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Health Benefits of Ikigai: A Review of Literature



Recently, the concept of ikigai has attracted international scholarly attention. Originally, researchers have focused on its impact on longevity; however, contemporary approaches to ikigai include career guidance, wellbeing training and clinical practice. That said, much of the existing literature on ikigai has relied on anecdotal episodes, without a clear focus on scientific or clinical literature. In this chapter, we (a) define ikigai, (b) explore the health benefits of ikigai regarding its impact on both physical health and mental health, and (c) discuss how to enhance ikigai and future research, based on scientific findings. Ikigai—originally identified in difficult life experiences among leprosy patients—is defined as an experiential, everyday life phenomena that relates to a reason for your being. Based on a number of meta-analyses and longitudinal studies, evidence suggests a protective benefit and positive correlation between ikigai and better physical health, and an inverse relationship with all-cause mortality. Psychologically, ikigai may be important in developing one's sense of self-understanding, goal attainability, and problem-solving skills. Interventions such as life crafting are deemed helpful to enhance ikigai, although further research (e.g., cross-culture, longitudinal) needs to be conducted to further support the utility of this construct. Our findings can help healthcare workers and researchers to further advance the science of this experiential wellbeing construct.
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
Health Benefits of Ikigai: A Review of Literature
Yasuhiro Kotera, Greta Kaluzeviciute, Gulcan Garip, Kirsten McEwan, Katy J. Chamberlain
Recently, the concept of ikigai has attracted international scholarly attention.
Originally, researchers had focused on its impact on longevity; however, contemporary
approaches to ikigai include practical applications into career guidance, wellbeing training and
clinical practice. That said, much of the existing literature on ikigai has relied on anecdotal
accounts, without much focus on scientific literature. In this chapter, we (a) define ikigai, (b)
explore the physical and mental health benefits of ikigai, and (c) discuss how to enhance ikigai
based on scientific findings and develop future research. Ikigai is defined as an experiential,
everyday life phenomena that relates to one’s reason for being or life purpose. Based on several
meta-analyses and longitudinal studies, evidence suggests that there is a protective benefit to
ikigai, a positive correlation with better physical health, and an inverse relationship with all-
cause mortality. Psychologically, ikigai may be important in developing one's sense of self-
understanding, goal attainability, and problem-solving skills. Interventions such as life crafting
are deemed helpful to enhance ikigai, although further research (e.g., cross-culture,
longitudinal) is needed to further support its utility. Our findings can help healthcare workers
and researchers to better understand this experiential wellbeing construct.
Keywords: Ikigai; Physical Health; Mental Health; Review
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
Ikigai: What it is, and what it is not
Ikigai is a Japanese word often translated as “purpose in life” or “life worth living” in
English literature (e.g., Mathews, 1996b; García & Miralles, 2017; Weiss et al., 2005).
However, it has been also argued that this word cannot be exactly translated in English (e.g.,
Kamiya, 1966; Lomas, 2016). This makes some sense given that when psychiatrist Dr. Mieko
Kamiya introduced ikigai to the Japanese public, she chose this word because of its unique
nuance that was hard to express in other languages. Being able to speak several languages, she
was aware of this uniqueness that the complete meaning of ikigai could only be expressed fully
in the Japanese language (Kamiya, 1966).
In the late-1950s, Kamiya was treating patients with leprosy. While treating these
patients, she began to wonder why some people can remain hopeful despite being in such a
difficult situation, but others could not. One patient who had lost their vision learned how to
read Braille and enjoyed reading many stories. Another who had lost fingers was having a good
life, enjoying haiku to express the texture of the air, which they had only been able to
experience after the disease. Some of Kamiya’s patients, despite the significant challenges
ahead, had maintained strong hope and meaning in their life.
