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What is Happiness to Japanese Salarymen?:
If You Share Happiness with Others, “It will Return to You Twofold.”

Hironori Higashide
Professor, Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda University

Leaving aside the question of “What is happiness?” for now, if asked “Do you want to be happy?” the majority of people would probably say “Yes, of course.”

Are Japanese people unhappy? In fact, the answer is not necessarily. My research group conducted a survey a few years ago, targeting 400 Tokyo businessmen or “Salarymen,” in which we asked them to tell us to what degree they felt happy. As you can see from the figure below, the majority said that they felt happy to some degree. However, looking at the various surveys that rank levels of happiness, overall, the countries of Northern Europe and Switzerland place the highest among the major advanced nations, while Japan places quite low down in almost all cases.

We know that the environment and culture of each country has an impact on the level of happiness. It seems that gradual changes of some kind need to be made to Japan’s situation in order for more people living in Japan to feel a greater sense of happiness.

Modeling the “Process of Becoming Happy”

In the context of business, there is not a lot of research relating to happiness, but the model in Figure 2 summarizes research results relating to the “Happiness of people at work” from the literature in social science and psychology.

Due to issues of space, it is difficult to explain the model in detail, but the right-hand side of Figure 2 sums up the “effects of feeling happiness.” It is full of good things: people become altruistic, make friends, become more creative in their work, as well as becoming healthier and live longer. These “effects of happiness” in turn further increase the levels of your own happiness, but the part that everyone is most interested in is “how do people become happy in the first place?” that is, the left-hand side of Figure 2.

Does Money Make Us Happy?

If we earn more money, if we become more famous, will it make us happier? Above a certain level of income, the answer is, “No.” Until the stage at which the basic needs of daily life are met, happiness increases rapidly as income rises. In other words, to the poor, more money is a requirement for greater happiness. However, once income exceeds a certain level, money is no longer able to buy happiness.

Employment is also important. The influence of unemployment is not limited to the loss of source of income. People lose their self-respect and identity as working people, as well as the relationships they have nurtured through their working experience. Not everything can be controlled by the strength of an individual. If the framework of the nation state is to continue to exist, it is clear who needs to perform what sort of role.

There is No Happiness on a Desert Island

A person living alone on a desert island probably cannot live there happily. The reason for this is that there is no community of people based on trust.

The following are often suggested as the three basic components needed to be happy:

- Someone to love
- Something to do
- Something to hope for

We live our lives surrounded by many different kinds of relationships: family, relatives, friends, colleagues, and business partners, etc. Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, once said, “If you try to pull the water in a basin towards you, it will only slip away through your fingers in the opposite direction. But if you push the water away from you towards others, it will certainly come back to you.” Can we all experience happiness at seeing the happiness of others? To modify the famous line of the character from the currently popular TV series, Naoki Hanzawa, “If you share happiness with others, ‘it will return to you twofold.’” This also seems to be scientifically proven.

A Good Job, Where You Do Not Need to Watch the Clock

So what is the ideal work? Something where you can forget the time as you work, and at the end of a day’s work, you do not even feel tired. Even better if you can find “meaningful work,” which makes you feel like you are contributing to society through your work.

In Figure 3, I have summarized the items from the survey mentioned above which showed a strong correlation with high levels of happiness among “Salarymen.” In order to create the ideal working environment, these factors need to be satisfied to increase the satisfaction of people at work.

To a greater or lesser extent, all human beings, myself included, make social comparisons between themselves and other people. In life’s victories and defeats, we cannot ignore the reality that we enjoy a brief moment of pleasure when we look at the unhappiness of others.

The items summed up in Figure 4 are factors confirmed in our survey as having the role, not of increasing satisfaction, but of reducing dissatisfaction in the workplace. Compared to various research conducted in other countries, in Japan, reducing dissatisfaction with the workplace has a relatively strong impact on improving performance by companies and increasing the sense of happiness of individuals, and as such it is an area which demands further research.

The Importance of Continuing to Walk in the Direction of Hope

Finally, I would like to end this article with some thoughts on the role of hope.

“Meaningful work” is also a form of hope, but here let us think of our lives in terms of a sort of journey. Dostoevsky’s famous words offer a hint: “It wasn’t the New World that mattered... Columbus died almost without seeing it; and not really knowing what he had discovered. It’s life that matters, nothing but life—the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.” What sort of journey we design and implement for ourselves is key to realizing our hopes and dreams and becoming happy.

Looking back over research into entrepreneurs, it seems that human beings are creatures that can only grow within the limits of the size of their hopes and dreams. On the other hand, we also know that if the size of the dream is always above and beyond the level of capabilities, the stress of this can also generate unhappiness.

There is a Japanese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The prescription for achieving big dreams is to break them down into the cumulative achievement of little dreams. Even if you have a big dream, it can be achieved only by continued pursuit of the joy of little achievements. With this in mind as we go about our lives, I hope we can live by enjoying even the uncertainty of the global era.

Hironori Higashide
Professor, Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda University

1985: Graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Keio University.
1985: Entered Kajima Corporation.
1992: Gained an MBA in Management from Imperial College London, UK.
1998: Became Lecturer, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University.
2000: Gained a Doctorate in Management from Imperial College London, UK.
2002: Became Associate Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University.
2006: Became Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University.
2008: Became Professor, Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda University.

[Published works]
Management and Support of Venture Companies [Bencha Kigyo no Keiei to Shien], (Published by Nikkei, 2004; Shuichi Matsuda (Supervising editor) and Waseda Entrepreneurial Research Unit (Editor)); Companies that Spin Happiness [Shiawase o Tsumugu Kaisha], (Published by One Proof, 2010; co-authored with Hideo Okubo); “Born Global Entrepreneurial Theory [Boongurobaru Kigyoron], (Published by One Proof, 2011; co-authored with Hideo Okubo); “Entrepreneurship: From the Ability to Get Things Done to the Ability to Be Happy” (Published in Chinese by Hanlu, 2013; co-authored with Hideo Okubo).