Exploring the Connection Between Positive Psychology and Ikigai

Nick and Sue Langley delve into the correlation between positive psychology and ikigai, underscoring the significance of cultivating positive emotions in the process.

Paying attention to our emotions

Nick: So your diploma has five main modules: emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships, and goals. And you bring many theories of positive psychology together in each of those modules, way too many to even attempt to mention on this podcast, but I thought we could touch on each of them, and maybe share a little and see if they relate to ikigai.

So the first one is emotion, and I guess that's more specifically positive emotion. And I'd like to quote you: ‘The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of your emotions.’ So would you like to expand on that and just share what you'd like to share on that?

Sue: I think it's interesting. So I love the science of emotions. And I have to say, that's probably where I first started really understanding the science of emotions, from a physiological perspective, a brain-based perspective, the theories, the universal elements, the individual fingerprints that people bring to their emotions. And I think that's really fascinating.

I absolutely believe that the quality of your life is directly related to the quality of your emotions. Because if I am having a bad day, because I'm grumpy, or I'm stressed, or I'm anxious, or whatever, it's going to affect the quality of my life, the quality of my relationships, the quality of my communication, all sorts of things.

So for me, although we focus on positive emotions, from a positive psychology perspective, you know when we talked about that, and we spent the time on that, we also investigated many emotions, so the whole range of emotions, about what's the importance of emotions, and what are they there for.

And you will know and I always use this sort of quote: ‘emotions are data’, the information, they're trying to tell us something. And I think that's, again, really important. If I'm feeling anxious, anxiety is an emotion, it's just data, it's information, it's trying to tell me something. If I ignore that data, I'm probably going to have trouble with anxiety.

But if I can learn from that data, what's it trying to tell me and manage and handle that data, then I'm probably not going to have challenges. So for me managing your emotions day-to-day, and I don't mean suppressing or controlling.

I mean, genuinely managing your emotions, experiencing those emotions, noticing them, understanding them, can be so helpful for us just to get through the day-to-day of why do I feel nervous right now? Why do I feel anxious right now? Why do I feel excited right now? What's going on for me?

And knowing what emotion is appropriate in which situation and what I need to do to harness those emotions to help me, I think that's such a powerful thing. And I noticed that we kind of teach it in kindergarten or something, you know, the smiley face, the angry face, the happy face, or whatever.

And then we kind of forget about it and wonder why human beings have well-being issues, or mental health issues, or various other issues, because we don't deal with those emotions.

Nick: It is fascinating, because I'm in the middle of doing the mood meter homework, and checking in at least, you know, four times a day on my mood, my feelings, and my emotions. And you know, it's very helpful, because it's asking, what are you doing? Are you alone or with someone? Your environment?

And then prompting you, what do you think is making you feel this way, and you see these patterns after a while. And yeah, it's gonna be very helpful data, as you said. I imagine in the future, I'll be able to think, well, I'm going to be doing this activity and looks like I find it makes me anxious, so at least I'll be aware of that. And then I can use some of this pipe positive psychology to handle those future situations.

And then if I find myself always happy and cheerful around people, well, I know what to do to become happy and cheerful, I go and catch up with friends or, you know, meet new people.

Sue: I think that's the powerful thing about that. And I have to admit, I do that exercise on myself, at least once a year, sometimes more where I measure my mood for a couple of weeks, and I see what happens.

And I think it's so valuable because sometimes we just go through life, not actually paying attention to the things that brings us moments of joy or moments of gratitude or moments of anxiety. And to your point, when you notice patterns is when it gets really interesting. It's like well, I could just stop doing that and put myself in those situations or I can't stop doing that. So I've got to figure out how to manage those situations.

Nick: Yeah, very helpful, and it's sort of, I think it also highlights the importance of your being obviously aware or mindful, which we'll touch on in a minute. But I wanted to tie in ikigai, because ikigai was defined by this wonderful lady I told you about who I like to refer to as the Mother of Ikigai.

And she defined it, you have your ikigai sources, and then you have ikigai-kan, and kan is perception, awareness, or feeling. And she made this point that ikigai is something you feel—it's what makes you feel that life is worth living.

And yeah, this emphasis on feeling rather than achieving or being successful, or all these things, we tend to value or we're sort of encouraged to value in society, we sort of don't look at our emotions enough. And if we do, it's not always sort of encouraged in a positive way. Like, you're emotional.

Sue: It’s interesting you say that, because many organizations measure engagement. And sometimes, I often do a keynote on this. It's called basically, you can't have engagement without emotion. Because if you think about it, people measure engagement, but they don't realize the value of emotion, but you can't possibly be engaged with a feeling. I feel engaged.

Well, there's emotion. And to your point, absolutely, if we don't understand those sources of emotions, and the feeling that we experienced, yes, we can keep achieving. But if you're not actually enjoying the journey, if you're not leveraging various things that bring you those moments of joy, sometimes, and we see this all the time with people in the media, for instance, that achieve really amazing things and earn loads of money, etc. And then we see their well-being just falling apart. Because if we're not paying attention to the feelings, what's the point in achieving those things?