What are the benefits of Ikigai to our physical and mental health?
There’s this global fascination with ikigai linking it to longevity, with ikigai being described by western literature as something you’re good at, something you get paid for, and something that the world needs. But only few talk about Ikigai’s role in our health. Are there really health benefits in having ikigai?
In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera, exploring the health benefits of having ikigai.
- Triplets and Autism. At 3:14, Yasuhiro talks about his paper regarding triplets and autism, and why he decided to do research about these topics.
- Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera's Research About Ikigai. Nick asks Yasuhiro about what is it like to research the ikigai concept at 7:53.
- The Ikigai-9 Translation. At 15:51, the two touched on "The Ikigai-9" and further discusses the procedure that Yasuhiro and Dr. Dean Fido did when they translated it into English.
- Ikigai: Towards A Psychogical Understanding Of Life Worth Living. Yasuhiro talks about his upcoming book at 18:30.
- "So how would you describe ikigai?". At 21:59, Yasuhiro shares with Nick his own definition of ikigai.
- Ikigai And Physical Health. Nick asks Yasuhiro at 28:00 about what did his research revealed about ikigai and physical health.
- "Life Crafting". Yasuhiro explains to Nick about the term he mentioned in his book.
- Unmet Needs and Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. At 38:49, Yasuhiro talks about unmet needs and their significance for the desire of meaning for ikigai.
- Life's Difficulties. Yasuhiro shares his knowledge about the relation of resilience and ikigai at 46:00.
- "So what's the next step for you?". At 53:54, Nick asks Yasuhiro about his future plans regarding his ikigai research.
Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera is the academic lead at the University of Derby. His teaching primarily focuses on mental health, with interests in self-compassion, intrinsic motivation, and cross-cultural psychology. Right now, he’s working on intervention and cross-cultural studies to see the effects of these variables on mental health.
Being a father of four
Dr. Yasuhiro is a father of four. He has triplets. According to him, they intended to have a family of four, but the second birth gave them triplets. He shared that it was a total shock for him when he first heard about it. When he looked at the stats of the UK babies born two years ago, the rate of triplets was at 0.02% of all the babies born, so that was really unexpected for them.
Research on triplets and autism
Being a parent of triplets, Dr. Yasuhiro conducted a study about them. The study explored the prenatal and postnatal experiences of parents with triplets. The study looked into what parents went through emotionally with having triplets.
He also did some research studies about autism. He has two sons who are autistic. He shared that they found out about their children’s autism when they were about one years old. They are physically delayed, and thus gave Yasuhiro the opportunity to learn more about autism and other disabilities that he hadn't really investigated. He has written one paper about autism, which is all about parents’ experiences and how they cope with stress.
What was it like researching about Ikigai?
Yasuhiro felt happy to see the word ikigai getting attention from the west. He shared that it wasn’t surprising that Ikigai is being talked about in health literature because it is such an important concept.
For a native Japanese like him, ikigai is just a normal word, something that he grew up with, so it was interesting for him to see the west having a different perspective on ikigai. He says that it can help somehow to cross the bridge of between different cultures and backgrounds, but for him when he does his research, he’s always mindful of the essence of ikigai.
He states that ikigai is an Eastern concept where the whole is very important, as Dr. Kamiya said, one of the pioneers of ikigai, that ikigai cannot be explained without experience. Ikigai is not just one psychological concept, rather more about experiential sense. For Yasuhiro, that is something that he’s more mindful of when he does his research about ikigai. It is something that you need to experience first hand.
Yasuhiro helped his friend and colleague, Dr. Dean Fido with translating the Ikigai-9. The Ikigai-9 is a psychometric tool used to measure someone’s ikigai level.
It was an interesting experience for Yasuhiro to help with the translation into English because of the ambiguity of Japanese words. He described Japanese words as having a very rich background and some words are very metaphorical.
Ikigai: Towards A Psychological Understanding of Life Worth Living
Yasuhiro has an upcoming book entitled “Ikigai: Towards a Psychological Understanding of Life Worth Living”. It’s a project he’s been working on alongside 11 other authors. Nick is also a part of this project, having written the foreword of the book.
Yasuhiro’s contribution to the book is a chapter titled Health Benefits of Ikigai. In that chapter, he defines and explores the health benefits of ikigai regarding its impact on both physical and mental health. He also discusses how to enhance ikigai.
Dr. Yasuhiro’s definition of Ikigai
According to Yasuhiro, ikigai is an experiential sense that you are living your life, where you are living your mission, a kind of congruent and coherent sense of experience.