In her search for what made the difference between these patients and those who did
not show such resilience, Kamiya concluded that it was an experiential sense that is best
captured by the word ‘ikigai’: patients who were in touch with this sense were able to have
hope and meaning in their life despite their terrible circumstance. Kamiya emphasised that
ikigai is not conceptual and cannot be understood without a lived experience. It is a feeling that
arises in your body when you are living your mission. Especially as she talked to the patients,
she realised that ikigai can be more strongly experienced by those who have experienced loss
and hardship, such as her patients. Even when a part of their body stopped functioning, they
were still in touch with a meaning of their life. When a life throws you a challenge, trying to
find a deeper meaning instead of avoiding the challenge, is a way of ikigai (Kamiya, 1966).
Kamiya’s definition of ikigai emphasises that it is not a logical or philosophical
concept; it is an experiential, everyday life phenomena that relates to one’s reason for being
(Kamiya, 1966). This definition is, to some degree, in line with what is discussed by Dr. Ken
Mogi (a well-known neuroscientist in Japan) in his book The Little Book of Ikigai (2017). Mogi
warns that Japanese people have forgotten to experience ikigai in their daily life, and are now
fixated with external goals due to factors including globalisation and technological
advancement. Indeed, Japanese culture was evaluated as the most success-oriented one
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
according to Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory (Hofstede, Hosftede, & Minkov,
2010), contrasted with quality-oriented cultures such as Dutch and Scandinavian.
Our research has identified that people in a success-oriented culture tend to have high
extrinsic motivation (a type of motivation that is activated by external rewards such as money
and fame) and compromised wellbeing. Conversely, those in a quality-oriented culture tend to
have high intrinsic motivation (a type of motivation that is activated by inherent joy and
curiosity, where the activity itself is a reward) and higher wellbeing (Kotera, Van Laethem, &
Ohshima 2020). These findings indicate that iIkigai is deemed to be more associated with the
quality-oriented nature and intrinsic motivation. Relatedly, Mogi reports that he experiences
about 100 pieces of ikigai in his daily life: in having a cup of his favourite coffee, listening to
his favourite music, reading and writing research papers, etc. He argues that not experiencing
these moments in one’s life can result in lower wellbeing and health (Mogi, 2017), and that
these effects are not limited to Japanese people.
Following its definition, the concept of ikigai has been explored within Western
literature, with some earlier adopters looking to understand the causes of the differing senses
of satisfaction between Japanese and American populations (Mathews, 1996b) or to understand
the impact of post-retirement employment on individuals’ sense of purpose and psychological
wellbeing (Weiss et al., 2005). More recently, the concept of ikigai has reached popular
literature in Western cultures with self-help books drawing on the concept of subjective
wellbeing and ikigai to guide readers seeking greater fulfilment in their daily lives (e.g.,
Bethune & Kell, 2020; García & Miralles, 2017). However, these positive health findings
relating to ikigai have not been synthesised to date. Accordingly, this chapter explores the
physical and mental health benefits of ikigai through reviewing the existing literature, and
offers practical implications and research suggestions.
Ikigai and physical health
Ikigai has been consistently associated with better health, including lower levels of
mortality and functional disability (Sone et al., 2008; Tanno et al., 2009). There have also been
several recent reviews and meta-analyses suggesting protective benefits of having higher levels
of meaning and purpose in life, for health and quality of life (Roepke et al., 2014; Zilioli et al.,
In their systematic review, Roepke and colleagues (2014) found that higher levels of
meaning were associated with better physical health, as well as with behavioural factors that
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
would decrease the probability of negative health outcomes or increase that of positive
outcomes. In this review, ikigai was one of the ways meaning was conceptualised, but other
conceptualisations were also included. Overall, meaning and purpose were clearly associated
with better physical health. Although those who reported searching for meaning did not appear
to experience better health outcomes, those who said they found and experienced meaning
enjoyed a range of health benefits. Examples of these include faster recovery from knee surgery
(Smith & Zautra, 2004); lower risk of disability in old age (Krause & Hayward, 2012); greater
odds of survival in myocardial infarction (Koizumi et al., 2008); better immune functioning
(Holt-Lunstad et al., 2011); and better subjective health and health-related quality of life
(HRQOL; Park et al., 2008). Individuals with a greater sense of meaning and purpose, also
tended to engage in more health-promoting behaviours (such as exercising [Holahan et al.,
2008], refraining from smoking [Konkoly, Thege, et al., 2010], etc.), which may partially
explain the mechanisms for the relationship between meaning and health outcomes. The
authors caution that while the extant research suggests possible mechanisms linking meaning
and physical health, no specific conclusions can be drawn about direction of causality.
