How to embrace Japan’s philosophy of peaceful happiness

Finding fulfillment in one’s ordinary life

Kaki Okumura
3 min readAug 11


Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

Happiness is a seemingly simple feeling, but the pursuit of happiness often feels like a complex endeavor.

We make hundreds, if not thousands, of choices every day in the pursuit of happiness– from what we choose to wear and eat today, to studying hard at school to guarantee an easier life in the future. Many people often feel they are doing so much to be happy.

So why does it feel so difficult to attain?

Japanese culture has not figured out happiness, but perhaps its attitude toward happiness can guide us to a place that feels closer.

The Japanese nuance for happiness

The Japanese word for happiness is ‘shiawase’ (幸せ), but it is slightly different from American ‘happiness’.

Shiawase isn’t used to describe pure pleasure, but carries connotations of satisfaction, contentment, and peace. It’s a contemplative feeling, one that is not just felt but often self-observed.

The word shiawase (listen to the pronunciation if you’re curious) comes from the phrase ‘nashi awaseru’ which is not a noun, but the verb “act together”. In this way, happiness was historically understood not as a state of being, but an action– to find happiness is not just feeling happy, but it’s an experience with someone or something else.

Nashi (為し): Act, do

Awaseru (合わせる): Put together, match

Nashiawaseru (為し合わせる): Act together

To experience shiawase we must feel gratitude for someone or something else– to feel shiawase is to feel thankful: How did I get so lucky to spend time with these wonderful people, in this wonderful environment?

Ahh… I am so lucky, I am shiawase.

If you feel that your pursuit of happiness has felt less like a journey, and more like running in fruitless circles, perhaps it could make sense to slow…



Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