikigai is found in their hobbies and interests
Leisure expert and Assistant Professor of the University of Alberta, Shintaro Kono explored how leisure activities can be a source of ikigai after completing two in-depth qualitative studies. In his doctoral research conducted at the University of Alberta, Kono developed a theory of the relationship between leisure and ikigai.
Let’s take a look at his theory.
Leisure and Ikigai
In his doctoral research, Kono developed a theory of the relationship between leisure and ikigai around “keiken” – experience. Kono’s research revealed that through the experience of leisure activities there are four types of experiences we value:
Tanoshimi translates to enjoyment, and are valued experiences that are intrinsically attractive, such as doing one’s favorite leisure activities, socializing with friends and enjoyable sensory experiences, such as eating, listening to music and exercising. It is important to note that enjoyable experiences provide us with the opportunity to become absorbed in the present moment.
Gambari translates to effort. As you would expect, effortful experiences are characterized by their challenging nature and can give us a sense of purpose as we strive to better ourselves. Kono discovered that while effortful experiences often result in negative immediate outcomes such as setbacks, frustration, and stress, persevering through effortful experiences leads to two long-term positive outcomes: a sense of accomplishment and self- enhancement.
When we make efforts to personally grow, our effortful experiences are self-enhancing giving us an ikigai experience that is truly personal.
Shigeki translates to stimulation and is characterized by experiencing new activities, places, people, and ideas. Stimulating experiences enable us to keep our daily life fresh and exciting. As we only get one life to live it is worthwhile to seek stimulating experiences. Also, some extremely stimulating experiences can radically transform our value systems. This undoubtedly happened to me while living in Japan, and my life has been the better for it ever since.
Iyashi translates to comfort and involves ordinary activities that take place in familiar places involving friends and regular companions. When we are involved in comforting activities with people we know, we are free to be ourselves as we know we won’t be judged or criticized. As such, we are likely to spend a considerable amount of time engaged in comforting activities as they help us stay in tune with who we think we really are.
Kono believes that the most basic action we can take to achieve an ikigai state is to participate in an activity that provides one or more of these values. He defined this as value engagement.
Along with value engagement, Kono studies revealed that we like to be engaged with multiple experience values (e.g., enjoyment and effort) within our daily lives, what he calls value diversification.
Shintaro identified two ways in which we can diversify our experience values:
● diversification across experiences, by partaking in multiple experiences, each of which allows us to experience a different value. For example, I experience effort when exercising and enjoyment when playing computer games with my son.
● diversification within one experience where we experience multiple (two or more) experience values within a single experience. For example, I experience both enjoyment and comfort when playing guitar.
Kono states when being engaged with multiple experience values, it was important for us to find and maintain a balance between opposing values, specifically enjoyment versus effort and stimulation versus comfort. He calls this value balancing.
I find this certainly true in my experience. I find exercising effortful and playing computer games enjoyable, but if I do too much gaming and neglect my exercising I seem to not enjoy my time gaming as much.
Also, there are periods where I won’t play computer games for several months as certain games can be quite intense and overwhelming. This is what Kono identified as value disengagement, where one temporarily detaches from overwhelming experiences to take a break in order to regain the emotional or mental energy to return to the pursuit later on.
Through these various value experiences, we can find life-affirmation, where we feel that our daily lives are worth living – an experience-based, concrete feeling of life worthiness, rather than an abstract metaphysical idea of meaning.
And another finding of value experience was life vibrancyor the subjective perception that our lives are full of energy and motivation. Kono discovered that when we are strongly driven to pursue experiences we value, the motivation toward specific experiences spills over into our daily lives in general.
If you are currently looking for ikigai, spend time pursuing hobbies or interests that require effect but give you enjoyment, stimulation, and comfort. If you don’t have a hobby, think back to younger years of hobbies that gave you a sense of excitement. It is in your leisure experiences that you can find ikigai.
You can listen to my in-depth discussion about leisure and ikigai with Shintaro Kono on my podcast – Finding Ikigai in Leisure with Shintaro Kono