Turning to longitudinal research, in a four-year study exploring the maintenance of
ikigai among the elderly in Japan, Fukuzawa and colleagues (2019) found that having or
increasing strong social ties was protective against a decline in ikigai related to poorer physical
health or financial status. This finding may be unique to cultures where self-concept is more
interdependent on one’s social surroundings versus more individualistic cultures where self-
concept may be perceived as an independent entity. Nevertheless, the findings may provide
clues about how ikigai can be maintained in later life.
In one of the first prospective studies to explore the biological impact of having a
greater sense of purpose in life, Zilioli and colleagues (2015) investigated its associations with
allostatic load over a ten-year period. Allostatic load is defined as the physiological burden
experienced by the body in response to adjusting to external challenges (i.e., stress). The
organism manages stress through simultaneous changes in the cardiovascular, autonomic,
neuroendocrine, immune, and metabolic systems. Frequent and prolonged activations of these
systems increase allostatic load in the organism, which has been positively associated with
greater risk of illness, cognitive decline, and mortality. Zilioli et al. (2015) found evidence to
suggest that people with greater life purpose reported stronger beliefs that they had control over
their health, and were found to have lower levels of allostatic load at follow-up. Interventions
that increase one’s ikigai could therefore provide similar benefits.
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
The importance of ikigai has been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic,
which has led to a loss of normalcy for many and for some, a loss of meaning in life too
(Trzebinski et al., 2020). Trzebinski and colleagues (2020) found that during the COVID-19
pandemic, higher levels of meaning in life were associated with lower levels of anxiety and
distress, suggesting a protective effect of meaning in life against stress reactions.
One intervention that is based on the principles of ikigai described by the authors is
called life crafting, which provides a framework for the individual in structuring their search
for a life purpose (Schippers & Ziegler, 2019). De Jong and colleagues (2020) similarly mapped
out how life crafting may be applied during trying times. These authors suggest that life crafting
could help people bolster or re-establish their sense of purpose and significance in life.
In this section, we summarised research suggesting a protective influence of higher
levels of ikigai and sense of purpose on physical health and all-cause mortality. One possible
explanation of this association is that people with a greater sense of meaning and purpose will
have a greater sense of control over their own health. Another mechanism that has been
suggested, more rooted in biology, is that people with higher levels of ikigai could have lower
levels of allostatic load, and therefore less damage to their internal systems in response to stress.
At a time when we are facing enormous mental health challenges related to the COVID-19
pandemic, it is pertinent to consider ways to promote ikigai with a view to maximize its
accessibility and benefits at all stages of the life cycle. Interventions to increase ikigai, such as
life crafting, may be one way of achieving this goal.
Ikigai and mental health
The concept of ikigai and the practice of psychotherapy share a similar dilemma. Both
feature an attempt to conceptualise and maintain a certain state of psychological wellbeing,
while at the same time acknowledging the difficulties that are inherent to pursuing one’s
meaning of life (Kamiya, 1966). Herein, the most obvious and immediate difficulty can be
conceptualised in the following way: how can we identify the meaning of our life, and more
importantly, articulate it to ourselves and others?
As a philosophical concept, ikigai identifies several areas that promote a sense of
autonomy and self-awareness, both of which are considered integral to identifying one’s
meaning for life: (1) that which you love; (2) that which you are good at; (3) that which you
can be paid for; and (4) that which the world needs. The combination of all four key aspects
lead to ‘that which most makes one’s life seem worth living’ (Mathews, 1996a, p. 718).
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
However, as Mathews (1996a) succinctly points out, there are considerable
disagreements about what form of ikigai is the best suited for everyone. While some argue that
ikigai may be found in the pursuit of one’s own individual dreams, thus explicitly defining it
as a form of jiko jitsugen (selfrealization’: Kobayashi, 1989), others conflate ikigai with
ittaikan (a sense of oneness), arguing that only through commitment to a group (e.g., family,
culture, work) can one arrive at an authentic meaning of life. Although it is acknowledged that
the source and sense of ikigai differs for each individual, there are still attempts to establish a
universal definition for this concept (Mathews, 1996a).
