Independence and Social Significance Among Older Adults

Natasha Randall delineates three distinct categories of participants involved in her research on human-robot interaction: elder people who live alone, those living with others, and those in an aged-care facility.

Three types of participants

Nick: So we should touch on the findings of your surveys with these three types of participants: those living alone who choose to do so, those living with others, and then those living in perhaps something like a nursing home or aged-care facility.

Natasha: So related to ikigai, people who lived with others, either independently in a single-family homes, or in these care facilities, tended to have relations as their primary source of ikigai. So that was close relationships with family and friends, and also helping others in some capacity.

I think that that part is important to the idea of helping others because a lot of older adults begin to feel like a burden to others, especially when their health declines.

And if you're just having that goal to just increase social connection by having them do something with other people, it can be quite hard because they don't feel like they want to reach out because they're going to be a burden.

But if you shift that paradigm to having them actually help other people, then it's a bit more empowering, then they feel like I'm doing something for you, so I don't feel like as much of a burden.

But you're also getting that relational aspect in. And so those were people who lived with others or in care facilities, people who lived alone had more of either this idea that life is meaningful. So like, it's just inherent in living, or they talked about kind of the joy of every day.

So these everyday experiences. And I know lots of researchers have mentioned that having a cup of coffee, for instance, that can be your ikigai. It can just be like these joyful experiences you have throughout your day.

And so that we found is being more comprised of ikigai for people who lived alone. And in terms of social connection, they also tended to not have as deep of a social network, but also not need as deep of a social network.

And when I talk about depth, I guess I want to be very clear, emotional depth is important for everybody. So having somebody you can talk to about your sort of deepest concerns, that's important for everybody.

But having a wide social network is not. So that's another difference we found there. And for people who lived alone, compared to people who live with others, companionship, having companionship, and I'm, again, contrasting that with kind of it's more emotional depth, it's emotional relationship wasn't correlated with their ikigai.

Nick: So there seem to be almost two themes of independence and social significance.

Natasha: Yes, that's a great way to put it.

Nick: But yeah, it ties into or it shows how subjective and personal ikigai is. And some people want that independence, and they're happy and comfortable with themselves and others need connection. And maybe they're aware of, well, I need connection, but I don't want to be a burden.

And Japanese are very concerned about that, of being a burden. So you might have discovered that with your research in Japan. But also, if I feel needed, if I'm actually helping, then I'm happy with that, then I do feel ikigai. So it's complicated, it sounds quite complicated.