Ikigai Summit Discussion: Reflection and Metacognition

This enlightening discussion among a group of esteemed experts provide invaluable insights into the profound interplay between reflection, ikigai, happiness, and the complexities of the human experience, offering a holistic perspective that enriches our understanding of the human psyche and the pursuit of a fulfilling life.

How people achieve happiness?

Shinichi: It’s a great conversation. Gordon, I think you made a great point. Japanese have a great concept of ikigai, but why regular or normal Japanese people are not so happy? Yeah, I thought the same way.

My view of this is probably, I think the concept of ikigai, everybody knows it, but it’s probably not in people’s mind every day. It’s probably a little bit of a higher concept. Definitely, everybody knows it, but probably not realising it every day.

That might be because some people think ikigai is a very heavy thing; like small things might not be ikigai. I think Ken pointed it out, right? That it starts from small things, you can be able to find ikigai in everyday small things. And that’s exactly right.

And I did some research on ikigai. I talked to people with mental health challenges, and they felt the same way. So after I gave them a homework, like, ‘Okay, think about ikigai, and collect some pictures about ikigai’, and they did. And they did some reflection notes. And after that, I interview them, and then they say like, ‘Well, after that deep reflection, some thoughts about ikigai, I start to feel like I have some ikigai.’

But if I ask to talk to them without any preparation, having them to prepare anything, maybe they’ll say, ‘I don’t have ikigai, I don’t think I’m happy.’ I think there are some mental barriers or something, I don’t know.

We really need to reflect on ourselves to realise that. I think that’s what we’re experiencing. And another thing that I think is important was, you know, Gordon, you mentioned on social structure. I think that really is, or maybe like social discourse, like how life should be, what makes people important?

You know, how things should be? How people should be happy? Like employment, you have job, you’re successful, you will be happy. Probably Japanese people are collectivistic, so maybe, people are happy to follow that social discourse. I think that needs to be considered as well.

So those things came to my mind that I thought we need to think about.

Gordon: Yeah, I completely agree. I know where we came from different disciplines, I think we talked about this before in a different gathering. Individualism and collectivism mean less to me than just a social structure, where you’ve got to do what society tells you that you need to do, which is very powerful. That’s why somebody like Ichiro, when he left Japan to play baseball in the US, he said: ‘It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven.’

Now, America has already have its massive problems, what I would say is an excessive individualism. But it is that pure social structure that seems to constrain people more than they need to be constrained, which is quite interesting. But I agree with what you said.

Ken: Nick, can I give just a quick response to what Shin said? So there is this Dunning-Kruger effect in cognitive science, this is the idea that incompetent people think that they are competent. When people talk about happiness, I sometimes feel that the less metacognition one has, the more he/she would be happy.

I mean, this is an idea that probably happiness comes from a lack of understanding of human condition. And that’s certainly true, and I’m probably talking about Americans. I’m sorry Americans, I mean no harm.

Another issue is that this philosophy of Leibniz, Leibniz subscribed to what they would call philosophical optimism. He claimed that this world is the best of all possible worlds. This is a really interesting argument from Leibniz.

From that point of view, no matter which society you live, whether it’s mainland China, Hong Kong, North Korea, or Japan, once you adjust to a certain environment, you can find your small happiness no matter where you are.

Of course, we need to improve the society. I think there are several cognitive science and philosophical subtleties to be considered. Gordon, do you have any response to this? You know what I’m thinking at.

Gordon: I’m actually quoting Leibniz in my talk, so yes.

Ken: That’s great. Shin, thank you for your wonderful talk.