Similar debates around meaning of life and psychological wellbeing occur in the
practice of psychotherapy. Although much of the discourse in psychotherapy revolves around
psychopathology, discomfort and suffering, the very premise of psychotherapy as a form of
treatment is that psychopathology can be alleviated by addressing unmet needs. According to
Miller (2004), A need is the lack of something experienced as essential to the purposes of life.
It expresses itself as suffering. If the person is aware of the existence of a way to stop suffering,
the need expresses itself as a desire (p. 36).
Each therapeutic modality has its own way of addressing unmet needs, which are
simultaneously conceptualised as a desire for meaning (Miller, 2004). For example, Cognitive
Behavioural Therapy (CBT) seeks to understand patients’ core beliefs, dysfunctional
assumptions, and negative automatic thoughts to promote realistic and positive cognition in
patients (Fenn & Byrne, 2013). Consequently, patients’ unmet needs are perceived via
cognitive lens: it is not that the patients cannot achieve their desired life outcomes but rather
the way in which they perceive their own capacity to attain them. As a therapeutic modality,
CBT therefore seeks to optimise cognition and understanding of realistic core beliefs, which in
turn equips patients with a psychological toolkit that can help them identify obstacles and find
solutions. From an epistemological standpoint, CBT perceives needs, desires, and meaning
from a problem-solving perspective. In order to attain a state of psychological wellbeing, the
patient must understand and assimilate arising challenges and stressors into global meaning
(e.g., pre-existing goals, values, beliefs), which will then allow them to work through the
obstacles efficiently (Holland et al., 2015).
Comparing the CBT approach to meeting psychological needs with ikigai and its focus
on meaning of life, it is interesting to observe how the two converge in terms of individual self-
understanding. Yamamoto-Mitani and Wallhagen (2002) found that ikigai experiences
influence one’s self-understanding, especially when dealing with difficult life challenges, and
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
this in turn has a significant impact on how one conceptualises their meaning of life. Their
study focused on Japanese caregivers who struggled to cope with the difficulties of their care
responsibilities. By focusing on different sources of ikigai (e.g., maintaining ikigai in the
family, philosophy, imagination, balancing, etc.), the caregivers were able to maintain a state
of psychological wellbeing as well as identify the meaning of their life. The latter, however,
varied across different life experiences and circumstances. For example, many caregivers cited
family as their primary source of ikigai: Caregiving and ikigai, after all, for me [...] they are
inseparable. They are myself, my husband, children (Yamamoto-Mitani & Wallhagen, 2002,
p. 407). Other caregivers, depending on their life circumstances and priorities, cited work
responsibilities as their source of ikigai: Ikigai? It may be going to work. It may be handling
various things, continuing my work outside home (p. 407). Therefore, identifying many
different sources of ikigai can be likened to the therapeutic process of CBT: both incorporate a
sense of resilience that is necessary when facing difficult life experiences. This includes having
a radically differentand positive—interpretation of one’s core beliefs, led by questions like
What alternative ways of looking at this are there? and Why is this important? (Fenn &
Byrne, 2013, p. 581).
A very different approach to unmet needs and desires for meaning is proposed by the
psychodynamic and psychoanalytic schools of thought. Unlike CBT, psychoanalysis insists
that working through psychological difficulties takes a long time, that clinical treatment should
be intense and frequent, and most importantly that the therapeutic task is not to alleviate
symptoms but to understand the cause of patients’ psychopathology. Freud famously postulated
that the aim of psychoanalytic psychotherapy is to “succeed in turning [patients’] hysterical
misery into uncommon happiness. [Thus] with a mental life that has been restored to health
you will be better armed against that unhappiness” (Breuer & Freud, 1895/1955, p. 305).
