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Article in Journal of Happiness Studies · February 2019

DOI: 10.1007/s10902-019-00086-x

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Journal of Happiness Studies

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00086-x

RESEARCH PAPER

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00086-x RESEARCH PAPER Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University Students: A Mixed‑Methods Approach

Shintaro Kono 1

Students: A Mixed‑Methods Approach Shintaro Kono 1 · Gordon J. Walker 2 © Springer Nature B.V.

· Gordon J. Walker 2

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Abstract Our understanding of well-being has benefted from cross-cultural and non-Western research. However, culturally unique well-being concepts remain largely under-theorized. To address this gap, our research was aimed at developing and validating a substantive theory of how Japanese university students pursue ikigai or life worth living. To this end, we conducted sequential mixed-methods research. First, we performed a qualitative study guided by grounded theory methodology based on photo-elicitation interview data from 27 Japanese university students. Second, we tested our emerging theory of ikigai with online survey data from 672 Japanese university students by using partial least squares struc- tural equation modeling (PLS-SEM). Our results indicate that students made four distinct actions to pursue ikigai. First, they engaged in an experience they subjectively valued as enjoyable, efortful, stimulating, or comforting. Second, they “diversifed” by engaging with multiple values (e.g., enjoyment and comfort) within or across experiences. Third, they balanced competing values (i.e., enjoyment vs. efort, and stimulation vs. comfort). Fourth, they temporarily disengaged from experiences that became overwhelming so they could re-engage with them at a later time. These actions were perceived to result in daily lives being worth living and full of vibrancy. Students also believed these actions were conditioned by understanding what value was important in a certain life condition, and by their ability to act on opportunities for potentially valuable experiences without hesitation. The hypothesized relationships among the above concepts were supported by the subse- quent quantitative results. Our fndings are discussed in light of the ikigai and eudaimonic well-being literature.

Keywords ikigai · Japan · Mixed methods · Grounded theory · Eudaimonic well-being · Partial least squares structural equation modeling

This manuscript is part of the frst author’s dissertation written at the University of Alberta. It is also based on papers presented at the 5th World Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association. This manuscript is based on the same dataset from which another paper with a diferent focus (Kono, Walker, Ito, and Hagi, in press) was published.

*

Shintaro Kono

shintaro.kono@siu.edu

Extended author information available on the last page of the article

Kono shintaro.kono@siu.edu Extended author information available on the last page of the article Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3

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S. Kono, G. J. Walker

In the West, well-being has generally been conceptualized as a combination of life satisfac- tion; or cognitive evaluation of one’s life situations and afective balance; or the predomi- nance of position emotions over negative emotions (Pavot and Diener 2013). Cross-cultural and non-Western research has suggested that people from diferent cultures conceptualize and experience well-being diferently (Diener and Suh 2000; Knoop and Delle Fave 2013). Although these past cultural studies have resulted in important insights, many adopted Western terms such as “quality of life” and “happiness” to guide their research (e.g., Delle Fave et al. 2011). As a consequence, there is a lack of knowledge concerning culturally unique or indigenous well-being words and associated experiences (Lomas 2016). Ikigai is one such culturally specifc well-being term in Japan. It has been translated as “purpose in life” or “life worth living”, although the word has shades of meaning that cannot be exactly captured in English (e.g., Kamiya 1966; Lomas 2016). The cultur- ally nuanced aspect of ikigai led Christopher Peterson (2008) to state: “Ikigai is a good reminder to positive psychologists in the United States that our science should not simply be an export business. … no language has a monopoly on the vocabulary for describing the good life” (para 3). Additionally, some Western researchers have recently recognized that, despite language issues, the phenomenology of ikigai may also be applicable to non- Japanese cultures (e.g., Martela and Steger 2016). Ikigai research may allow for a unique opportunity to theorize understudied aspects of well-being. First, the existing research suggests ikigai is similar to eudaimonic well-being or a “good life” (Kumano 2018), which has been underexplored compared with its hedonic counterpart (Huta and Waterman 2014). Second, Japanese people have lived for centuries with ikigai, the single word that possesses various shades of meaning regarding life worth living and purpose in life (e.g., Kamiya 1966). Ikigai research, thus, allows researchers to readily access collective knowledge and experience of these underexplored phenomena. The purpose of our research is, therefore, to develop and validate a substantive theory of how people pursue ikigai. Specifcally, our goal is to identify pursuit, or actions, for ikigai as well as their antecedents (sources) and consequences (perception). In so doing, we focus on Japanese university students. Beyond sampling convenience, this population has been found to report lower levels of ikigai. For instance, when Kumano (2012) asked people in various age groups to assess/imagine their ikigai in the past, present, and future, ikigai often peaked in their 30 s and 60 s. Thus, our fndings could help these young adults achieve life worthier living.

1 Literature Review

We review the ikigai literature focusing on ikigai perception and sources of ikigai. While the former is the mental state of living a life with purpose and worth, the latter signifes factors that contribute to this mental state. We also cite recent research on eudaimonic well-being (Huta and Waterman 2014) as multiple scholars have suggested that ikigai is akin to eudaimonic well-being (e.g., Kumano 2018; Martela and Steger 2016). In so doing, we attempt to bridge the Japanese and Western well-being literatures.

1.1 Ikigai Perception

Kamiya (1966) was one of the frst researchers to extensively study ikigai. Based on her observations and in-depth interviews with older people who experienced severe illness, she

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

distinguished ikigai from happiness (or koufuku-kan in Japanese) in three ways. First, iki- gai perception is more future-oriented than happiness. Even if individuals are struggling with their present life, they can still perceive ikigai as long as they have hope or a goal. Second, ikigai perception is related to one’s sense of self more strongly than happiness. For example, people feel a greater level of ikigai perception when they accomplish something only they can do. Third, ikigai perception is associated with one’s values more strongly than happiness. Unfortunately, Kamiya’s construal of ikigai perception has not yet been transformed into an empirical measure. Michiko Kumano has also conducted extensive research on ikigai. In terms of ikigai perception, Kumano (2006) performed a principal component analysis (PCA) of two iki- gai scales (Kondo and Kamata 1998; Kumano 2001, as cited in Kumano 2012) and seven other well-being measures (e.g., Diener et al. 1985). Among the 14 components extracted, Kumano (2006) considered life afrmation, or positive and cognitive appraisal of one’s own life, to be the core of ikigai perception. Other proximal factors included goal and dream, existential value, meaning in life, commitment, and life satisfaction. Based on these PCA fndings, Kumano (2013) developed an ikigai perception scale composed of four fac- tors: life afrmation, existential value, meaning in life, and life satisfaction. A subsequent confrmatory factor analysis produced mixed results (e.g., CFI = .97 but RMSEA = .10). Moreover, the scale’s validity was called into question because it was more strongly cor- related with a life satisfaction scale (Diener et al. 1985) than a single-item ikigai scale. Recently, in a survey study (Kumano 2018) comparing ikigai and shiawase (another Japa- nese word for happiness), 846 respondents associated the former term more than the latter with eudaimonic qualities including: accomplishment, future-orientation, worthiness, zest, meaning, and purpose. There are other scales that measure ikigai perception. For example, Kondo (2003) cre- ated a single-item, self-anchoring scale and tested its concurrent validity and test–retest reliability. Among available multiple-item measures, most pertinent to our research is Kondo and Kamada’s (1998) scale designed for university students. Their scale has four factors: satisfaction with one’s current life, life enjoyment, existential value, and motiva- tion. Evidence exists for the scale’s concurrent validity, test–retest reliability, and inter- nal consistency. A major issue is, however, that they based their initial items on students’ descriptions of when they felt ikigai, thus confounding ikigai perception with its sources. Also noteworthy is that only two of 31 factor loadings exceeded .70 and the four factors explained only 39.1% of total variance; both are serious threats to the scale’s validity. Finally, a few Western researchers have commented on ikigai perception. First, Martela and Steger (2016) noted that ikigai resembles one of three meaning in life (MIL) dimen- sions: signifcance or “the worthwhileness and value of one’s life” (p. 535). Lomas’s (2016) lexicography of 216 untranslatable, non-English words related to well-being lik- ened ikigai to fourishing: the umbrella concept highly infuential in Western eudaimonic research (Seligman 2011).

