47 – The Impact of Rolefulness on Ikigai with Professor Daiki Kato

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Professor Daiki Kato to explore the importance of roles in perceiving ikigai in our lives. 

Emotional connection is essential to ikigai

"Both yarigai and ikigai are very important words to understand rolefulness, connection is very important. 

I think emotional connection with others -- intimacy and attachment -- is very important to feel ikigai. The emotions such as pleasure and satisfaction, which accompany our role are very important for our mental health." - Daiki Kato

Podcast Highlights

  • Defining rolefulness. At 1:42, Daiki shares what is meant by “rolefulness”, as discussed in his paper “Rolefulness and Interpersonal Relationships.”
  • Coining the term rolefulness. At 4:52, Daiki talks about the origins of the term rolefulness.
  • Workshop on increasing rolefulness. At 13:24, Daiki gets into detail about the workshop his team conducted on social rolefulness.
  • The rolefulness scale. Daiki talks about the scale he developed to measure rolefulness at 20:18.
  • Role confusion. At 27:47, Daiki explains what role confusion is and how it impacts a person’s ikigai.
  • The quadrant model. At 33:07, Daiki talks about the quadrant model he and his colleagues constructed concerning rolefulness.
  • Relation of social rolefulness to social experiences. At 42:48, Daiki talks about the correlation between social rolefulness and social experiences.
  • Increasing rolefulness. At 55:04, Nick and Daiki talk about how people can increase rolefulness in their daily lives.
  • Advice for people to feel more rolefulness. At 1:07:26, Daiki gives advice to people who want to feel more rolefulness in their lives.
  • Daiki’s ikigai. At 1:10:12, Daiki shares what his ikigai is.

Daiki Kato

Daiki Kato

Professor Daiki Kato is a professor at the College of Human Science at Kinjo Gakuin University, Nagoya, Japan; his areas of study include clinical psychology and art therapy. He received a Bachelor in Education in 2003, a Master of Arts in 2005, and a Ph.D. in psychology in 2008 – all from Nagoya University in Japan.


Website - Daiki KATO Laboratory

Defining rolefulness

Contemplating the importance of one’s role in the context of ikigai, Nick stumbled upon Daiki’s scholarly article, “Rolefulness and Interpersonal Relationships.” Rolefuleness is a psychological concept developed by Daiki and his colleague Dr. Mikie Suzuki; he explains that rolefulness is the continuous sense of role satisfaction that people have in their lives, and it includes two subfactors: social and internal. Social rolefulness is role satisfaction based on social experiences, such as interpersonal relationships – having a role that is of benefit to others. On the other hand, internal rolefulness is role satisfaction that is formed by internalising social rolefulness – people gain confidence because of their role.


Coining the term rolefulness

Rolefulness is an original term from Daiki and his colleague. Daiki shares that he has been studying clinical psychology, with the psychological effects of art therapy as his main research topic, and focused on LEGO® blocks as material for individual and group therapy; participants made out of something from LEGO® blocks and a therapist interpreted each work. While conducting group therapy, Daiki found out that many roles are formed when people work closely together. He noticed that collaborative work improves each individual’s social skills and gives them role satisfaction – thus, the concept of rolefulness was created to highlight the importance of roles to mental health and human relationships. Daiki cites two main reasons for writing the paper about rolefulness: to reveal what rolefulness is and look into the relationship between rolefulness and other psychological factors. The result of their study showed that rolefulness has a good effect on mental health – it facilitates social adjustment, increases self-esteem, and helps with depression.

Rolefulness Ikigai Tribe

Workshop on increasing social rolefulness

As mentioned, Daiki conducted a workshop amongst young adults to develop social rolefulness. The workshop focused on collaborative work, with LEGO® blocks as their material. Three to four participants worked together to express anything they liked using the LEGO® blocks. Throughout the process, Daiki shares that the participants were able to establish verbal and nonverbal relationships – their roles were divided naturally as they worked, and they were able to produce interesting outcomes such as parks, houses, and schools; some were even able to make local music festivals out of LEGO®. The result of their study showed that collaborative experiences may help in increasing rolefulness. Aside from young adults, Daiki also conducted workshops for infants and their parents using Duplo® blocks; both parents and infants made animals out of those blocks. The process gave infants simple role satisfaction, and it gave their parents ideas of what their children are interested in; on the whole, the process established a rapport between parents and children.

