Are you happy? Do you have “Ikigai”?

One of my goals for a decade has been to connect the Science of Chaos and Complexity from physics to the rapidly developing Science of Well Being from the recent focus on Positive Psychology.

An article “Ikigai and Mortality” by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., September 17, 2008, published in Psychology Today certainly validates the necessity to feel we have a worthwhile purpose in spite of our current, constant uncertainties.

Helping clients to find this purpose is my life’s work. I found my Ikigai in 1978, which was no easy task. I had gone through a divorce, a burned down house, the tragic death of a sister and a career change all within a few short years. Everyone has a “dark night” before they arrive at their purpose on the other side. If I hadn’t gone through the years of “dark nights” I wouldn’t have arrived at my purpose – my “Ikigai”!

A Japanese study of 43,000 Japanese Adults between ages of 40 – 70 years old, over a seven year study found that individuals who believed their life was worth living were less likely to die than their counterparts without this belief.

This focused on the Japanese notion of Ikigai – believing that one’s life is worth living! English people would call it “subjective–being” which inclines purpose and meaning with “connotations of joy about being alive.” Ikigai could come from a hobby, one’s family, or one’s work. Peterson calls it a healthy passion.

The study began in 1994, and 7% died in 7 years. The researchers took well known risk factors into account: age, gender, education, body mass index, cigarette use, alcohol consumption, exercise, employment, perceived stress and history of disease. They also controlled respondent’s self-rated health (bad, fair, good) which is a prediction of subsequent physical well being.

  • Almost 60% of the participants reported a sense of Ikigai in 1994 and those were the ones more likely to be married, educated, and employed. They were also reported as having lower levels of stress and better self-rated health.
  • 95% of respondents who reported a sense of meaning in their lives were alive seven years after the initial survey versus about 83% of those who reported no meaning in their lives.

This lack of Ikigai was particularly associated with death due to cardiovascular disease (usually stroke) but not death due to cancer. The western world had linked cancer and despair.

This study adds to a growing literature showing that positive psychology is linked to good health. Meaning and purpose are critical to a long happy life. Let’s keep focused on achieving meaning and money at midlife. Personally, I am in my 2nd or 3rd Midlife and plan to remain active for at least another one.

Do let me know what you are thinking!