1.2 Sources of Ikigai

Based on her qualitative data, Kamiya (1966) maintained that ikigai perception occurs after satisfaction of seven distinct needs. First, life satisfaction concerns whether one’s life is moving toward a desired direction. Second, one needs change to avoid stagnation and to proactively seek growth. Third, the need for bright future (mirai-sei) refers to one’s expec- tation that life will unfold in a new direction. Fourth, resonance (hankyou) is the need to

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

build and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships. Fifth, agency and autonomy is

the need to feel freedom despite constraints. Sixth, self-actualization requires the develop- ment of one’s core identity. Seventh, one can feel meaning and value by refecting upon the meaning of their life and justifying its value. Similar needs-based theories have been discussed in the eudaimonic well-being litera- ture from a self-determination theory (SDT) perspective (Ryan et al. 2008). Basic psycho- logical needs theory (BPNT), a sub-theory of SDT, holds that there are three innate needs:

(a) autonomy, involving volition and self-endorsement; (b) competence, or confdence in

being able to bring about desired outcomes; and (c) interpersonal relatedness, or feelings of being understood and loved (Ryan et al. 2008). Satisfaction of these needs is positively cor- related with eudaimonic well-being, such as MIL (e.g., Martela et al. 2018).

Drawing upon a series of empirical studies, Kumano (2012) proposed an ikigai theory that recognizes four predictors of ikigai perception: (a) meaning-making of past life events,

(b) awareness of future goals, (c) absorption into positive present events, and (d) accept-

ance of and coping with negative events. A follow-up study (Kumano 2013) using struc- tural equation modeling (SEM) found these predictors had their relatively small efects on ikigai perception (b* = .14 to .29). Eudaimonic well-being researchers have also discussed similar predictors. For instance, absorption into present positive moments appears akin to what Seligman (2011) termed engagement in his PERMA model. Seligman’s (2011) model also recognizes two other factors that appear in the ikigai literature: achievement and meaningful relationship. For instance, based on multi-wave in-depth interviews with over 100 Japanese and American individuals, Mathews (1996) discovered two distinct mechanisms through which people derived ikigai perception: self- realization and commitment. While the former involved achieving a desirable version of self, the latter meant devoting oneself to some kind of community (e.g., family, organi- zation). Based on a comprehensive review of the literature on ikigai among older adults, Hasegawa et al. (2007) developed a 5-factor measure of ikigai sources: past relationships, current life situations and roles, future relationships, children and grandchildren, and spouse. Kono et al. (2017) found that enjoyable and efortful experiences, and the balance between them, during leisure time was important sources of ikigai among Japanese univer- sity students. There is also considerable descriptive evidence regarding sources of ikigai. For instance, in a nationally representative sample (N = 6220; Cabinet Ofce, Government of Japan [COGJ] 1994), the most frequently reported sources were: family/children (38.7%), hobbies/sports (24.4%), and work (23.4%). In comparison, the Central Research Services (CRS; 2012) found the most mentioned sources were: hobbies/leisure (51.2%), family/pets (49.5%), work/studies (34.3%), and interactions with friends (32.6%). Lastly, for university students, Nishizako and Sakagami (2004) discovered that being with a partner and friends (35.8%), followed by devoting themselves to sports and hobbies (22.5%), were the primary sources of ikigai.

1.3 Summary and Critiques

Our literature review suggests there is some consensus that ikigai perception is multi- dimensional and eudaimonic (e.g., Kamiya 1966; Kumano 2006, 2018). However, it also identifes certain critical threats to the validity of existing ikigai perception scales (Kondo and Kamata 1998; Kumano 2013). The literature on sources of ikigai also remains lim- ited in ofering viable theories to link various sources to ikigai perception (e.g., Hasegawa

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

et al. 2007; Kamiya 1966). One exception is Kumano’s (2013) SEM study; though, her selection of predictors was based on an earlier study (Kumano 2006) of perception, rather than sources, of ikigai. Also noteworthy is that much of the ikigai literature has focused on older adults (e.g., Hasegawa et al. 2007; Kamiya 1966). Young adults including university students have been largely ignored. Furthermore, much of extant ikigai research has been quantitative, with the notable exceptions of Kamiya (1966) and Mathews (1996). Based on the above, the purpose of our research is to develop a theory that links sources of ikigai and ikigai perception among Japanese university students. To this end, we adopt a sequential exploratory mixed-methods research design. First, in a qualitative study guided by grounded theory (Corbin and Strauss 2015), we inductively develop a substantive the- ory of ikigai. Second, in a quantitative study, we test our resultant theory using a larger student sample.

2 Qualitative Method

2.1 Sampling and Participants

As AUTHORS previously discussed, from June to August, 2015, Japanese undergraduate students were recruited from Tokai University, a large private university in Japan. As we used photo-elicitation interview (PEI) for data collection, inclusion criteria were that stu- dents must be a Japanese regular undergraduate student who had owned a smartphone for at least one year. At an earlier stage, we employed maximum variation sampling (Patton 2002) by recruiting a variety of students in terms of their gender, academic year, and aca- demic major. As we analyzed the initial data, we engaged in theoretical sampling (Corbin and Strauss 2015), where we targeted students who possessed qualities that could inform our emerging theory. For example, we recruited students with lower levels of ikigai percep- tion to discern what factors distinguished them from those with higher levels of ikigai. We ceased collecting data when the concurrent analysis indicated that new information no longer added substantial insight to the emerging theory. This point of theoretical satura- tion (Corbin and Strauss 2015) was determined by creating and comparing diferent NVivo 10 fles after each interview and analysis. The fnal sample consisted of 27 students (14 females; mean age 20.26 years).

2.2 Data Collection

Participant-driven PEI was employed so that students could provide concrete accounts on the rather abstract topic of ikigai (Tinkler 2013). First, potential participants were asked to fll out a short survey about their demographic background and ikigai perception level. Second, those invited to participate in the main study were given several days to: (a) choose a maximum of 10 photographs, taken by their smartphone, that they thought were related to their ikigai; (b) make a caption for each photograph; and (c) provide brief descriptions (e.g., when and where each photograph was taken). These activities facilitated participants’ refections on their ikigai. Third, a semi-structured interview (average length, 106 min) was conducted in Japanese with each student, using her or his printed photographs (Fig. 1). Interviewees were asked, for example: “Could you tell me about this photograph?” and “What in this photograph makes you feel ikigai?” In addition, interviewees ranked and

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

Fig. 1 A photo-elicitation inter- view scene

G. J. Walker Fig. 1 A photo-elicitation inter- view scene grouped their ikigai photographs, which helped

grouped their ikigai photographs, which helped exploring the topic from various perspec- tives (Tinkler 2013). Participants received 3000 JPY (roughly 30 USD) in compensation. All interviews were audio-recorded and immediately transcribed in Japanese by the frst author and mul- tiple professionals. This allowed for prompt, concurrent data analysis and following more focused data collection. In total, 243 photographs and 1293 pages of transcripts were col- lected. All data were managed using NVivo 10.