The rolefulness scale

Daiki shares that psychologists need to measure psychological concepts, and because of that, he came up with the rolefulness scale to evaluate rolefulness; it is a five-point scale that measures the two factors of rolefulness (social and internal rolefulness). 

The items under social rolefulness are:

  • I’m useful in society

  • I can apply my strong point for society

  • My role is necessary for other people

  • I have a role in the group I belong to

  • I carry out a social role

The items for internal rolefulness are:

  • I realise my individuality by my role

  • I’m satisfied with my role

  • I gain confidence because of my role

  • My role brings out my individuality

  • I have a role that is only mine

Participants were asked to use a scale of one (lowest) to five (highest) to indicate how much they agreed with each statement. These items show that social rolefulness pertains to interpersonal relationships, while internal rolefulness is all about personal aspects such as self-identity and confidence.

The quadrant model

Daiki’s study revealed that social rolefulness is developed first, followed by internal rolefuleness. This relationship underpins the quadrant model, which explores where people are with respect to both types of rolefulness. The model consists of four areas: integrated (both social and internal rolefulness are very high), developing (high social rolefulness, but low internal rolefulness), immature (both social and internal rolefulness are low), and groundless (low social rolefulness and high internal rolefulness). When linking rolefulness to hikikomori (severe social withdrawal), Daiki believes that if a person is in a state of hikikomori but can gain social rolefulness, they will gain internal rolefulness and gradually be able to adapt to society.


Hikikomori Ikigai Tribe

Role confusion

In his paper, Daiki mentioned role confusion; he explains that role confusion is a state where people aren’t satisfied with their roles. For instance, during disruptive events such as COVID-19, where everyone was forced to stay in their homes and adjust to doing everything online, many people can feel lost and confused about their roles. Nick believes that through their roles, people have positive interactions and generally feel positive. However, when they experience a lack of those roles, people lose their sense of purpose or meaning in life.

Roles Ikigai Tribe

Relation of social rolefulness to social experiences

Daiki explains that social rolefulness is theoretically correlated with social experiences. Interpersonal communication is essential – people need to develop social and communication skills to establish and maintain good relationships with others; hence, they concluded that people with satisfactory social and social skills can achieve adequate social rolefulness. Internal rolefulness can only begin to develop after social rolefulness is formed. Having positive relationships with others helps people to develop their self-esteem and gain belief and confidence in their own abilities.

Increasing rolefulness

Daiki believes that there are a lot of chances to increase rolefulness in people’s daily lives: engaging in ordinary activities such as greeting other people, having conversations, and showing gratitude to others. However, he thinks that some advances in technology, applications such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, may affect people’s pursuit of rolefulness because he thinks that people still have a greater chance for growth by engaging in in-person interactions. He believes that actual conversations are essential in increasing people’s rolefulness. Moreover, accepting the roles of others is also important. Nick agrees stating that the idea of accepting roles of others, letting other people express themselves through roles is important – it is essential to embrace and support the roles of other people.

Role of others

Advice for people to feel more rolefulness

Daiki shares that his advice for young people is to give importance to the daily roles that they play in life; it can be the small roles that they have, such as helping with household chores, and having conversations with their friends and family, because these simple roles may give them satisfaction and confidence. Moreover, changing the way that they think may also be beneficial in increasing their growth.

Psychological Research

Daiki’s ikigai

Daiki states that he has several sources of ikigai. One of these is definitely his success in his social role. He also feels ikigai every time people take notice of his team’s research. More personal sources of ikigai include family, friends, and hobbies.



Our roles play an important part in feeling more ikigai in our lives; our lives are composed of various roles which make up who we are. We can play different roles for every person that we meet, and each person may see us differently – but all roles are similar in that they can have a notable impact on others' lives. If we just pay attention to the roles that we have and how each may impact others, we can feel a sense of significance which can lead to feeling more ikigai in our lives.