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Searching for ikigai

August 26, 2017

The retirement trap.

We’ve all seen or heard of the person that eagerly anticipates and then celebrates their retirement. Then, over the course of a few short years, they seem to deteriorate before our eyes. Admittedly that may be a melodramatic characterization, and it’s certainly anecdotal, but research has shown that deterioration after retirement is more than anecdotal, and that it can impact quality of life in diverse areas.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) published a paper in 2016[1] that quantitated some of the adverse outcomes of retirement.[2] They reported that retirement:

  • Decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by about 40%.
  • Increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40%.
  • Increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60%.
  • Increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by about 60%.

It’s not just retirement that can be detrimental to one’s health, it’s the length of time that one is retired that may be problematic, which is ironic as people tend to lionize early retirement. The same IEA paper noted the following sequelae of doubling the number of years in retirement.2

  • Decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by between 10% and 30%.
  • Increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by 17%.
  • Increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by 22%.
  • Increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by 19%.

Ikigai – an intervention to ameliorate retirement deterioration?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that simplistically means believing that one’s life is worth living. One of the best ways to understand what Ikigai means is to study the following Venn Diagram from the Toronto Star.[3]

Ikigai

Ikigai is the confluence of doing something one loves, something they view as important, it’s something they are good at it, and are in some way they are rewarded for their activity. It sounds plausible, but does finding the sweet spot of ikigai improve health outcomes? Actually, that may very well be the case.

Ikigai and health

A paper published in 2008 followed 43,000 Japanese adults for seven years and measured health outcomes and having a sense of ikigai.[4] The researchers’ statistically significant conclusion was “subjects who did not find a sense of ikigai were associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.”

If one accepts that a having a sense of ikigai is beneficial, the next challenge is how to achieve that state. Many people find it through rewarding work or volunteer activity. I suspect very few find it through social media. Although, I suppose avid Tweeters may take exception to that statement.

The nascent retiree

The thing for nascent retirees to understand is that they are entering a potentially challenging period of their lives. The much-anticipated pot at the end of the retirement rainbow may be gold salts – not a pot of gold. Retirement is not a time to kick back and do nothing, It’s a time to explore new interests and new ways you can make a difference in the world.

Playing golf or tennis every day may sound wonderful, but engaging in purposefully activity generates dividends on far many more levels. Retirement is a time to search for your ikigai.

[1] https://iea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Work%20Longer,%20Live_Healthier.pdf

[2] https://iea.org.uk/in-the-media/press-release/retirement-causes-a-major-decline-in-physical-and-mental-health-new-resea

[3] https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/2016/09/06/why-north-americans-should-consider-dumping-age-old-retirement-pasricha.html

[4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5255643_Sense_of_Life_Worth_Living_Ikigai_and_Mortality_in_Japan_Ohsaki_Study

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