2.3 Data Analysis

Data analysis was conducted by the frst author in English, unless otherwise is specifed. Immediately after the initial interviews were transcribed, he read the entire transcripts and corresponding research notes a few times. The researcher coded each of “natural breaks” in the transcripts (often a few lines) to explore possible meanings of the data (i.e., open cod- ing; Corbin and Strauss 2015). As more focused data were collected, he began employing axial coding or coding around emerging categories (Corbin and Strauss 2015). Specifcally, we adopted Corbin and Strauss’s analytical technique called “paradigm”, which helped us identify students’ processes to pursue ikigai, and conditions and consequences of such processes. To better capture processes, gerund coding (i.e., coding in the “-ing” format) was utilized, which worked better in English than in Japanese. We also utilized in vivo coding (Corbin and Strauss 2015) by using original Japanese as code names to preserve nuances of the original language. At this stage, the frst author grouped similar codes into more abstract categories using NVivo 10, and theorized relationships among categories in memos (Corbin and Strauss 2015). Memos were written throughout the data analysis process, wherein insights from dif- ferent cases were constantly compared to each other (Corbin and Strauss 2015). We also used techniques Corbin and Strauss recommended, such as asking refexive questions and thinking of diferent meanings of a word. As our analysis matured, diagrams of an emerging theory were created to pinpoint gaps in the theory and the core category (Corbin and Strauss 2015). Finally, the core category for this manuscript—“keiken” or valued experiences—was chosen, and all relevant categories were connected to it by sorting memos and writing summary memos (i.e., selective coding or theoretical

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University… Fig. 2 A grounded theoretical model of keiken

Fig. 2 A grounded theoretical model of keiken or valued experiences. An oval circle indicates the refective measurement model, while a hexagon means the formative model

integration; Corbin and Strauss 2015). Thus, within our broader theory of ikigai, the current paper reports one aspect called keiken. A total of 496 codes and 136 memos were eventually created.

2.4 Trustworthiness

To ensure trustworthiness or rigor (Corbin and Strauss 2015), we employed several tech- niques. First, over the course of data collection, a few randomly selected memos were reviewed weekly by the second author to monitor the soundness of the frst author’s interpretations. These memos are also available at the frst author’s website (the link is omitted for the sake of blind review). Our fndings were shared with the participants approximately one year after for the purpose of member-checking. Twelve interview- ees agreed to (a) review descriptions of the overall theory, (b) report how much ikigai they would perceive if they were to engage in each keiken process, and (d) describe what advice they would give to a hypothetical friend who struggles with keiken. All agreed that keiken would lead to a high level of ikigai perception. Written informed con- sent was obtained from each participant before the initial survey, and the protocol was approved by the research ethics boards at the University of Alberta (Pro00056332) and Tokai University (15046).

3 Qualitative Results

As shown in Fig. 2, our grounded theory of keiken consists of three components: pro- cesses, perception, and conditions. Each is described separately below.

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

3.1

Keiken Processes

3.1.1

Value Engagement

Our analysis indicated that ikigai experiences among Japanese university students revolved around the core category of keiken, or experiences that they personally valued. Specifcally, our interviewees referred to four distinct values of experiences: enjoyment (tanoshimi), efort (ganbari), stimulation (shigeki), and comfort (iyashi). As such, the most basic action to achieve ikigai perception was to participate in an experience that represented one of these values. We call this value engagement. In terms of enjoyment or tanoshimi, students valued experiences that were intrinsically attractive to them, such as doing favourite leisure activities and socializing with friends:

“To me, ikigai is basically to feel ‘Oh, it’s so fun!’ And hanging out [with friends] is fun, isn’t it?” (Violet). Also associated with enjoyment were bodily experiences, such as eat- ing, listening to music, exercising, and even napping. Our participants simply appreciated the pleasant sensations these experiences provided: “[Music] is really important to me. … I feel very good or excited about … transitions in sounds.… I’m like, ‘it’s so beautiful!’” (Makoto, a former competitive brass band member). Additionally, enjoyable experiences were rare opportunities for students to become absorbed in the present moment. For exam- ple, one of Sayaka’s photographs represented this phenomenon during a recent rock music concert: “I was jumping for three hours. (Laughter) … I wished …, ‘Please don’t fnish this’. I don’t think we have so many times in our lives when we wish the moment wouldn’t go away”. Second, our interviewees valued efort or ganbari. Efortful experiences were charac- terized by their challenging nature. For example, Mizuki chose all 10 photographs related to her varsity athletic experiences because they involved a multitude of challenges: “If the varsity team was not so strict … I would not have felt ikigai probably, and perhaps would have quit it already”. These efortful experiences often resulted in negative imme- diate outcomes such as setbacks, frustration, and stress. However, persevering through efortful experiences led to two long-term positive outcomes: accomplishments and self- enhancement. Students’ eforts resulted in accomplishments when they were driven toward external goals. For instance, Yoku said: “We sometimes host an event for all students and invite some celebrities. So, that’s important. I can get feedback from various people, which makes me feel accomplished”. Yoku captioned his photograph of autographs of invited celebrities (Fig. 3) as the “proof” (i.e., of his accomplishments). When students made eforts to personally grow, their efortful experiences were self-enhancing. For example, Naomi felt “enhancing myself” in her varsity career, although she did not have much play time during competitions: “[What I learned from the varsity] is the never-give-up spirit and the importance of not comparing myself with others, I guess? … And I have become more empathetic toward people around me”. The third experience value, stimulation or shigeki, was characterized by new activities, new places, new people, and new ideas. These experiences, on the one hand, allowed stu- dents to keep their daily lives fresh and exciting. For instance, Yu provided many photo- graphs from his past trips because he “like[d] seeing diferent things”, especially “things [he] did not know”. Yu continued: “we only get one life to live. We have to add spices to it”. On the other hand, extremely stimulating experiences radically transformed stu- dents’ value systems. For example, Makoto’s study abroad program in Germany was life- changing: “That was my wake-up call. … When I was a freshman, I was taking only easy

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

Fig. 3 One of Yoku’s ikigai pho- tographs captioned “proof”

One of Yoku’s ikigai pho- tographs captioned “proof” courses. When I felt lazy, I didn’t go

courses. When I felt lazy, I didn’t go to [classes]. … [The program in] Germany made me realize that’s not good”. Fourth, our informants also valued comfort or iyashi. Comforting experiences usually involved ordinary activities that took place in familiar places with regular companions:

“[My old friends and I] only do similar things, like go-to stuf. … Hanging out with them feels like ‘usual’. … This is the group where I feel relieved and free of concerns” (Jotaro). This quotation also suggested that being free of others’ judgments was particularly com- forting for students, because living in a collectivistic society like Japan, they were con- stantly wary of how others perceived their behaviors and remarks and doing so emotionally exhausted them: “I tended to change my behaviors depending on who I was with. … That’s the issue of showing or not showing the plain side of me. … I sometimes felt it was a lot of work” (Eri). In some cases, students spent considerable time engaged in comforting activi- ties and developed a sense of self around these pursuits. Hence, comforting experiences helped them stay in tune with who they felt they really were. Kakeru’s example was play- ing an electronic organ—an activity he had done for 18 years: “I played it for a long time. It’s something I can do without trying to be more than who I am”.

