038 – Understanding Leisure’s Impacts on Sources of Life Worth Living

Can leisure activities impact our ikigai?

Adding enjoyable leisure activities to our routine can have a positive effect, motivating us to overcome the challenges we encounter, that can lead to a feeling of ikigai.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Shinichi Nagata joins Nick to discuss the paper he co-authored on the topic of ikigai; how leisure have an impact on our sources of ikigai.

Self is something that's in the core

"I think self itself may not be the exact activities or things that make your life meaningful, but something that's in the core, and then that is related to all the activities that make your life worth living." - Shinichi Nagata

Podcast Highlights

Shinichi Nagata

Shinichi Nagata

Shinichi Nagata is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health and Sports Sciences at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. His research investigates community inclusion and health outcomes among people with disabilities. He is particularly interested in how and why leisure is helpful to overcome depression. His research also includes promoting community inclusion of people with disabilities.


Shinichi Nagata - Sport, Leisure, and Community Inclusion Lab

Working with Dr. Shintaro Kono

Shinichi has co-authored several papers with Dr. Shintaro Kono, a regular guest on the Ikigai Podcast. Their collaborative work covers a range of topics, including depression, leisure, and meaning-making. Shinichi first crossed paths with Shintaro when serving as a guest editor for a research journal, where Shintaro submitted a paper.

This initial interaction led to a collaboration, with Shintaro reaching out for a joint study on ikigai. Their teamwork culminated in the paper titled 'Understanding Leisure's Impacts on Sources of Life Worth Living: A Multi-Domain Approach.’

Shinichi has been working with people with disabilities for a long time, and meaningful activity is one of the things that interest him. He thinks that it’s important to look at how meaningful activities can help in reducing depression.

What is self in the context of ikigai?

Self is the core of a meaningful life, and it is related to all the activities that people have to make their lives worth living. - Shinichi Nagata

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Meaningful Life Ikigai Tribe

One of the themes explored in their study is self. In the context of their research project, self is a person’s worldview: how a person looks at the world, what kind of things they value, and the decision that they make in their daily lives. For Shinichi, self is the core of a meaningful life, and it is related to all the activities that people have to make their lives worth living.

Values and self-determination

They identified two sub-themes under self: values and self-determination.

Values can be seen in different activities that people do. As an example, Shinichi recounted the story of Yoku, a student who finds passion in breeding cicadas. These insects spend years underground before emerging and taking flight. Through this hobby, Yoku developed the value of patience and a keen understanding of preparation. This value transcends into his academic life as well.

As a member of a student group that coordinates campus events, Yoku's patience shines through the meticulous planning required. His belief in the significance of thorough preparation echoes in his approach to organizing events, a process he recognizes as equally important.

The other sub-theme, self-determination is about the feeling that people want to do certain things in their own way, which is relevant to leisure activities – they choose to do what they want to do.


In the context of their study, Shinichi and his colleagues define tanoshimi as not just momentarily pleasure or enjoyment, but it also has multiple dimensions, particularly, something related to future enjoyment or pleasure. This aligns with the concept of ikigai — the idea of having things to look forward to. Even though people are struggling with life, they still have things to look forward to that give them motivation.

Three additional dimensions of tanoshimi

In their research among Japanese students, Shinichi shares that they found three additional dimensions of tanoshimi in their pursuit of ikigai: savouring and absorption, shigeki, and anticipation and reward.

  • Savouring and absorption mean being immersed in the moment, which is like mindfulness – being in the moment and maximizing the experience of enjoyment. For instance, students having a delicious meal: they are focused on eating and enjoying the pleasure of having good food.
  • Shigeki is a term that students use to describe novel experiences. Students think that their daily routines such as eating, going to school, or sleeping, are not qualified as ikigai. For them, it is about having new experiences, meeting new people, or engaging in new projects. They believe that life without shigeki (stimulation) has no tanoshimi (enjoyment) because shigeki involves new, transformative experiences.
  • Tanoshimi is anticipation and reward, which are the students’ use of enjoyable activities as something to look forward to or as recognition of their effort and achievement. Students use pleasurable activities as sources of motivation in their lives.

