Managing Happiness in Japan

What is happiness in the Japanese context?

For Dr. Iza Kavedzija, what she observed throughout her stay in Japan is that people have this balance of being friendly and warm to others but at the same time not overly intrusive to them. Hence, happiness in Japan is to have balancing acts: considering others to avoid conflicts.

Nick: I was reading your article again last night and it made me realise how complex happiness or managing happiness is in Japan. You write: 

"Happiness, in the Japanese context can usefully be understood as deriving from a series of negotiations and balancing acts between contrastive values and orientations to the world."

 Which sounds complex. Would you like to elaborate on that?

Iza: I was thinking about a way we can make sense of this enormous amount of data that a long stay and a long research day where they were every day yields a lot of material. How can we make sense of that, and I was trying to kind of order it.

Some themes that emerged very strongly in lives of my older friends, and I had the privilege to listen to conversations as they unfolded, sometimes taking part in those conversations, or throwing in a question and maybe gently steering them.

As well as having an opportunity to have structured interviews and things and life course narratives that I was able to collect from them. 

So in all these various interactions, some themes that emerged quite strongly were things that are related to say, autonomy, or independence and dependence.

That is kind of striving to do justice to others, and look after them, and to pursue those things that matter to the person as well. So to have some degree of privacy, but also have a sense of sociality, to avoid the burden of over closeness, but at the same time, have an intimate sphere. 

I think it was quite important here for the people that I worked with because as people move through their lives, some of their close friends are sometimes called consociates, those that we move through life with that we've known for a long time.

Say classmates or neighbours, those people are no longer there. The older Japanese, like people everywhere, might find themselves in a situation where they need to form new relationships and so what was important for them then is to try and form relationships that are friendly and warm, but that is not as overly burdensome.

I think they spoke of burden quite often, one way of doing that was precisely by coming to this town or community space but it was also open to other community members, it wasn't the exclusive sort to older people. 

In the process of being there, what they needed to attend to was how to be friendly to others, how to be warm.

But at the same time, how not to be overly intrusive ask questions about their lives, that might be too much or inappropriate for a group setting, how not to bring other people's mood down.

In all those pursuits the thought of others and their situation, considering their perspective was quite important. But also making sure that they had a good time was also quite important.

So that was just one example of the many, many, many balancing acts that they were involved in.