3.1.2 Value Diversifcation

In addition to value engagement, our informants engaged with multiple experience values (e.g., enjoyment and efort) at once within their daily lives. We term this action value diver- sifcation. Diversifying experience values elevated their perception that their lives were worth living beyond the additive efects of individual experiences. For example, Sayaka discussed the synergy between putting efort into her studies and enjoying her leisure life:

Say, we decide to go out on this day, but there is a class. The class would be abso- lutely boring compared to the hang-out. [But] because I go through it, … [hanging out] becomes enjoyable enough to let me feel ikigai.

We identifed two ways in which students diversifed their experience values: (a) diver- sifcation across experiences and (b) diversifcation within an experience. The former involved partaking in multiple experiences, each of which represented diferent values. For instance, Kanon provided an overview of various experiences she associated with diferent

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

values: “What is ikigai for me? … All of these [photographs]. … Playing piano to replicate songs—fun. … And [my dog] comforts me and makes me shiawase”. In contrast, students could also fnd multiple values within a single experience, especially when they committed to it. For example, Hinata ranked her varsity experience as the most important because she could “experience the most diverse things here [on the team]”, including their efort to win the national championship and pure fun of playing their sport.

3.1.3 Value Balancing

When students engaged with multiple experience values, it was important for them to fnd and maintain a balance between opposing values, specifcally enjoyment versus efort and stimulation versus comfort. We call this action value balancing. For example, Kanon noted the importance of the balance between enjoying sports and making eforts through extra- curricular activities: “The time [for the extracurricular program] is good, too, for sure. … But, having time when I can move my body without thinking of those [efortful] things is necessary for me. … I need both. The key is a balance”. Jotaro referred to the balance between ordinary, comforting experiences and new, stimulating experiences:

I thought what I do all the time and new challenges are both equally important. … I

found [international travel] fun, and look forward to doing it more … And this [hang- ing out with old friends] is nothing new, but still what I want to continue for the rest of my life.

3.1.4 Value Disengagement

However valuable a particular experience was, doing it for a long time and at an intense level often made students feel overwhelmed. This was especially true in the case of efort- ful experiences. In such circumstances, students would temporarily detach from over- whelming experiences—ikinuki or breather in Japanese—to regain emotional energy before re-engaging later on. We term this action value disengagement. Iori did this through photography and socializing with her friends:

Like, “Ugh, I have assignments and I have to do stuf for [my volunteer work]. Oh my god!” (Laughter) … When I am taking photos and being with these [friends], I don’t remember [what I must do]. … It creates a pause in that preoccupied, “oh-my- god” moment. Once I have that pause, I can reset myself into a neutral state.

Figure 4 represented Fuyumi’s value disengagement through a spur-of-the-moment night- out with her local friends:

I have a lot of assignments and have to do a lot of things to prepare for the study

abroad program. It’s so much stress … I just went for [the night-out] after a long time, and it was so fun. It made me feel motivated [for the studies].

3.2 Keiken Perception

The above keiken processes resulted in two major types of perception: life afrmation and life vibrancy.

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

Fig. 4 One of Fuyumi’s ikigai photographs about a spur-of- the-moment night-out with her friends

3.2.1 Life Afrmation

the-moment night-out with her friends 3.2.1 Life Afrmation Through their keiken , our informants often perceived

Through their keiken, our informants often perceived their daily lives were worth liv- ing. We call this afrmative view life afrmation. This construct was an experience- based, concrete feeling of life worthiness, rather than an abstract metaphysical idea of meaning. For example, Sayaka felt that her various experiences made her life and self unique and worthwhile: “I played on the volleyball varsity, worked as a tutor at a pri- vate school, traveled a lot, and studied abroad. I think there wouldn’t be many people around the world who did all of this”. As such, the value of individual experiences was generalized to the value of the students’ daily lives. While member-checking our fnd- ings, Kanon referred to this value transfer: “I feel that doing valuable experiences has positive efects not only on things in the area of that particular experience, but also all experiences and my life [in general]”.

3.2.2 Life Vibrancy

The other consequence of keiken was life vibrancy, or the subjective perception that students’ daily lives were full of energy and motivation. When students were strongly driven to pursue experiences they valued, this motivation toward specifc experiences spilled over into their daily lives in general. For example, Makoto described how he had felt immediately after a series of efortful experiences:

Right after the study abroad and internship programs, my motivation was so high. I was often talking to others [about what I experienced]. I was involving them, like “Let’s do this!” or “Let’s do that!” I think I was very vital.

While member-checking, Violet described how vibrant her life was during stimulating and enjoyable experiences: “Compared to the time without any valuable experiences, I was ‘shining’ this time. … I had increased motivation, positive attitudes, and conf- dence in doing anything”.

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

3.3 Keiken Conditions

Our analysis also discovered two main conditions that gave rise to the keiken processes:

value understanding and action.

3.3.1 Value Understanding

The frst condition, value understanding, refers to the state where students understood what type of experience was valuable in a given life circumstance. Particularly illustra- tive were instances where students transitioned from a state without keiken to a state with it. For example, Akihiro began exploring valuable experiences when he realized the importance of enjoying his college life: “I thought I should enjoy being a college student more. That’s why I looked up the English Speaking Society and joined it. In my frst year, I was like, ‘student groups—whatever’”. Additional evidence came from cases where there was a gap between what students expected from an activity and what the activity actually aforded. For instance, Naomi originally joined the women’s varsity soccer team not for efort, but for enjoyment. As the team had become more competi- tive, there was a greater gap between what she wanted, enjoyment, and what the activity ofered, efort: “I just wanted to do some exercise … The number of morning practice increased, and I wondered why I was doing it”. She almost quit the team because of this lack of value understanding.

3.3.2 Action

A second important condition emerged from the member-check data regarding advices the participants gave to a hypothetical friend who struggled with keiken. Specifically, they agreed on the significance of koudou-ryoku, or the ability to act on an opportu- nity for a potentially valuable experience without hesitation. We term this orienta- tion action. For example, Kaze stated: “I’d recommend that [s/he] just do what [s/ he] wants to do at the moment, without thinking too much. … If you always follow your heart and make action, I think you can discover something or feel ikigai”. This quotation implied that students could not always know the value of experiences before engaging in them and that sometimes keiken emerged from activities that they had not expected to become so valuable. Our re-analysis of the original interview data con- firmed this: “I am a very curious person. … We don’t know until we do things. I’m like, ‘just do it without being indecisive’. So, I’m more like, ‘Oh, that seems interest- ing. I’m in’” (Shio). To summarize, our grounded theory of keiken (Fig. 2) explains one main mechanism through which Japanese students can develop ikigai: value engagement, value diversif- cation, value balancing, and value disengagement. These keiken processes lead to two types of perception: life afrmation and vibrancy. The processes are further facilitated by two ikigai conditions: value understanding and action.

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

4 Quantitative Methods

To test our grounded theory model, we conducted an online survey and used partial least squares structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM). PLS-SEM was employed instead of its covariance-based counterpart because it readily accommodates diferent types of measurement model and more likely to produce accurate parameters when the nature of a population is uncertain (Hair et al. 2017; Sarstedt et al. 2016).

4.1 Sampling

As AUTHORS previously discussed, a Japanese online survey company was contracted to compile a sample of Japanese undergraduate students. On August 31, 2016, 4830 randomly selected student panelists responded to screening questions about whether they: (a) held Japanese nationality and spoke Japanese as their native language and (b) attended a four-year university (or college) in Japan. Of 4328 panelists who satisfed these conditions, 2921 individuals received an invitation email. We stopped collect- ing data once we achieved an a priori determined sample size of 650 students, which occurred within 24 h. This sample size was computed using G*Power (linear multiple regression, small efect [f 2 = .02], statistical power .80, maximum four predictors per endogenous variable) and exceeded a rule-of-thumb guideline for PLS-SEM (n = 113; Hair et al. 2017). Because dozens of respondents were completing the survey while we closed the link, our actual sample size was 674 (i.e., a response rate of 23.1%). By com- pleting the survey, participants received points worth a few dollars they could subse- quently exchange for a gift from the survey company. All respondents frst read a pop-up about research ethics issues and their rights (e.g., anonymity) and were asked to proceed to the main questions only when they agreed; the procedure was approved by the Uni- versity of Alberta’s research ethics board (Pro00066212).