The Western interpretation of ikigai

Shinichi thinks that the Western interpretation of ikigai is focused only on work and that ikigai is not limited to the four circles of the Venn diagram, which states that it is something that people love, that the world needs, that people are good at, and that people get paid for.

There are other aspects that can be considered as ikigai and one of those is leisure. However, he thinks that work can also be a source of ikigai because most people spend their time at work.

Can a role be a source of ikigai?

A person’s role can also be a source of ikigai because roles relate to relationships with other people. For example, having a role as a mentor or teacher makes a person’s life meaningful because they know that they are contributing to other people’s growth.

Role and Ikigai

Growth and achievements

In their study, when students talk about their shigoto (work), they often link it with growth and achievements. By working hard, students can attain personal growth and achieve higher goals; and growth and learning are something valuable and can be considered as ikigai. For instance, a student named Kakeru chose a picture of his badges for an airline pilot program to represent his ikigai; it shows his efforts towards becoming a pilot.

The synergy between tanoshimi and shigoto

There is an interrelationship between tanoshimi and shigoto. By experiencing shigoto and the challenges they have while working really hard, students can appreciate more leisure activities – experiencing a hard time makes them enjoy leisure activities more. The students believe that if there are no challenges, there will be no enjoyment.

Shinichi thinks that there is a healthy balance between challenges and enjoyment – people cannot have all enjoyment in life and no work. If people only live a life of leisure, at some point, they will get tired of it as well. Their experience of enjoyment diminishes over time and they start looking for something new.

If there is now challenge in your daily work, perhaps there is no enjoyment in your life. Because you don't have that sense of, "I can reward myself now. I worked hard at work, now I'll do my favorite hobby." - Nicholas Kemp

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Challenge and Enjoyment

Importance of self-care

Shigoto are activities that people need to be very intensely involved in. It requires mental and physical energy, hence people need to have self-care to gain their energy back. In their study, Shinichi shares that they identified three key self-care categories: physical, mental, and social conditioning.

  • Physical conditioning is engaging in recovering physical energy, such as sleep and exercise. For instance, college students who are working for so many hours, need sleep to regain their energy. 
  • Mental conditioning is more focused on mental energy. An example of this is people who engage in their hobbies to make themselves calm and feel better; they perform comforting activities including socialization with close others and playing with pets.
  • Social conditioning is taking a break from social interactions; shigoto activities involve collaborative works that become draining for some. To have a break from that, some people tend to spend some time alone to regain their social energy.

I think framing self-care as an ikigai source could be very helpful, because a lot of people feel guilty about getting help or looking after themselves. - Nicholas Kemp

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Self-care and Ikigai

Two distinct modes of interaction

There are two distinct modes of interaction through which students connected with their close others: sharing and support.

  • Sharing is about people who share the same experiences, typically, positive experiences. Shinichi believes that sharing is an important aspect of ikigai; it can be activities such as going to a good restaurant together and having good food together – any activity that nurtures people’s relationships with their close others.
  • Support means social and emotional support. Despite the challenges that people face, as long as they have a strong support system through their authentic relationships, it helps them to keep on going in life.

Shinichi’s ikigai

Shinichi has plenty of ikigai sources, and the most prominent is his family. He has three kids and he and his wife have spent their time raising and giving all their love. He thinks despite some hardships, raising his children is a fun process and makes his life more meaningful. He believes that his family should come first because it is the foundation of all ikigai activities.


Unlike the Western view of ikigai mostly tied to work, this study of Shinichi and his colleagues shows that there are other sources of ikigai and that leisure has an influence on these sources. Leisure activities can be a form of motivation for people to do better at their jobs because they consider it a reward after going through all the stressful activities. Leisure can also be a way to develop meaningful relationships and experiences that can lead to the feeling of ikigai.