For him, ikigai doesn’t have to be extravagant. Ikigai is something that exists in your daily life, as Dr. Ken Mogi said, ikigai is everywhere. Yasuhiro thinks that it’s important to pay attention to your internal experience of daily life. Pay attention to what gives you joy or what gives you fun. Ikigai is experienced in daily life.
He shared how having ikigai helped him get through the difficult times that he had. It has been exhausting and challenging for him for the past two years having sons with autism. It’s quite a lot of work for him and his wife, and he has had many sleepless nights. But having ikigai, being able to connect to a sense of ikigai helped him get through those difficult times. Having ikigai in the small things helped him get through each day.
Ikigai and Physical Health
According to Yasuhiro, having ikigai helps address the physiological burden that a person experiences and what that burden can accumulate. The tiredness or fatigue that can accumulate with a stressed mind or not having an ikigai, can lead to poor health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease or other stress-related health problems.
Having ikigai helps people deal with health problems. People with ikigai are most likely to engage in healthy habits or self-care behaviors. People feeling more alive and happy engage more in taking care of themselves, and having healthy behaviors that can eventually lead to better mental health.
Nick called it a positive circle. If you have ikigai, you’ll engage in healthy behavior. And if you engage in healthy behavior, you’ll have a better mindset. And having a better mindset can help you find more ikigai, and you’ll be able to engage in even more healthier behaviors.
For Yasuhiro, with ikigai, there’s an element that you feel you’re living life, with a strong connection to your past and personal history. Life crafting is looking at your past, looking back to your past life experiences, reflecting on them being the reason for where you are right now. Life crafting helps you be aware of all your experiences in life.
It's good to have external objects that can anchor you from your past ikigai moments. A life crafting exercise can help you create the same kind of thread in your present or future life. - Yasuhiro Kotera
Revisiting those ikigai moments or resourceful moments in your life can help you feel more confident and more capable of achieving your dreams or goals in life. Sometimes it’s good to have external objects that can anchor you from your past ikigai moments. A life crafting experience can help you create the same kind of thread in your present or future life. It helps you realize what you are capable of.
Connection of Ikigai to Psychological well-beingYasuhiro’s research explores people’s motivations and then talks about intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. The intrinsic nature is more about the quality of experience. What you feel by doing that behavior is itself a reward for you. You feel a sense of fun and are satisfied just by doing that behavior, so you feel as if it has already “paid off” through that experience.
Extrinsic motivation are things like fame, money, or status. They are things that give instant gratification. They can also be addictive. Ikigai is more about internal quality and how you feel about your life and not these external obsessions of money or fame. Ikigai is a lived experiential awareness that we all need. And when that awareness is not felt, you feel it as if something is off. That experience is essential for good mental health. Yasuhiro’s research shows that those who live with intrinsic motivation have better mental health and better ethical judgment compared to people who prioritize extrinsic motivation.
Ikigai fits with existential positive psychology. It is also regarded as the second wave of positive psychology that recognizes meaning in suffering and resilience, as well as being able to overcome challenges. And this is where Ikigai and resilience intersect. Resilience is one’s ability to bounce back from difficulties and those who live with Ikigai can find meaning in life’s difficulties. Good mental health does not mean you are always happy, rather, it means realizing that life comes with difficulties and being able to overcome them.
Ikigai and lived experience
Ikigai is part of the learning experience and is very important. Yasuhiro talks about how his background in Gestalt therapy taught him to practice living now. “Living now” does not mean that you do not have any goals. Some people get so obsessed with goals and the future that they forget to live. Yasuhiro’s personal philosophy is linked to Ikigai: living in the now as if it is the happiest time of your life.
Ikigai is a complex concept, owing to its experiential nature, which cannot be understood without lived experience. - Yasuhiro Kotera
Yasuhiro talks about his experience of waking up at 3am to take care of his crying babies. In 10 years, he may look back at that point and remember how hard it was, but also feel like that was a happy time. We need life experiences like this to understand the complexity of Ikigai.
One cannot understand the concept of Ikigai without lived experience. Ikigai makes you feel that you are living your life. If you have ikigai, you’ll engage in healthy behavior which leads to having a better mindset. This in turn will help you find more Ikigai so you can do more meaningful and healthier activities.
Ikigai does not have to be extravagant. Ikigai is something that exists in your daily life. It is the experiential sense that you are living your life.