4.2 Instruments

Our survey instruments were measures of ikigai, existing well-being, and socio-demo- graphic background. The order of items was randomized within each section and for each respondent. All instruments were administered using a 5-point scale, unless other- wise noted.

4.2.1 Ikigai Measures

To precisely test our grounded theory model, we developed new ikigai measures com- posed of a: (a) keiken processes inventory, (b) keiken perception scale, and (c) keiken conditions scale.

4.2.2 The Keiken Processes Inventory

This inventory was developed to specifcally measure value engagement, value diver- sifcation, value balancing, and value disengagement. The frst author created a pool of

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

initial items based on the qualitative fndings. He then discussed the items with the sec- ond author and another Japanese-native researcher. Eight ikigai or Japanese well-being research experts the reviewed our revised items. For value engagement, diversifcation, and balancing, we adopted the formative measurement model in which causality fows from observed items to the latent variable (Hair et al. 2017). We did so because value engagement refers to the four distinct values—enjoyment, efort, stimulation, and comfort—and experiencing one of them does not necessarily mean having the other types of value as well, which would be the assumption in the alternative, refective model (Hair et al. 2017). In terms of value diversifcation and balancing, we initially attempted to create refective measures, but our experts pointed out they were too abstract for most respondents to understand. Using formative logic and specifying which values were diversi- fed or balanced improved specifcity and face validity. We asked the experts to assess, on a 5-point scale, how well each item represented the defnition of the target construct (i.e., con- struct validity), as well as how comprehensive a set of items was in measuring the given con- struct (content validity) (MacKenzie et al. 2011). For value disengagement, we assumed the refective model wherein a latent variable causes variation in observed items (Hair et al. 2017). As such, we had the experts judge how well each item represented the target construct (i.e., value disengagement) and non-target refective constructs in the model (i.e., keiken perception and conditions) (Dunn et al. 1999). This allowed us to examine both convergent and discrimi- nant validity. We analyzed these quantitative data by computing Aiken’s validity coefcients (Dunn et al. 1999). A few problematic items (e.g., limited conceptual distinction) were revised based on the experts’ qualitative comments. These items were further pilot-tested with a small convenient sample of Japanese students (n = 14) to determine if their meanings were clear. The fnal set of 15 items, and three global items for validation of the formative measures, are listed in Table 1.

4.2.3 The Keiken Perception Scale

This scale was developed to specifcally measure life afrmation and life vibrancy. The same item development protocol was followed while adopting the refective measurement model as with value disengagement (Hair et al. 2017). One item with relatively low convergent validity was revised based on the experts’ comments. The fnal two 3-item scales are listed in Table 1.

4.2.4 The Keiken Conditions Scale

This scale was developed to specifcally measure value understanding and action. Following the refective measurement model (Hair et al. 2017), we developed initial items based on our qualitative results and refned them. However, these revised items were not expert-reviewed because the above two sets of measures and other items made the expert review too long (i.e., 49 items in total). This scale was, however, included in the pilot test. Each keiken condition was measured by two items (Table 1).

4.2.5 The Single‑Item Ikigai Measure

Kondo’s (2003) single-item ikigai measure was included to validate the newly created iki- gai perception scale. This instrument asks respondents to report their level of ikigai percep- tion, ranging from zero (i.e., absence of ikigai) to 10 (i.e., full of ikigai).

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

(R 2 )

Redundancy

analysis

.36

.46

.61

1.80

.27*** 2.40

.39*** 2.22

.67*** 2.22

1.72

2.02

1.94

1.94

1.86

2.19

1.99

.14*** 2.19

.27*** 2.37

2.27

.17*** 2.18

.21*** 2.08

1.83

2.21

VIF

Weights

.61***

.47***

.39***

.37***

.40***

.39***

.39***

.37***

.10**

.11**

.04 ns

Loadings

.86***

.89***

.89***

.86***

.86***

.84***

.90***

.94***

.96***

.89***

.86***

.85***

.56***

.72***

.74***

.71***

.71***

.68***

AVE

.76

.75

.84/.84

.83/.83

α/ρ A

VD1: I have found various types of value (e.g., efort, enjoyment, stimuli, comfort) in my recent experiences VD2: I have recently experienced something that has a variety of value (e.g., efort, enjoy- ment, stimuli, comfort) to me

VB1: Through my recent experiences, I have found a good balance between eforts and enjoyment VB2: Through my recent experiences, I have found a good balance between stimulation and comfort

VE1: I have enjoyed my recent experiences VE2: I have felt joy in my recent experiences VE3: Recently, I have been engaged in experiences that required me to make eforts VE4: I have strove in my recent experiences VE5: Recently, I have participated in stimulating experiences VE6: Recently, I have been engaged in novel experiences VE7: Recently, I have had comforting experiences VE8: Recently, I have had relieving experiences

LV1: I feel that my daily life is full of energy LV2: In my daily life, I feel motivated in general LV3: I feel that every day is diferent from one another in a good way

LA1: I feel that the life I have now is important to me LA2: I feel that my daily life is meaningful LA3: I feel that my current life is worth living

Table 1 Validity and reliability of the Ikigai measurement models

Item

Value diversifcation F

Value engagement F

Value balancing F

Life afrmation R

Life vibrancy R

Variable

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

R The refective measurement model, while F signifes the formative model. According to Hair et al. (2017), the acceptable threshold for α/ρ A is .70. AVE should be .50 or

greater. Factor loadings for refective models should .70 or greater. Weights for formative models should be statistical signifcant; otherwise, the corresponding factor loadings

(R 2 )

Redundancy

analysis

1.32

1.32

2.07

2.11

1.61

1.91

1.61

VIF

Weights

.40***

.63***

.39***

.55***

.57***

.53***

.35***

Loadings

.89***

.89***

.84***

.85***

.88***

.89***

.90***

AVE

.74

.76

.81

.76/.76

.66/.67

.84/.85

α/ρ A

VD1: When I was overwhelmed by some experience, I have done things that served as good diversions VD2: When things were too much, I have taken good breaks VD3: When I felt stuck in my daily life, I have done things to feel refreshed

AC1: I do not overthink things and take an opportunity for a good experience AC2: I fnd important things to be by getting involved in various things

VU1: I understand what type of experience is important to me now VU2: I know what type of experience can make my life more valuable

should exceed .50. VIF should be less than 5

Item

Value disengagement R

Value understanding R

Table 1 (continued)

Variable

Action R

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

4.2.6 Existing Well‑Being Measures

Three existing well-being measures were included in the online survey, to validate the newly developed ikigai perceptions scale. These included: (a) the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener et al. 1985), (b) the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS; Shimai et al. 2004), and (c) the afect valuation index (AVI; Tsai 2007).

4.2.7 SWLS

Four of the original fve SWLS items (Diener et al. 1985) were utilized. The excluded item lowered internal consistency in a past Japanese study (Oishi 2009). The Japanese items were derived from Oishi (2009, p. 48). The Cronbach’s α in this study was .92.

