Feeling beat up before it’s time

A new survey by Japan’s health ministry has found that Japanese young people in the 20-to-39 age bracket are more overworked and unhappy than ever. The main reason for unhappiness was, unsurprisingly, work-related stress. Amid the grim situation the survey revealed, the only good news was happiness levels rose through life, becoming highest for those aged over 65.

The survey also sought to find what young people do after their stressed-out workweek. Apparently most young people spend their weekends doing nothing much at all. More than one-third said they spent days off “doing nothing or dozing.” Older age groups were more active, with only 25 percent reporting doing nothing.

If younger workers feel they can only unwind through inactivity, they are highly mistaken. A good sleep-in or afternoon nap on the tatami can be marvelously restorative, but the human mind and body needs soothing, engaging activity to fully recover from stress.

Unfortunately the most common weekend activity, over 40 percent for all age groups, was surfing the Internet. While the Internet is so diverse as to be difficult to categorize or judge, and the survey did not ask exactly what sites people actually went to, surfing the net is a solitary activity with little face-to-face interaction and even less physical movement.

Just over 10 percent of those between 20 and 39 reported doing any exercise, sports or even walking, compared to over 30 percent of those over 65.

The picture of the typical Japanese weekend that emerges from this survey is one of isolation and inactivity. The most common thing people did when they were anxious or worried was reported to be taking time to relax and sleep. For young people, even eating came in ahead of hobbies or sports.

Companies can help reverse this trend for their most important asset. Following the lead of many progressive companies, membership in health clubs, gyms and exercise facilities can be bought at reduced rates for large groups. The ministry of health also needs to ensure that companies continue to reduce overtime work. When working hours continue until late at night, few employees will consider doing exercise or other activities. The current vicious cycle of overwork followed by inactivity needs to be changed.

Companies and the government should understand that a humane and efficient workplace is one where employees are not stressed out but maintain high energy. What employees do in their off time is their choice, but they need to better understand what they do in their leisure hours greatly affects their working ability and their general level of mental and physical health.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Until I came to Japan I never met anyone who replied to the question “What’s your hobby?” with the answer “Sleeping.” Sadly I myself am almost in that category now.

    • paul tarsuss

      Yes, but do you know about the “Ancient High Performance Electric Motors Discovered That Are Still In Production”? Look it up. Amazing but true.

    • Jay

      Or eating, shopping, watching TV . . . it really is sad. I see my friends and relatives at home camping, canoeing, going to music festivals, biking, gardening; in short, enjoying summer to the max. But here? There is work, study, and then recovery from work, study.

  • Steve Jackman

    “Amid the grim situation the survey revealed, the only good news was happiness levels rose through life, becoming highest for those aged over 65.”

    This might not necessarily be such good news for the current cohort of 20-39 year olds, since they will likely not have the same financial security when they reach 65, as compared to those who are over 65 today.

    I would guess that today’s over 65 have much better pension benefits, since most of them worked as full time regular employees during Japan’s heyday. Sadly, the percent of 20-39 year olds holding regular full time employment is much lower now, so many of them will struggle financially when they retire (that is, if they can afford to retire at all).

  • MPrck

    It’s not just Japan ! It’s here in America too. The economic ponzi scheme of the current system is unsustainable for most. As prices for the most basics of survival go higher, the malaise does too. The bulk of my viewing content now is Asian. Japanese, and Korean. Hollywood is sick. It’s message is violence, and sexual.

    I assume the desired effect is what is happening to us. Islands devoid of contact, with no true love even if we knew what that meant. More effort required to maintain the basics, a treadmill if you will, that you just don’t get anywhere on. Fear permeates so great of falling off, and not being able to get back up, that it tires one out.

    I assume those that are treading on the many enjoy our discomfort. I assume they live for it, while we just die. Death, I think that is the main secret to the happiness of older people. We are confronting the fact it just goes by so fast, and so many we knew are dead, it almost brings about a clarity of thought. A realization that we look into ourselves to see. It has to be made better. The system needs to change.