This does not mean that psychoanalysis is unconcerned with psychological wellbeing
or the attainment of some form of meaning of life. As Thompson (2004) argues, psychoanalysis
treats wellbeing and happiness in a Zen-like manner precisely because the typical patient will
resist enduring the sacrifices that pursuing psychological wellbeing entails. Resistance of this
kind can be particularly well observed in transference processes: the patient engages with the
therapist not only as a helper and advisor, but also as an unconscious reincarnation of some
past prototype figure (e.g., family members, lovers). The patient transfers feelings felt for the
prototype figure in the past (e.g., love, hatred, jealousy, ambivalence) onto the therapist in the
present. (Saul, 1962). To engage with this unconscious form of resistance, the cognitive
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
component lies largely with the therapist, who is tasked with translating unconscious
transferential (and counter-transferential by extension) phenomena into relational expressions
(gestures, reactions, perceptions) and interpretations (Holmes & Devon, 1998).
In this sense, psychoanalysis takes on what might be called a causal approach to
psychological unwellness: symptoms will not disappear until the unconscious feelings of
fragmentation, trauma or loss are properly addressed and made conscious. Even then, however,
the Freudian focus on repetition compulsion (the re-enactment of behaviours and feelings that
were initially experienced in the past during distressing or traumatic situations) insists that
experiencing unpleasure of the ego (which is simultaneously the satisfaction of the id) is
inherent to psychological functioning (Freud, 1920).
This dichotomy in psychological experiencesthe desire to obtain a state of
psychological wellbeing while simultaneously resisting itwas also observed by Yamamoto-
Mitani and Wallhagen (2002) in their phenomenological study of ikigai in caregivers. They
noted that experiences of ikigai is felt most vividly when going through a crisis or facing
complex life challenges. This is partly why they chose caregivers as research participants; since
caregivers encounter daily difficulties in their profession (from making health-based decisions
for patients to witnessing their death), the experience of ikigai is often felt as Courage to live
[...] reason to live (Yamamoto-Mitani & Wallhagen, 2002, p. 405). However, when the
experience of crisis is absent or when difficult challenges subside, conscious thoughts about
ikigai seem to diminish: When there is no crisis in life, caregivers sometimes came to question
what their ikigai was. This questioning often accompanied a feeling of vague discomfort or
frustration (p. 406). This presents an interesting juxtaposition: although ikigai is often seen as
a state of balance and psychological well-being, there is an unconscious drive to seek out
challenges, crises and obstacles, which in turn reinforce a more vivid ikigai experience.
This section explored potential intersections between ikigai and mental health through
the examples of cognitive-behavioural and psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapeutic
modalities, but there is a further need to develop literature on how ikigai experiences relate to
other forms of mental health interventions. As Miller (2004) observes, psychological suffering
often indicates an unconscious awareness of a way to cease suffering, and in many cases, it can
become an individual’s ikigai. As such, it would be worthwhile to investigate both problem-
solving strategies to attain psychological wellbeing (the CBT approach) as well as to
understand the unconscious drives that both intensify ideas and fantasies around the meaning
of life and resist obtaining permanent psychological happiness (the psychoanalytic approach).
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
This chapter defined ikigai and explored its benefits on physical health and mental
health. It will conclude by focusing on how it can be enhanced, as well as current limitations
in this research and how these might be addressed in the future.
Ikigai is a complex concept because of its subjective nature, which cannot be
understood without lived experience. Put succinctly, it is a feeling that arises in your body when
you are living in congruence with your purpose in life. Outside of Japan, ikigai has been said
to be similar to eudaimonic wellbeingthe condition of functioning and living well. When
researchers attempt to measure ikigai they examine the following dimensions: (1) optimistic
and positive emotions toward life, (2) active and positive attitudes towards one's future, and (3)
acknowledgment of the meaning of one's existence. There can be multiple sources of ikigai,
for instance, in a nationally representative Japanese sample (Cabinet Office, Government of
Japan, 1994), the most frequently reported sources were family/children (38.7%),
hobbies/sports (24.4%), and work/studies (23.4%).
Research on ikigai has consistently found positive associations with better physical
health and longevity (McKnight & Kashdan, 2009), and negative associations with all-cause
mortality (Heintzelman et al. 2013; Hill & Turiano, 2014; Schippers, 2017; Sone et al., 2008).