4.2.8 SHS

Three items were modifed from the Japanese version of SHS (Shimai et al. 2004). Item modifcation was necessary because the original SHS items require diferent response scales; this was impossible in our online survey platform. The label of the positive end of each scale was incorporated into the item wording itself (e.g., “In general, I consider myself a very happy person.”). The Cronbach’s α in this study was .88.

4.2.9 AVI

Eight items from AVI were employed to measure the frequency of experiencing four distinct quadrants of emotions (Tsai 2007): low-arousal positive (calm and relaxed), high-arousal positive (enthusiastic and excited), low-arousal negative (dull and slug- gish), and high-arousal negative (fearful and nervous). The original English version was back-translated by professional translators. The Spearman-Brown coefcients for two- item reliability were .77, .63, .61, and .67, respectively.

4.3 Data Analysis

First, we inspected our data for univariate non-normality, univariate outliers, heteroscedas- ticity, missing values, multivariate outliers, and multi-collinearity. Two cases were deleted as potential multivariate outliers. Our analysis consisted of three stages: (a) obtaining descrip- tive statistics and inspecting the indicators’ validity and reliability, (b) examining correlation matrices of the variables, and (c) performing PLS-SEM to test our keiken model.

5 Quantitative Results

5.1 Descriptive Statistics

The fnal sample’s (N = 672) demographic characteristics are reported in Table 2. Our stu- dent respondents were relatively diverse in terms of gender, academic years, academic major, and income level. Moreover, they represented 44 out of 47 prefectures in Japan.

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

Table 2 A summary of demographic characteristics of the fnal sample (N = 672)

 

n

%

Sex

1.

Male

335

49.9

2.

Female

337

50.1

Academic year

 

1. First year

 

167

24.9

2. Second year

168

25.0

3. Third year

167

24.9

4. Fourth year

170

25.3

Academic major

 

1. Arts and humanities

150

22.3

2. Engineering

 

90

13.4

3. Management and economics

130

19.3

4. Math and natural sciences

78

11.6

5. Social sciences

 

90

13.4

6. Other

134

19.9

Employment status

 

1. No employment

247

36.8

2. Part-time (< 20 h per week)

297

44.2

3. Part-time (≥ 20 and < 40 h per week)

109

16.2

4. ≥ 40 h per week

 

19

2.8

Parental income (JPY)

 

1. < 2,500,000

 

77

11.5

2. ≥ 2,500,000

and < 5,000,000

57

8.5

3. ≥ 5,000,000

and < 7,500,000

73

10.9

4. ≥ 7,500,000

and < 10,000,000

70

10.4

5. ≥ 10,000,000

54

8.0

6. Don’t know or don’t want to answer

341

50.7

M

SD

Range

Age

20.14

 

1.33

18–24

5.2 Validity and Reliability

The validity and reliability of the newly developed ikigai measures were assessed based on diferent criteria for the formative and refective models (Hair et al. 2017). To do so, a statistical model based on Fig. 2 was run in SmartPLS 3, using the PLS algorithm and the bootstrapping procedure with 5000 subsamples, the bias-corrected and accelerated method, and a signifcance level of .05. In addition, we ran a series of redundancy test models for each formative measurement model (Hair et al. 2017), where a set of forma- tive items predicted a global indicator of the same construct. Validity and reliability results are summarized in Tables 1 and 3. Hair et al.’s (2017) validity and reliability criteria for refective and formative measure- ment models were met, except for two issues. First, the reliability of the action items was slightly below the conservative threshold of .70 (ρ A = .67 and α = .66). Second, value diver- sifcation and balancing explained less than 50% of variance in the corresponding global

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

Table 3 Discriminant validity of the refective measurement models based on heterotrait-monotrait (HTMT) ratios and 95% CI

 

1

2

3

4

1. Life afrmation

 

2. Life vibrancy

.835 [.778; .883]

3. Value disengagement

.728 [.659; .789]

.624 [.541; .690]

4. Value understanding

.672 [.587; .748]

.655 [.558; .742]

.499 [.395; .597] .641 [.540; .725]

 

5.

Action

.840 [.767; .902]

.733 [.642; .813]

.865 [.786; .941]

HTMT ratios less than .90, as well as 95% CI not including one, supports discriminant validity (Hair et al.

2017)

Table 4 A zero-order correlation coefcients between the Ikigai perception variables and existing well- being measures

 

Ikigai (single item)

Life

Happiness (SHS)

Positive

Negative afect (AVI)

 

satisfaction

afect

(SWLS)

(AVI)

Life

afrmation

.683**

.644**

.628**

.504**

− .217**

Life

vibrancy

.669**

.627**

.571**

.457**

− .269**

N = 672 **p < .01

indicators. This may have been because of the small number of items, which was necessary to keep the overall survey concise. Although this is certainly a limitation, it is noteworthy that R 2 does not have a strict cut-of point and .46 for value diversifcation appears reason- able (cf. Cohen 1992, deemed .26 as large). We also examined a zero-order correlation matrix of the keiken perception scales and existing well-being measures to inspect the criterion-related validity. We hypothesized that our multi-item keiken perception scales would be most strongly and positively correlated with Kondo’s (2003) single-item ikigai measure, followed by SWLS (Diener et al. 1985), SHS (Lyubomirsky and Lepper 1999), and the positive afect items in AVI (Tsai 2007), and negatively associated with the negative afect items in AVI (Tsai 2007). Our rational was that, based on our qualitative results, keiken perception was a cognitive and positive appraisal of one’s life conditions; thus, our new scales would be more strongly correlated with measures of more cognitive aspects of well-being than afective aspects (Pavot and Diener 2013). The results shown in Table 4 support our hypothesis.

5.3 Zero‑Order Correlation

Table 5 demonstrates zero-order correlation coefcients among our keiken variables and two potential control variables: sex and age. As these demographic variables exhibited small yet signifcant correlations with several keiken variables, we decided to include them as control variables in the following PLS-SEM analysis. Within the main variables, medium- to large-size positive correlations were observed, as expected. In particular,

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

.70**

9

.52**

.61**

8

.65**

.66**

.66**

7

.62**

.65**

.63**

.75**

6

.66**

.68**

.63**

.75**

.78**

5

.54**

.62**

.48**

.51**

.54**

.57**

4

.52**

.54**

.40**

.45**

.46**

.48**

.61**

3

.08*

− .03

.00

.02

.07

− .01

.05

.03

2

Table 5 A zero-order correlation matrix among Ikigai and control variables

.15**

.14**

.14**

.10**

.09*

− .04

.06

.02

.07

1

1.330

.940

.952

.880

.500

.899

.879

.788

.875

.845

SD

M (out of 5)

20.14

3.12

3.32

1.50

3.22

3.37

2.98

3.27

3.33

3.31

1. Sex (female = 1; male = 0) 2. Age 3. Value understanding 4. Action 5. Value engagement 6. Value diversifcation 7. Value balancing 8. Value disengagement 9. Life afrmation 10. Life vibrancy

N = 672 *p < .05; **p < .01

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University… Fig. 5 Structural Results of PLS-SEM analysis. An

Fig. 5 Structural Results of PLS-SEM analysis. An oval signifes the refective measurement model, whereas a hexagon designates the formative model. Path coefcients are standardized. Sex and age are included as control variables. **p < .01; ***p < .001

correlations seemed stronger among theoretically close variables (e.g., within keiken per- ception variables vs. between perception and process variables).

