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

  • Shintaro KonoEmail author
  • Gordon J. Walker
Research Paper


Our understanding of well-being has benefited 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 structural 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, effortful, stimulating, or comforting. Second, they “diversified” by engaging with multiple values (e.g., enjoyment and comfort) within or across experiences. Third, they balanced competing values (i.e., enjoyment vs. effort, 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 subsequent quantitative results. Our findings are discussed in light of the ikigai and eudaimonic well-being literature.


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



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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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Health and Recreation Professions, College of Education and Human ServicesSouthern Illinois University CarbondaleCarbondaleUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and RecreationUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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