Specifically, ikigai has been linked to the following: (1) faster recovery from knee surgery; (2)
lower risk of disability in old age; (3) greater odds of survival in myocardial infarction; (4)
better immune functioning; (5) better subjective health and health-related quality of life; and
(6) lower levels of allostatic load. One of the mechanisms for the relationship between ikigai
and health outcomes might be that ikigai is associated with more health-promoting behaviours
(e.g., exercising, refraining from smoking) and stronger beliefs that one has control over one’s
health (Kang et al., 2019).
Research has also found benefits of ikigai for mental health. It has been found to be a
protective factor in overcoming stress, depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems
(Freedland, 2019; Kim et al., 2014). Likewise, it has been associated with lower incidence of
psychological disorders and slower age-related cognitive decline (Heintzelman et al., 2013).
And it has also been associated with wellbeing indicators such occupational adjustment,
adaptive coping, happiness, and quality of life (McKnight & Kashdan, 2009).
Given the associations ikigai has with good health and wellbeing, it interventions to
enhance it could be beneficial. Interventions that have been shown to enhance ikigai include
career guidance, wellbeing training and clinical practice, and can comprise self-help guides
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
(García & Miralles, 2017; Mogi, 2017). More directed interventions such as life crafting entail
reflecting on one’s values, passions and goals, visualising a best possible self, and setting goal
attainment plans (Schippers & Ziegler, 2019).
Despite the reported benefits of ikigai, the field is currently limited by the quality of
research evidence supporting these benefits. One of the major challenges of researching ikigai
is that it is hard to define or operationalise because of its multifaceted, subjective (or ‘lived
experience’) nature (Mathews, 1996a), and it is therefore difficult to measure. Although
measures of ikigai do exist, these are either limited by narrow response options leading to
reduced variance in data (Kondo & Kamada, 2003), focusing solely on the enjoyment of leisure
pursuits rather than capturing the sources of ikigai (Kono et al., 2019), or the fact that measures
were only available in Japanese until recently (Fido et al., 2019), limiting measurements and
comparisons with other cultures. In addition, the myriad of terms relating to ikigai in Western
culture (e.g., authenticity, self-actualisation, flourishing, purpose in life, meaning in life,
eudemonic wellbeing; salutogenesis), make it difficult to review and summarise previous
literature beyond Japanese populations. Consequently, there is currently no published empirical
research exploring the presence of ikigai in Western populations. For cross-cultural research to
begin, further cross-validation of ikigai measures against existing related conceptual measures
(e.g., eudaimonic wellbeing) is necessary.
The lack of empirical evidence surrounding ikigai research has also limited the ability
to which causal conclusions can be made. Much of the existing literature on ikigai has relied
on anecdotal evidence or cross-sectional data. More longitudinal research is needed to follow
cohorts of participants across generations. Alternatively, more experimental methodologies
utilising interventions (e.g., life crafting) and mixed methods, which feature physiological
outcomes (e.g., allostatic load), in addition to self-reported ones, would provide more robust
evidence where causality can more readily be assessed.
Finally, more attention needs to be paid to the mechanisms behind the association of
ikigai and health. Health behaviours such as exercise, healthy eating, and reducing alcohol and
nicotine intake may partially explain the relationship, but this area needs further study if we
are to understand the conditions under which ikigai can thrive.
Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living
Yasuhiro Kotera and Dean Fido
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In this chapter, we aim to integrate the existing evidence on the cultural grounding of well-being and health and to delineate a cultural approach to understand optimal human functioning. The theoretical framework of a cultural approach is presented at the beginning. Building on this framework, we first review findings on cultural differences in conceptualizations of well-being and health. We then provide an overview of evidence on cultural differences in predictors of well-being and health. Subsequently, we review studies that show how cultural contexts and social structural factors (i.e., social hierarchy) work together and sometimes interact with each other to influence well-being and health. Future directions are discussed at the end.). Such cultural systems can shape how individuals view, experience, and strive for a good life and "optimal functioning" (which we define here as well-being and health). Thus, cultural contexts play a pivotal role in shaping optimal human functioning. In this chapter, we first propose and outline a cultural approach to the study of optimal human functioning. We then review findings on cultural differences in the meanings of well-being and health, and cultural influences on predictors of, and pathways to, well-being and health. Subsequently, we review a social structural factor, namely, social hierarchy, that has been shown to influence well-being and health; in particular, cultural contexts influence and moderate the meaning of social hierarchy and its effects on well-being and health. We conclude with future directions. APPROACHES TO WELL-BEING AND HEALTH To situate a cultural approach, we first review existing influential approaches to well-being and health, and the role culture plays, or does not play, in each approach. We then outline a cultural approach to examining well-being and health.
