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Here's how Japan is embracing the concept of well-being

Here's how Japan is embracing the concept of well-being

Can we measure well-being? Here's what Japan says. Image: Freepik.

Makiko Eda
Consultant, World Economic Forum Tokyo
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The concept of well-being has expanded from a personal state of happiness to an inclusive shift in the way society and the economy operates.
  • In Japan, the government's "new capitalism" aims to balance growth and redistribute wealth.
  • By placing greater value on well-being, Japan is building a society that values people and the planet, not just profit.

What was once traditionally referred to as a state of happiness has since become a medical term. Today, “well-being” has become a comprehensive concept, referring not only to the fulfilment of emotional and physical aspects, but also the safety and enrichment of culture, food, and the environment. In other words, it is about the purpose of life.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s concept of "new capitalism" entails a commitment in investing in "human capital" and "people" as vital to create originality, ingenuity, and new ideas. Well-being is indeed a crucial part of Japan’s strategy moving forward.

As Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum points out in his book, The Great Narrative, “As the world inevitably moves in a direction that uses a different lens to measure progress and becomes more conscious of the need to preserve what GDP doesn’t measure (like biodiversity and social cohesion), we may take the view, at least in rich countries, that living with a few basis points of lower GDP growth doesn’t amount to a catastrophe”. Professor Schwab also writes that “Japan’s high living standards and elevated well-being indicators offer a salutary lesson that there is hope even in a quasi-absence of total GDP growth (but decent GDP per capita growth).”

Have you read?

In an interview for The Great Narrative, author and public speaker, Shu Yamaguchi mentions a shift from “plateau society” to a “climbing society”. “Japan in the 20th century was a climbing society, climbing the mountains and catching up with the United States and the United Kingdom. It worked very well but doesn’t anymore. This is not stagnation, but a completion of modernization” he says.

In Japan, the trend of shifting away from material wealth alone and towards an emphasis on inclusive well-being is influencing the strategies and business ideas of companies and organizations. People are increasingly focusing on non-numerical values including cultural enrichment and the relentless pursuit of gastronomy, in favour of liveable and safe societies and communities. Research on the mechanisms of well-being and methods of measurement are also in progress.

How are companies incorporating well-being?

Some companies are incorporating the concept of well-being into their organizational and human resource strategies and their business operations as adopting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) becomes crucial. How companies treat people and employees may also be seen as an important indicator. The Forum's report on ESG metrics describes "people" as one of the pillars of the ESG indicator, which includes health and the well-being.

Rakuten is one of the companies that is conscious of well-being – it has developed guidelines and checklist tools related to "collective well-being" and has a rare position of Chief Well-Being Officer (CWO) and has placed well-being at the core of its corporate culture development.

Happiness Planet, a start-up company originated from Hitachi, is engaged in providing software and services aimed at improving individual and organizational happiness. Happiness Planet views the minds of employees as important "capital”. For example, the company provides solutions focused on employee happiness by utilizing biological and behavioural data. The company attempts to bridge the gap between management policies and employee work/behaviour by breaking down management policies, involving employees, and monitoring their participation.

What is Japan's government doing?

Japan’s government also puts forward the scientific basis for improving well-being and in creating new industries and services. Often, self-reporting happiness places Japan low among developed nations (the lowest level of well-being among the G7 countries) and efforts are underway to measure and understand well-being more scientifically.

The Moonshot project by the Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation of the Cabinet Office sets the goal of "creating a spiritually rich and dynamic society by 2050 by increasing mental peace of mind and vitality." The research on technologies and other means of achieving a spiritually rich state of mind with an aim to implement technologies and services that will increase mental peace and vitality has picked up speed, as the pandemic escalates suicide and depression.

National Research and Development, Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) also conducts research on Creation of New Services Based on Technology for Measuring and Evaluating People's State of Happiness. The major objective of this research is to shift from a "society optimized for economic growth" to a "society optimized for the individual’s potential," where well-being is seen as one of the key themes in the research world.

How is society embracing well-being?

The rise of the concept of well-being in society is also noteworthy. Along with the trend of moving away from pursuing physical growth, the need for sustainability in various activities is increasing, and in parallel, there is a renewed focus on religions and cultures that view things from a long time span.

Daiko Matsuyama of Myoshinji Temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism is active not only in Japan, but also around the world. Daiko notes that he has been requested by businesses and organization in Japan and abroad to talk about well-being, mindfulness, and "ikigai", a Japanese term that describes the idea of happiness, purpose and value in living.

There is a growing awareness among young people and their positive movements toward social activities and entrepreneurship to solve social issues suggests that steps are being taken to create well-being in society. To increase the well-being of society, it is crucial to review and change policy areas including social security, health, and public health through public, private and the youth.

As awareness of well-being is fostered among individuals, organizations, and society, new initiatives and values, including the creation of new businesses and markets, shift in mindset, and new ways of perceiving and presenting solutions to social issues become vital. We need a society that puts people in a place where they feel safe and comfortable that their well-being is taken good care of.

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