5.4 Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modeling (PLS‑SEM)

Figure 5 and Table 6 summarize PLS-SEM structural fndings. Multi-collinearity was not an issue, as evidenced by the maximum VIF 3.36 (Hair et al. 2017). The bootstrap results indicated that all paths were signifcant at the .05 level, except for the one from value dis- engagement to life vibrancy. With regard to R 2 or variance explained in endogenous vari- ables, of particular interest were .37 for value engagement, .56 for life afrmation, and .50 for life vibrancy. According to existing rules of thumb (Hair et al. 2017), these values signal moderate to substantial efects. The relatively low value for value engagement might suggest that its major predictors are missing from our model. With respect to the efect size f 2 , all signifcant paths had a small-size efect (f 2 ≥ .02) except for action’s medium- size efect on value engagement (f 2 ≥ .15; Hair et al. 2017). These small efects despite the moderate R 2 values were presumably because the value-related predictors had overlapping efects. To further examine our model’s predictive relevance or ability to predict the endoge- nous variables beyond this particular sample, the blindfolding procedure was performed 1 (Hair et al. 2017). The resultant Q 2 values ranged from .19 for value engagement to .52 for value diversifcation (Table 6). As Q 2 values larger than zero indicate predictive rel- evance (Hair et al. 2017), our model seems to possess an adequate predictive capacity. We also computed q 2 or the relative impacts of the predictors on the model’s predictive rel- evance (Table 6; Hair et al. 2017). Small efects on the predictive relevance (q 2 ≥ .02) were found for: (a) value engagement’s associations with life afrmation and vibrancy, (b) value

1 Blindfolding is a type of resampling statistical method. Based on a pre-determined distance number D, resampling extracts only every Dth case from the original sample and creates separate pseudo-samples. We used D = 9 for N = 672.

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

Table 6 PLS-SEM results of the Keiken or valued experiences model

Endogenous variables

 

Value

Value

Value balancing

Value

Life afrmation

Life vibrancy

engage-

diversif-

disengage-

ment

cation

ment

R 2

.37

.62

.58

.43

.56

.50

2

f

 

Value understand-

.04

ing

Action

.19

Value engagement

1.55

1.35

.75

.06

.05

Value diversifca-

.02

.02

tion

Value balancing

.03

.05

Value disengage-

.04

.00

ment

Q 2

.19

.52

.47

.32

.40

.36

q

2

Value understand-

.02

ing

Action

.08

Value engagement

.03

.03

Value diversifca-

.01

.01

tion

Value balancing

.01

.03

Value disengage-

.02

.00

ment

N = 672. According to Hair et al. (2017), the evaluation criterion for R 2 is .25, .50, and .75 for weak, mod- erate, and substantial efects, respectively. The cut-of points for f 2 and q 2 are .02, .15, and .35 for small, medium, and large efects. Q 2 values greater than zero have predictive relevance. Values that are medium in size are bolded

balancing’s relationship with life vibrancy, and (c) value understanding’s and action’s links to value engagement. Again, these results should be carefully interpreted, considering the potential overlapping efects among the keiken condition and process predictors.

5.5 Supplemental Analysis

The fnding of a non-signifcant relationship between value disengagement and life vibrancy prompted us to revisit our qualitative data. After doing so, we realized that our informants (e.g., Iori’s and Fuyumi’s quotations) described the relevance of value dis- engagement within their stressful life contexts. Thus, we hypothesized that the efect of value disengagement on life vibrancy depends on the level of perceived stress. We tested this possibility by adding the nervousness indicator (Tsai 2007) as a proxy for stress, and as a moderator of this particular path. We used the two-stage approach in PLS-SEM for this moderation analysis (Hair et al. 2017). The bootstrap results suggested that nervous- ness signifcantly moderated this linkage (b* = .07, SD = .03, p = .036). The simple slope analysis, shown in Fig. 6, illustrated that value disengagement had a positive efect on life

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

Fig. 6 A simple slope analysis of nervousness’s moderating efect on the relationship between value
Fig. 6 A simple slope analysis of nervousness’s moderating efect on the relationship between value disengagement and life vibrancy

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

vibrancy among nervous students, while the directionality was even negative among their less nervous counterparts.

6 Discussion

The purpose of our research was to develop and validate a substantive theory of how Japa- nese university students pursue ikigai or life worth living. To this end, we conducted sequen- tial exploratory mixed-methods research. First, in a qualitative study guided by grounded theory (Corbin and Strauss 2015), we inductively developed a substantive theory of keiken based on photo-elicitation interview data. Second, our quantitative study provided initial evidence for this theory’s generalizability and explanatory power, based on a PLS-SEM analysis of online survey data. Below, we frst discuss our fndings concerning ikigai percep- tion, and then our results regarding sources of ikigai (Kamiya 1966; Kumano 2012). In terms of ikigai perception, our life afrmation fnding may initially appear akin to what Kumano (2013) termed “life afrmation” and “meaning in life (MIL)”. Upon further investigation, however, her survey items seem to better refect life satisfaction (e.g., “I am satisfed with my life”) and the comprehension aspect of MIL (e.g., “I understand well why I am alive here and now”; cf. George and Park 2017). Our defnition of life afrmation and measurement items focus on the perceived signifcance of life, as Martela and Steger (2016) suspected. More specifcally, it is the perceived value of students’ daily life based on concrete experiences, rather than a philosophical, abstract idea of how important their life as a whole might be. In this sense, the keiken perception may be more concrete and experiential than the Western concept of MIL (George and Park 2017; Martela and Steger 2016), although a limited number of Westerns studies have recognized this everyday expe- rience of MIL (e.g., King et al. 2016). Life vibrancy also seems similar to what Kumano (2013) called “life fulfllment” (e.g., “I am living my everyday life vibrantly”). Although Kumano was not explicit, it is inter- esting to note that her items specifcally refer to “everyday life”, as do our life vibrancy items. In the West, a similar concept may be subjectivity vitality (Ryan and Frederick 1997), which is concerned with the internal psychological state of feeling energetic and motivated. In contrast, our fndings indicate that life vibrancy is the perception of daily life characterized by high energy and motivation, and thus the interaction between human cognition/afect and life situations. This is an important diference as some may feel “subjectively vital” while having a life without any valued experiences (and this does not appear possible in terms of life vibrancy). Afective and motivational nuances of life vibrancy may also be related to our population: university students. Indeed, Kondo and Kamata’s (1998) scale for the same population has a factor called “motivation.” This emphasis of vibrancy may be age-specifc, as older adults for example might prefer a more calm and quiet state. Our theory breaks down the conventional notion of sources of ikigai into keiken pro- cesses and conditions. The foundation of students’ keiken processes is value engagement. Each of four key experience values—enjoyment, efort, stimulation, and comfort—appears in the ikigai or eudaimonic well-being literature, but no single theory has integrated them. For example, enjoyment and its absorptive feature are akin to what Kumano (2012, 2013) termed “absorption into positive situations” as well as to “engagement” within Selig- man’s (2011) PERMA model. However, not all enjoyable experiences induce this intense

