Rolefulness As a Source of Ikigai

Daiki: We are back with episode 10 of the Rolefulness Podcast. I'm Daiki Kato, and joining me as always is my co host, Nick Kemp. Great to be talking again with you, Nick.

Nick: It's great. It's good to see you as the official host this time, Daiki. So thank you.

Daiki: Okay, let's start. When we first connected, Nick, you reached out to me and asked me to be on your podcast, the Ikigai Podcast, to talk about the impact of rolefulness on ikigai.  Rolefulness obviously ties into the social aspect of ikigai. So we should offer some context by what we mean by that. 

Rolefulness as a social aspect of ikigai

Nick: Yes, and I could offer many perspectives, I guess. But what I will offer is something I learned from an organisation that's actually certifying health and ikigai volunteers in Japan. 

And so based on a report called 'Promoting Health and Ikigai Building Activities for Middle-Aged and Elderly People' by the research group called ikigai-zaidan, the sense of ikigai is understood from three perspectives: we have first-person ikigai, second-person ikigai, and third-person ikigai, all in this context of human relationships. 

First-person relationship ikigai

First-person relationship ikigai

Daiki: Let's quickly define each of those. So let's switch roles and I'll ask you about ikigai. What is a first-person relationship ikigai?

Nick: First-person relationship ikigai is a concept where the basis of actions and thoughts is sought within oneself, and the object of ikigai is actually oneself. So it is the sense of ikigai found in actions and thoughts done for oneself. So it's your own personal ikigai, where one feels and discovers value within actions and thoughts carried out by the self. 

Examples of this would be doing things for self-improvement for personal growth; enhancing one's skills in work and taking on challenging tasks; aspiring to create beautiful things, such as paintings or artwork, or maybe craft; examples could be practising haiku, to be skilled at it, so practising poetry; engaging in pottery and being totally engrossed in that type of activity; or it doesn't have to be something creative or crafty, it could be just finding joy in cooking, and improving one's cooking skills. 

So that type of thing. So it is this idea of personal growth, or maybe even self-actualization.

Daiki: Thank you, Nick. The idea of first-person relationship ikigai is very important to improve our ikigai.  

Second-person relationship ikigai

Second-person relationship ikigai

So let's move on to the concept of second-person relationship ikigai. Could you explain about it?

Nick: Sure. So in the context of the second-person relationship, this really refers to the meaning of 'you and me.' And so the object of ikigai is another person, or perhaps that relationship with that person. And it involves finding value in the relationship and connecting between individuals. 

The object of ikigai can be family, friends, acquaintances, neighbours, and the like--any situation where one is together with someone, interacts with others, or engages in activities with another person, and finds meaning in doing something together with someone.

Examples could include travelling with someone as a couple to strengthen the bond, so maybe we could travel with our wives, Daiki. Enjoying quality time through just walking with close others.

In the context of work, it might be striving for technical improvement with like-minded peers and seeking family togetherness while sharing household responsibilities. So that's an interesting one. What about you, Daiki, do you share some of the household responsibilities at home?

Daiki: Yes. It is important for me, too.

Nick: Oh good, that's a good man.

Daiki: We are good husbands.

Nick: I hope so, yeah.

Daiki: I think that second-person relationship ikigai is very important, and it is also important for our rolefulness. So it is a very impressive idea for me.  

Third-person relationship ikigai

Third-person relationship ikigai

So next, what is a third-person relationship ikigai?

Nick: This is interesting, I guess, second-person is perhaps more intimate. But third-person might be more purposeful. So third-person ikigai is obtained from relationships with third parties or others. It is the sense of ikigai found in contributing to others.

It involves altruistic thinking and actions where one finds meaning and contributes to others, society, or community. So I think it's more purpose driven, and it's how you serve others or the community.

Examples include contributing to society through activities such as community involvement or volunteering, obtaining qualifications and teaching others, and engaging in welfare work and taking care of others' needs. 

So far more purpose driven, where there's a sense of service to others, or perhaps contributing to the greater good, I think is how we could understand it.

