Theorizing Linkages between Ikigai (Life Worthiness) and Leisure among Japanese University Students: A Mixed Methods Approach

  • Author / Creator
    Kono, Shintaro
  • The relationship between leisure and well-being has garnered growing scholarly attention. However, this literature is limited in terms of (a) how well-being is conceptualized and (b) theoretical explanations for how exactly leisure impacts well-being. In terms of the former, Western research has shown that well-being not only involves more traditional hedonic aspects—such as life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect—but also, for example, meaning in life and subjective vitality. Non-Western research has further revealed that people in non-Western cultures tend to emphasize these so-called eudaimonic aspects of well-being. Ikigai, a Japanese indigenous well-being concept that roughly translates as purpose in life and a life worth living, appears to possess eudaimonic qualities. Although past descriptive studies have identified leisure as a primary source of ikigai, this relationship has not been formally studied. Consequently, my dissertation focuses on theorizing the linkages between leisure and ikigai among Japanese university students. To do so, an exploratory mixed method research design was employed. My first study, guided by Corbin and Strauss’s (2015) grounded theory methodology, inductively developed a substantive theory of ikigai and leisure. Data were collected from 27 students studying at a private Japanese university using photo-elicitation interviews. The resulting theory then informed a statistical model of the relationship between ikigai and leisure in my second study. Based on online survey data derived from a national sample of 672 Japanese college students, this quantitative study tested the explanatory power of the theoretical model by using partial least squares structural equation modeling. Overall, my findings suggest that Japanese university students pursue ikigai through three distinct mechanisms: (a) keiken or valued experiences, (b) ibasho or authentic relationships, and (c) houkou-sei or directionality. In terms of keiken, students engaged in enjoyable, effortful, stimulating, or comforting experiences. They also diversified these experience values and achieved a good balance between competing values (e.g., enjoyment vs. effort). Students also needed to disengage from overwhelming experiences. By doing so, students perceived that their daily lives were worth living and full of vibrancy. These behaviours for keiken were further conditioned by students’ ability to act on opportunities for potentially valuable experiences without hesitation as well as understanding of what value is important in a given life circumstances. With regard to ibasho, students engaged in valuable experiences with their close others and shared information on their own experiences with these others. When these interactions happened, students felt that they could be who they really were and that they received genuine care within their close relationships. These interactions were conditioned by shared experience values and trust between students and their close others. Finally, in regard to houkou-sei, students associated their present experiences with their past or future in their mind, and strategically chose experiences that were clearly relevant to their past or future. Doing so made students feel that their current lives were leading to their desired future, and were built on their meaningful past. Leisure was found to pertain to each of these three pathways to pursue ikigai. Specifically, leisure activity participation, satisfaction with one’s leisure life, and positive evaluation of leisure experiences strongly predicted a higher level of ikigai perception. Finally, I discuss my findings in relation to three distinct bodies of knowledge: ikigai (e.g., the new ikigai theories and measures), leisure (e.g., leisure valuation as a distinct mechanism), and positive psychology (e.g., comparisons between my ikigai sub-theories and existing concepts in positive psychology). I also provide practical implications in light of ikigai policies (e.g., emphasis on leisure’s roles unlike past productivity-centred political discourses), as well as recreation and mental health services for university students (e.g., leisure education programs based on the four experience values for keiken). My dissertation’s key limitations include: (a) its focus on the Japanese university student population, (b) potential sample biases, (c) limited time for the qualitative study, and (d) validity and reliability concerns regarding some parts of the quantitative study. For future research, I recommend the application of my ikigai theories to different populations (e.g., older adults, non-Japanese), the use longitudinal and interventional designs to test my theories’ causality, further validation of my newly developed scales, and examination of multiple life domains to discern what unique roles leisure plays in people’s pursuit of ikigai.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Iwasaki, Yoshitaka (Faculty of Extension)
    • Smale, Bryan (Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, University of Waterloo)
    • Masuda, Taka (Department of Psychology)
    • Holt, Nicholas (Physical Education and Recreation)
    • Fox, Karen (Physical Education and Recreation)