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Purpose: The primary purpose of this descriptive study was to compare the levels of, and relationships among mental health problems, mental health shame, self-compassion, work engagement, and work motivation between workers in Japan (collectivistic and success-driven culture) and the Netherlands (individualistic and quality-oriented culture). Design/methodology/approach: A cross-sectional design, where convenience samples of 165 Japanese and 160 Dutch workers completed self-report measures about mental health problems, shame, self-compassion, engagement and motivation, was used. Welch t-tests, correlation and regression analyses were conducted to compare i) the levels of these variables, ii) relationships among these variables, and iii) predictors of mental health problems, between the two groups. Findings: Dutch workers had higher levels of mental health problems, work engagement and intrinsic motivation, and lower levels of shame and amotivation than Japanese workers. Mental health problems were associated with shame in both samples. Mental health problems were negatively predicted by self-compassion in Japanese, and by work engagement in Dutch employees. Originality/value: The novelty of this study relates to exploring differences in work mental health between those two culturally contrasting countries. Our findings highlight potential cultural differences such as survey responding (Japanese acquiescent responding vs Dutch self-enhancement) and cultural emphases (Japanese shame vs Dutch quality of life). Job crafting, mindfulness and enhancing ikigai (meaningfulness in life) may be helpful to protect mental health in these workers, relating to self-compassion and work engagement. Findings from this study would be particularly useful to employers, managers, and staff in human resources who work with cross-cultural workforce. Keywords: cross-culture, Japanese workers, Dutch workers, work mental health, self-compassion, work engagement
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The goal of the research was to measure the impact of the meaning in life, life satisfaction, and the beliefs in orderliness and positivity of the social world on emotional and cognitive reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 317 participants were recruited over four days (April 1st–4th) during the start of the dynamic increase of the pandemic in Poland. The study was performed via open-access forums on the internet. The analyses indicated that stronger basic hope and higher levels of meaning in life and life satisfaction correlate with lower state anxiety and lower COVID-19 stress. Mediation analyses suggested the following interpretation of the interdependencies: basic hope supports meaning in life and life satisfaction and the increase in the latter two factors results in lower anxiety and COVID-19 stress. The results suggest that these three global assumptions and feelings may serve as buffers against anxiety as well as nonproductive thinking and decision making in the face of an unpredictable threat.
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Having a purpose in life is one of the most fundamental human needs. However, for most people, finding their purpose in life is not obvious. Modern life has a way of distracting people from their true goals and many people find it hard to define their purpose in life. Especially at younger ages, people are searching for meaning in life, but this has been found to be unrelated to actually finding meaning. Oftentimes, people experience pressure to have a “perfect” life and show the world how well they are doing, instead of following up on their deep-felt values and passions. Consequently, people may need a more structured way of finding meaning, e.g., via an intervention. In this paper, we discuss evidence-based ways of finding purpose, via a process that we call “life crafting.” This process fits within positive psychology and the salutogenesis framework – an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, instead of factors that cause disease. This process ideally starts with an intervention that entails a combination of reflecting on one’s values, passions and goals, best possible self, goal attainment plans, and other positive psychology intervention techniques. Important elements of such an intervention are: (1) discovering values and passion, (2) reflecting on current and desired competencies and habits, (3) reflecting on present and future social life, (4) reflecting on a possible future career, (5) writing about the ideal future, (6) writing down specific goal attainment and “if-then” plans, and (7) making public commitments to the goals set. Prior research has shown that personal goal setting and goal attainment plans help people gain a direction or a sense of purpose in life. Research findings from the field of positive psychology, such as salutogenesis, implementation intentions, value congruence, broaden-and-build, and goal-setting literature, can help in building a comprehensive evidence-based life-crafting intervention. This intervention can aid individuals to find a purpose in life, while at the same time ensuring that they make concrete plans to work toward this purpose. The idea is that life crafting enables individuals to take control of their life in order to optimize performance and happiness.