Daiki: Great, thank you. To feel rolefulness, we want to be or feel needed, that ties into a second-person and third-person sense of ikigai.

Nick: I agree. With that in mind, Daiki, I think we should probably revisit the social rolefulness scale. It really ties into, as you just said, the second-person and third-person sense of ikigai. So what are the five items of the social rolefulness scale?

Daiki: Yes, I'll introduce the five statements of social rolefulness scale again here. Social rolefulness includes statements as follows. The first one is I'm useful in society; the second one is, I can apply my strengths for society; the next is my role is necessary for other people; and I have a role in the various groups I belong to; and the last one is, I carry out several social roles. These five statements are included in social rolefulness.

Nick: Yeah, this is quite insightful and relatable. So again, referring to the social rolefulness scale, in particular, the statements, I'm useful in society, and my roles are necessary for other people, they relate very much to third-person rolefulness of ikigai. 

In short, I think we could say, we gain a strong sense of second-person relationship ikigai--that intimacy between others. And then third-person relationship ikigai, where it's more about purpose and contribution from our roles. So what are your thoughts on that, Daiki?

Daiki: Yeah. I think so, too. Our social relationships and roles increase both second-person relationship ikigai and third-person relationship ikigai.

We can increase second-person relationship ikigai by the relationship with our familiar person like our friends and family members. We notice our social roles through social activities such as volunteer activities and it increases third-person relationship ikigai.

Nick: Yeah, I really think our roles give us a sense of purpose and this opportunity to be the person we want to be in a context.

And this is interesting, because it can turn into a problem, and I know it's a problem often after retirement and Daiki, I've heard many people, particularly men in Japan struggle after retirement. That role, that work role could include both second and third-person ikigai.  

Facing difficulties after retirement 

Do people struggle after they retire, is it because of a lack of identity after they end their professional role?

Daiki: Yes, I think many people in Japan are struggling with role confusion and identity crisis. In the past, lifetime employment was common in Japanese companies.

Many employees work at only one company until retirement. The retirement age is around 60 and recently it is extended. In that kind of society, the social role of job positions are important for people. 

They spend a lot of time working and they feel satisfaction in their job roles. It is difficult for them to have much time for their hobbies and they don't know what to do after retirement.

That's why Japanese retired people tend to feel role confusion and sometimes feel depressed. It's difficult for them to find other things to do after retirement, except for their work jobs.

Nick: Yeah.

Daiki: Could you explain these phenomena from ikigai research?

Nick: Yeah, sure. Recently, as you know, I actually had my nephew in Japan bring back some books on health and ikigai advisors.

And these health ikigai advisors become certified, and their role is actually to help retirees adjust from a professional role to a social role. There are probably about 6000 of these health and ikigai advisors in Japan. 

So obviously retirements, it's usually considered something positive: you finally retire, you can do all these things you want to do, but in Japan, all these men are struggling with retirement because of the loss of this important role.

That goes very much against the Western romantic idea of ikigai that you never retire and life is wonderful, and it's all good. 

So that's interesting. It actually reminded me of a quote by one of my friends, an amazing man, Professor Gordon Mathews, who's an anthropologist, and he is the author of What Makes Life Worth Living? How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds

He told me that it's all too easy for work to become our de facto ikigai. To quote him, he wrote: 'Work is famous for becoming what I call de facto ikigai. You may be at a job you don't like very much. But if you have to be there 10 hours a day, five days a week, it becomes your ikigai.'  

Work becoming de facto ikigai

So that seems really true for people in Japan. So do you think that is often the case, Daiki?

Daiki: I agree with his idea. Works include various roles and responsibilities. Not everyone gets the job they want, they really want. But every job includes the essence of ikigai. For example, working with colleagues and communicating with them increases your rolefulness and ikigai. 

However, we need to be careful not to depend too much on the job role, I think so. If we lose the job position, or retire from it, we lose ikigai at the same time. I talked with you in your ikigai podcast before and you also interviewed Ken Mogi, a Japanese brain researcher about this topic before.  

Relying excessively on one’s professional role

Can you share the knowledge with us? From your interview with Ken Mogi?

