Getting Things Off Your Chest: A Coping Mechanism

According to Shintaro Kono, negativity is part of pursuing ikigai; it can help people perceive their ikigai. However, it is also essential to let out all these negative emotions. In Japan, they have the term guchi (getting things off your chest). In his study, Shintaro shares that the interviewees mentioned guchi, the need for authentic relationships in which they can freely express themselves and get things off their chest.

Communicate and release your negative emotions. 

Nick: What I also found interesting was this need of your students to use the term you use for guchi? I've attempted to translate it as getting things off your chest and it was important for students to find someone they could talk to, and just get things off their chest, frustrations or negative experiences.

How much was that evident in your study as an important factor?

Shintaro: There were a lot of things, especially the experiences that students were communicating about were effortful. And effortful experiences are often challenging, which gives sometimes stress and frustration, anxiety potential fallbacks and some interpersonal issues too, sometimes as well.

So there's negativity to it and negativity is part of that pursuit of ikigai according to my theory. Now, it's not a good idea to keep that in your mind and it's really like coping literature and social support suggests it's important to somehow communicate. 

Now, guchi originally in my mind, I was thinking okay, guchi and the Japanese side of me understood as guchi but the other side was translating it into English as a complaint. Then I realised that, like you Nick, you did a really good job translating that guchi in a true English sense isn’t complaining.

Because to me, complaining in English, sometimes is like complaining to a company, after you purchase their product. You want to do something, you want to make a change, you want to do something, address the situation hopefully, although it may not happen. 

That students' guchi, there was no intention of actually addressing the situation, they knew that this stress and frustration was part of the deal of those effortful experiences and it could be good down the road.

They knew that but they needed to get that stress and frustration and anxiety off their chest for that time being and to save space really to save space, interpersonal space where they can do it. Once those ibasho where they can be true to each other, real to each other.

Nick: I liked how you identified it as a coping mechanism and I guess if we don't do it if we don't get something off our chest and we have repeated bad experiences, one day, we just might blow up at the wrong person.

I do know the word waruguchi in Japanese, which means to speak badly of someone behind their back. So just reading guchi made me realise guchi is just getting something off your chest.

Whereas waruguchi is when you complain about someone over and over again and after a while, it's not helpful, there's got to be a point where you stop. I think waruguchi is always used in a negative context.

Shintaro: I think waruguchi has very malicious intentions behind it from my perspective, my understanding of Japanese. Guchi can involve other people and then sometimes the focus is on that other person. But the core of the guchi is that experience. 

The experience is not going as you want, in the direction that you want. There are bumps into challenges as you go and as long as you can make that complaining or guchi about that experience, I think it tends to be more constructive in a way that you're not personalising, you're not attacking anybody particularly. 

It's that things are not going well, which is a part of life and which is part of ikigai as well.