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The psychological construct of ‘ikigai’ reflects the sense of having a ‘reason for living’ and has been associated with various positive health-related outcomes. This study presents an English translation of the Ikigai-9, empirically explores the manifestation of ikigai in the UK, and outlines its associations with facets of well-being. Three hundred forty-nine participants self-reported levels of ikigai as well as state measures of mental well-being, depression, anxiety and stress. Confirmatory factor analysis did not support the original three-factor model, favouring instead a single-factor solution. Results indicated that above sex and age, ikigai predicted greater scores of mental well-being and lower scores of depression. The Ikigai-9 has high internal reliability and presents a logistically convenient measure of ikigai for English-speaking populations. However, further validation (e.g. test-retest reliability) is required to develop a better understanding of the potential protective role of ikigai in mental health.
Objective: Having a strong sense of purpose in life is associated with positive health behaviors. However, the processes through which purpose leads to health are unclear. The current study compared neural activity among individuals with higher versus lower purpose while they made health-related decisions in response to messages promoting health behavior change. Method: A total of 220 adults with a sedentary lifestyle who were likely to feel conflicted in response to health messages underwent functional MRI while viewing messages encouraging physical activity and indicated the self-relevance of the messages. We focused on activity within dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), anterior insula (AI), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) as identified by meta-analytically defined maps of regions previously implicated in conflict-related processing, while participants considered the self-relevance of the messages. Results: Individuals with higher (vs. lower) purpose showed less activity in dACC, AI, DLPFC, and VLPFC while making health-decisions. Lower brain response in these regions mediated the effect of higher purpose on greater endorsement of the messages. Conclusions: Individuals with strong purpose may be less likely to experience conflict-related regulatory burden during health decision-making, which may in turn allow them to accept conflicting yet beneficial health messages. Reduced brain reactivity in dACC, AI, DLPFC, and VLPFC may reflect reduced conflict-related processing during health decision-making relevant to longer term lifestyle goals. This adds to mounting evidence linking purpose and a range of positive health-related outcomes, as well as evidence suggesting that dACC, AI, DLPFC, and VLPFC track conflict-related processes relevant to longer term goals and values. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
The Behavioral Medicine Research Council (BMRC) is a new, autonomous joint committee of 4 of the leading behavioral medicine research organizations, including the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the American Psychosomatic Society, the Society for Health Psychology, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine. The BMRC's work has important implications for the science and practice of behavioral medicine. The distinguished senior scientists who comprise this new committee will identify a series of strategic research goals for behavioral medicine and promote systematic, interdisciplinary efforts to achieve them. This special report discusses the developments that led to the formation of the BMRC, describes the BMRC's mission, and explains the methods that its members will use.
Ikigai, one of the indices of well‐being, tends to decline with age because resources relating to ikigai decline. However, there are individual differences in this decline. This study tested for maintenance of ikigai among Japanese elderly, using a longitudinal study investigating the moderating role of social capital on the effects of changes in human capital on ikigai. We conducted a panel survey targeting 1,068 people (M age = 73.01 years) in 2013, and 686 people in 2017. The variables were ikigai, changes in human capital (self‐rated financial status, physical health) and social capital (social networks, trust in others), educational level, and control variables. Multiple regression analyses revealed the interaction effects of changes in physical health and changes in social networks (strong ties, weak ties) on follow‐up ikigai. Post hoc analyses indicated that declines in physical health predicted declines in ikigai among those whose social networks (strong ties and weak ties) had declined in the 4‐year study, but these relationships were not significant among those whose social networks had increased. The results suggest that older adults can weaken the adverse effect of a decline in human capital on ikigai by maintaining or increasing social networks.