‘There is always something to worry about!’ This is a mantra I repeated for most of my adult life – and it hasn't been very helpful. In fact, it was actively detrimental to my well-being and often prevented me from enjoying life’s most meaningful moments. I don’t recommend it at all.
Instead, I recommend the Japanese concept of yutori. If you have a tendency to worry as much as I did, then you may find yutori life-changing.
Yutori - the space to have peace of mind
Like ikigai, yutori is a difficult word to translate concisely because it is a peculiar, multifaceted word used in various contexts. The online dictionary jisho.org translates yutori as ‘space; elbowroom; leeway; room; reserve; margin; allowance; latitude; time (to spare)’.
I personally tend to think of yutori as ‘the space to have peace of mind’. It is important for ikigai, and in that context could be defined as ‘a psychological state in which one feels a sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction’.
If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because yutori is a concept I have shared on my podcast and with the Ikigai-9 scale, specifically the statement; ‘I have room in my mind’. ‘Room’ and yutori are equivalents because, when you have yutori, you feel a sense of mental space and a freedom from overwhelming thoughts or worries; you have room to think about life and room to consider others.
In our fast-paced modern world where we are often distracted or glued to our mobile devices, I suspect yutori is a state few of us enjoy in our day-to-day living; we are often waiting for the weekend or next holiday to find this space.
A scale to measure yutori
In 2001, Miyako Yamashita, Ryuichiro Yagi, and Hideo Furukawa published a scale to measure yutori. It includes eight factors: economic wealth, free time, environmental amenities, competence, contentment, enjoyment, challenge, and behavioural freedom. They were particularly interested in using the scale to examine the efficacy of pro-yutori initiatives implemented by various companies; their hope was to address a countrywide yutori deficit in Japan:
‘Financially, Japan has attained a standard of living at which most people can obtain at least minimum satisfaction. Many Japanese people, however, do not feel real fulfilment and satisfaction in their daily lives. ‘No yutori can be found in our daily life’ is an expression often used among Japanese people.’
Their results indicated that yutori was related not only to objective, material measures, such as time and economic sufficiency, but also to very subjective psychological concepts – particularly contentment:
‘Contentment was the core factor of yutori in the model…while material factors such as free time, economic wealth, and environmental amenities acted in support. The findings indicated that the higher contentment people obtained, the more psychological factors, such as enjoyment, behavioral freedom, and challenge, were promoted. Time and economic factors contribute yutori because they enhance people’s control of their environment. Therefore, a state of yutori is not only the result of material, objective factors that arise when the fundamental conditions are met, but it is also a subjective and psychological concept.’
Karōshi - Death from overwork
Ironically, even though the Japanese value yutori and ikigai and have tools that are useful for identifying and promoting both, the country still suffers greatly from a lack of yutori – especially in the workplace, with hundreds of workers literally working themselves to death every year.
The problem is so common that the Japanese language has a word to describe this tragic occurrence: karōshi, with karō meaning ‘overwork’ and shi meaning ‘death’– death from overwork. Suicide induced by work stress is also a problem in Japan; this is known as karōshi-jisatsu, with jisatsu meaning ‘suicide’.
‘Karōshi’ was coined in 1978 by Dr Tetsunojo Uehata, formerly of Japan’s National Institute of Public Health. Every year, the Japanese government estimates at least 200 people die from karōshi, working so many hours that they drop dead from heart failure or that they choose to end their lives rather than return to the office.
That figure is considered extremely conservative and campaigners against overwork have estimated that the actual karōshi toll reaches into thousands of deaths annually. A hotline run by the National Defence Council for Victims of Karōshi – which seeks government compensation for work-induced stress, disease, and disability – receives between 100 and 300 calls every year.
Clearly, Japan has a lack of yutori when it comes to work life. This is something we want to avoid and highlights why we must not make our work our only source of ikigai.
Yutori is not about creating space to do more things. You don’t need to partake in activities like meditation, journaling, or tai chi to create yutori. You simply slow things down. You slow down to create a feeling that you have plenty of space in between your activities, resulting in a mindset with more latitude.
Ibasho - A place to be
I feel yutori when I go for a walk at my ibasho, a place where I can be myself and free from the pressures of the world. When I go on this walk I don’t take my phone. I also don’t take this walk for the purpose of exercise; it is something I do purely for the sake of creating yutori. I slow down to allow myself to savour the sights and sounds around me. I don’t rush; there is no concern for time.
Japanese will often use the example of leaving your home early enough to get somewhere, like the train station, so that you know you’re going to arrive early. On your walk to the train station, if you bump into a neighbour, you know you have plenty of time up your sleeve to have a chat. There is no discomfort, no sense of urgency, no need to rush. You don’t arrive early by going fast; you leave early to arrive early.
If you lack yutori in your life, try making a conscious effort to divorce yourself from your mobile devices every evening and engage in activities that will make you feel content. Create time to be present to enjoy the small joys of life.