Nick: Sure yeah. Ken's very insightful. And as you know, he wrote a book on ikigai. So he wrote a book called The Little Book of Ikigai. But yeah, as you mentioned, Ken is a neuroscientist, and he shared with me that spending too much time and energy on our professional roles can result in a tragic loss of opportunities. 

So I'll quote him from my podcast, he said: 'Maybe it's true for any society, but in Japan, we also have people who adjust to their social roles, and their social roles become their lives. It's an adaptation, but I think it's also a tragic loss of opportunities. I'm sure in Australia, too, there are people who just become their profession, like bankers and lawyers who choose to just become that profession, and nothing more.’ 

So yeah, that was very insightful, that our professional roles can become our life, and we lose all these wonderful opportunities in other roles. It's especially tragic, I think, when people sacrifice their parenting role or their family role to work.

I know that's a common problem in many countries. So I think this idea that you talk about balance and having rolefulness in all your roles is really important.  

Does society place too much value on professional roles

So, on this theme, Daiki, do you think society places too much value on our professional roles?

Daiki: Yeah, I think that society is changing especially after the pandemic of COVID. The working style is becoming more flexible. So in Japan, the working style is changing. Perhaps in Australia and other countries, the working style is changing as well.

We can use the internet and communicate with others remotely. This change brought us to several professional roles. 

For example, I have several professions and use them for some activities. For example, my main job is researching psychology and teaching psychology to the students at the university, but now I have a role of speaker and enjoy the role with you. 

So like this podcasting, it's a new role. So the new technology brought us this role, so I'm happy about it. I think that it is good to have several roles and feel rolefulness of them.

I repeat, depending too much on the professional role is risky. Cherishing your private time is very important to keep a balance of rolefulness and mental health.

Nick: I agree. This is a really good example for us of rolefulness. Because this is almost like a shared passion project, we're not making any money by doing this work at the moment, and we have the desire to write a book, but books are notorious for also not making you money, unless you sell a best seller. 

So we're doing this because it's roleful, there's a great sense of role. We're learning new skills, we're researching and sharing the experience together. And we have our professional roles; you're studying psychology and teaching, I'm studying ikigai and sharing my knowledge, and we have our parenting roles. 

So it's kind of fun how you can almost create a new role just by thinking let's collaborate together on a podcast and write a book. So I think this idea of role balances is important.

There is this risk that we can have role imbalance where we work too much and neglect other important roles. Even if I'm honest with myself, I think sometimes I do work too much.  

How to avoid role imbalance

How to avoid role imbalance

So how can we avoid this, Daiki?

Daiki: It's a very important point. Having a wide perspective and finding your roles are important. Focusing on only one role and being particular about it may bring you role imbalance. You may think that finding a new role is not easy, but I think it's not difficult in fact. We have several very important roles already, but we just don't realise them. 

Please look at the relationship with your friends and families. You may have many important roles for them. For example, listening to them, going out with them, and showing gratitude to them. Each role is very small, but they are very important. to increase your rolefulness. 

The importance of having multiple roles

Nick: Okay, so the key probably from this episode is it's important that we have multiple roles rather than trying to find the perfect role. Could that be the case, Daiki? To have multiple roles rather than trying just to have one perfect role?

Daiki: Sometimes in job or work, we often think that we have to be perfect, and we have to do a good job. But I think that we don't have to be perfect every time. Every small role is very important. We already have important roles for our colleagues or friends.

I think it's important to be satisfied with a very small role. So that is very important and a good first step to notice our role satisfaction--rolefulness.

Nick: Nice. Well, you took on a new role today, you were the host. So you took control of this episode. You did that very well. So you should do that again. And we'll be talking about what we could call the roleful ones in the next episode.

This will be about people who have had either a roleful life or have a roleful life and had an impact on the world. So this will be an interesting episode.

Daiki: Next time maybe we'll be switching roles again. You will interview.

Nick: Alright. I'll take over that role next week. So thank you, Daiki, and I look forward to speaking to you again.

Daiki: Yeah, thank you. See you again.

Nick: Bye.