Obsessive anime fans are familiar with the term ‘otaku’. It is a term normally associated with people who are obsessed with anime and manga. But if you believe a South Korean professor who has spent years studying happiness and mental health, being genuinely happy requires being otaku.
‘Otaku’ is actually a Western term borrowed from the Japanese ‘taku’, referring to one’s home. It was a word coined in the 1990s to describe people who were obsessed with manga. An otaku person was so obsessed with manga that little else mattered – including doing things outside the home. Back then, the term was derogatory. It is a badge of honor these days.
Modern manga and anime lovers are proud to be referred to as otaku. They are proud to wear anime T-shirts and sweatshirts from Umai, while spending all weekend watching their favorite anime series. They are more than happy to be found at the break room table reading the latest manga release while eating lunch.
Otaku to Be Happy
As far as the previously mentioned South Korean professor is concerned, Kangwon National University’s Prof. Park Hyun Ju conducted surveys among university students. His team split the students into two groups – otaku and non-otaku – by asking certain questions regarding their passions, interests, and obsessions. They also surveyed the students regarding their general happiness.
The initial data revealed that about 70% were non-otaku. The remaining 30% were otaku. Even with such a significant disparity, the otaku group reported greater levels of happiness. The general happiness score among the otaku group was 43.17; the non-otaku group demonstrated an average happiness score of 40.21.
This led Prof. Park to theorize that people with stronger passions are happier. Those who show an intense interest in something specific seem to be happier because of it. The one thing Prof. Park couldn’t explain is why. He mentioned one possibility being that the otaku mindset gives people something to concentrate on and channel their energies into.
Otaku and a Sense of Purpose
Prof. Park’s research and conclusions do not seem that unusual in the grand scheme of things. Personal experience tells us as much. How so?
For starters, we all know people who seem to wander around aimlessly. They have no purpose or goal in life. They also seem to be the most unhappy. Is that by accident or coincidence? Not according to Prof. Park’s research. Such people are unhappy because they have nothing to pour their lives into. Therefore, they have no purpose and rarely feel any sense of accomplishment.
On the other hand, we also know people who pour all their time and energies into one or two things they are particularly passionate about. They are always busy with those things. That is what occupies their minds. Could they be happier because their obsessions bring them a sense of fulfillment and purpose? It sounds reasonable.
Not All Obsessions Are Good
To be fair, medical science suggests that not all obsessions are good. Some types of obsessive behavior can be taken to extremes, thereby leading to a total disruption of a person’s life. Perhaps that’s the difference between a healthy obsession and an unhealthy one. If something you are passionate about interferes with normal daily functioning, it is now a problem.
Does one have to be otaku to be genuinely happy? The jury is still out on that question. However, limited scientific research seems to indicate a link between the two. The more otaku you are, the happier you should be. At least that’s Prof. Park’s thinking in the aftermath of his recent university research.