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

absorption into moments, and yet they help students perceive ikigai. This may be more congruent with “positive emotions” in the PERMA model (Seligman 2011). Within the MIL research, King and colleagues established the robust relationship between positive afect and MIL (e.g., King et al. 2016). Thus, ikigai or at least keiken may not be a purely eduaimonic phenomenon as Kumano (2018) has suggested, but instead it is also partially hedonic. Having said this, this arguably hedonic dimension of ikigai may be because this study focused on a student population. Again, Kondo and Kamata’s (1998) study also iden- tifed “life enjoyment” as part of students’ ikigai experience. Similarly, Kono et al.’s (in press) study of students also found enjoyable leisure experience as a key ikigai contributor. Kumano (2018), on the other hand, dealt with mid-aged and older adults. In contrast, efort is a predominantly eudaimonic experience value. In the ikigai lit- erature, Kamiya (1966) and Mathews (1996) both argued that self-actualization is a key source of ikigai perception. This is consistent with our fnding of self-enhancement, where students’ efort is directed toward the internal self. The externally driven efort, or accom- plishment, has also been identifed by eudaimonic researchers, including “achievement” in Seligman’s (2011) PERMA model and “competence” in BPNT (Ryan et al. 2008). Our fnding of efortful experiences also explains why past surveys consistently fagged work as a source of ikigai (e.g., COGJ 1994; CRS 2012): work is a predominantly efortful life domain. Similar to our fnding concerning stimulation, Kamiya (1966) considered satisfying the need for change to be an important source of ikigai. Novelty too has been proposed as a fourth basic psychological need because it predicted well-being even after autonomy, com- petence, and relatedness were controlled for (González-Cutre et al. 2016). What our fnd- ings add is that two sub-types of stimulation pertain to keiken: daily changes to “spice up” one’s everyday life and extraordinarily novel events that radically transform one’s point of view. Also noteworthy here is our university student sample. As research suggests that this age group tends to be more open to new experiences (Donnellan and Lucas 2008), the importance of stimulation in one’s ikigai may be age-dependent. Lastly, in regard to comfort, we could not fnd mention of a similar concept in either the ikigai or eudaimonic well-being literature. However, many studies have identifed inter- personal relationships, especially those with family and close friends, as major sources of ikigai (e.g., COGJ 1997; CRS 2012; Kamiya 1966; Mathews 1996) and eudaimonic well- being (e.g., Ryan et al. 2008; Seligman 2011). These relationships may facilitate comfort because one can escape others’ judgments and be truly who s/he really is. It is particularly noteworthy that value diversifcation had signifcant efects on life afr- mation and vibrancy even after controlling for the infuences of value engagement and bal- ancing. This supports our hypothesis that engaging with multiple experience values has a synergistic efect beyond the additive efects of individual experiences. We are not aware of similar explicit synergy hypotheses in existing ikigai or eudaimonic theories. Nonethe- less, it is possible that this applies to other theories that identify multiple mechanisms (e.g., Kamiya 1966; Kumano 2012; Ryan et al. 2008; Seligman 2011). Another unique contribution of our research is that we explicitly tested, and supported, the efect of balancing competing experience values. The concept of balance has been stud- ied, albeit rarely, in terms of the BPNT framework (cf. Ryan et al. 2008). For instance, satisfaction of the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness in a balanced manner had a synergistic efect on hedonic well-being (Sheldon and Niemiec 2006). Our fnding extends the importance of balance to eudaimonic well-being. Also pertinent to value diversifcation and balancing is our cultural context: Japan. Cultural psychologists have noted that East Asians including Japanese have a dialectic

S. Kono, G. J. Walker

tendency to readily accept, and even value, apparent contradictions and adopt a holistic perspective (e.g., Peng et al. 2006). This cultural pattern may have made our Japanese par- ticipants recognize a variety of experience values at play in their pursuit of keiken and the complex relationships among them. Value disengagement, on its surface, seems similar to stress coping and what Kumano (2013) called “coping with negative situations”. An important diference, however, is that value disengagement does not address solely negative situations, but rather valuable expe- riences that temporarily become overwhelming. Also noteworthy is that the relationship between value disengagement and life vibrancy may be moderated by stress level. These fndings suggest that the pursuit of keiken is not a simple linear progression in which hav- ing more valued experiences is always better, but rather a dynamic process that requires students’ constant adaptation. One may argue that value understanding resembles the state of autonomous motiva- tion in organismic integration theory (another sub-theory of SDT), where a target behavior is consistent with one’s interests and values (Ryan et al. 2008). Surprisingly, this condi- tion was found to have only a small efect on value engagement. This might be because understanding important experience values in a certain life circumstance may make stu- dents aware of what they are doing wrong (e.g., not making as much efort as they should) as much as what they are doing right. Another possibility is that understanding important experience values is not a sufcient condition for students to actually undertake them. This conjecture is consistent with action’s larger impact on value engagement. Action is a trait-like condition, and one may draw an analogy with one of the “Big 5” personal- ity traits: openness to experience. One facet of this trait is the degree to which an indi- vidual is willing to try new things (Gosling et al. 2003). Past studies have discovered positive correlations between openness to experience and eudaimonic well-being (e.g., Schmutte and Ryf 1997). This relationship may be, according to our theory, because open-minded individuals tend to act on opportunities for potentially valuable experi- ences, which in turn leads to a higher level of well-being.

7 Conclusion

Our mixed-methods research among Japanese university students contributes to the sys- tematic theorization of ikigai or life worth living. A qualitative study’s fndings led us to develop a grounded theory of keiken which, we argue, explains one main mechanism through which students pursue ikigai, specifying the relationships among perception, processes, and conditions. A quantitative study’s results supported these explanations. Having said this, our studies have certain limitations. First, our research was focused on the student population. Some of our fndings (e.g., hedonic experiences in keiken pursuit) may be specifc to young adults and college student culture, which potentially limits the generalizability of our fndings. Second, our studies involved only Japanese. It remains unclear to what extent our fndings apply to non-Japanese individuals. Third, our samples may have been somewhat biased, given that our qualitative sample was drawn from one private university whereas our quantitative sample consisted of online survey panelists. Fourth, our criterion-related validity measures in Study 2 were con- cerned with global subjective well-being (Pavot and Diener 2013), not eudaimonic well- being. This was because we found some hedonic aspects of keiken (e.g., enjoyment) and

Theorizing Ikigai or Life Worth Living Among Japanese University…

thus it appeared appropriate not to presume ikigai to be solely eudaimonic. Fifth, the keiken condition items did not undergo an expert review. Sixth, our quantitative study was cross-sectional and therefore causal implications are limited. These limitations could be addressed through future research. First, cross-genera- tional and cross-cultural studies will discern the generalizability of our keiken theory. As diferent experience values may be emphasized in other age and cultural groups, employing a qualitative methodology will remain useful in these endeavors. Moreover, we found that there is a lack of rigorous qualitative and mixed-methods studies in the area of ikigai and non-Western well-being (exceptions include Mathews 1996; Delle Fave et al. 2011). Second, longitudinal and experimental studies will strengthen causal implications of this new theory. Third, further validation of our new measures is neces- sary, specifcally using existing eudaimonic well-being measures (e.g., George and Park 2017; Ryan and Frederick 1997). In conclusion, well-being research has advanced substantially in past decades (Pavot and Diener 2013). This is partly because cross-cultural and non-Western studies have expanded our understanding of well-being (e.g., Diener and Suh 2000; Knoop and Delle Fave 2013). Our ikigai research demonstrates that an investigation of culturally nuanced well-being concepts could provide further new insights. It is testimony to Peterson’s (2008) proposition that well-being research is a global enterprise.

Acknowledgements This paper was partially supported by a Sasakawa Sports Research Grant (160A3-011) from the Sasakawa Sports Foundation (Japan). We would like to thank Drs. Yumiko Hagi and Eiji Ito, who helped with data collection.

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Afliations

Shintaro Kono 1

and institutional afliations. Afliations Shintaro Kono 1 · Gordon J. Walker 2 1 Department of Public

· Gordon J. Walker 2

1 Department of Public Health and Recreation Professions, College of Education and Human Services, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Pulliam Hall 312, 475 Clocktower Drive, Carbondale, IL 62901, USA

2 Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

1 3