Actfulness for greater wellbeing and sustainable growth

6 September 2022

Japanese version: 1 June 2022

Masahiro Koibuchi
Center for Policy and the Economy


  • We propose the concept of actfulness as a key to enhancing personal wellbeing
  • Actfulness generates four signature types of value that contribute to the sustainable growth of businesses and areas
  • Visualization and connection foster collective action toward achieving actfulness

Actfulness holds the key to wellbeing

The word wellbeing is in vogue. Assuming we have a certain level of material wealth, wellbeing describes a state of overall fulfillment, including the mental and social aspects of our lives. Even under the Vision for a Digital Garden City Nation proposed by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, achieving a state of wellbeing is included as a goal alongside a sustainable environment, society, and economy.

According to the Public Opinion Survey on the Life of the People conducted by the Cabinet Office, since 1979 the majority have prioritized this sense of life satisfaction over material wealth.* This could also be interpreted as meaning that Japan’s citizens have not achieved the state of wellbeing they desire.

In broad terms, wellbeing has remained out of reach for the country because, outside of the major urban centers, services supporting the activities of residents have not made sufficient use of data and new technologies.

Such services are now starting to do exactly that, thus improving their convenience and efficiency while also reducing costs. But simply having a host of individual services at hand will be insufficient to achieve wellbeing. We need to make full use of technologies and data to create and expand opportunities to experience fulfillment including: excitement and connection with others, the pursuit of self-realization, engagement in altruism, and contribution to society and SDGs.

Furthermore, increasing the efficiency of services alone does not translate into increased consumption. Now that living standards have reached a certain level and wages have been stagnant for so long, when Japanese citizens decide to spend their money, they are more likely to spend on services that give this sense of fulfillment rather than on services for daily living. And when consumption increases, businesses will step up investment, and the growth of an area’s economy will shift to sustainability.

We propose actfulness as a way to achieve wellbeing. This concept is aimed at creating opportunities for and increasing the value of individual’s activities. This is achieved by tailoring information and services to each individual’s own values and day-to-day situation. Ultimately, it means putting people in a position to do what excites them when they want. Such actfulness will allow individuals to achieve wellbeing and underpin the sustainable growth of businesses and areas.

*In the 2021 survey, 53.4% of respondents answered life satisfaction versus 45.1% for material wealth

The four values generated by actfulness services

Services embodying the actfulness concept would help people navigate the various individual offerings relevant to their current and potential needs. These services generate four signature types of value for achieving wellbeing and sustained economic growth (Figure 1).
[Figure 1] Actfulness the key to deliver wellbeing and sustainable growth
[Figure 1] Actfulness the key to deliver wellbeing and sustainable growth
Source: Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc.
The first value is Wish: achieving ambitions. This refers to someone’s current or potential desire to achieve something someday. Realizing one dream generates new ambitions, creating a positive cycle.

The second is New: making discoveries. This refers to noticing and having personal experience of value one had not previously perceived. The new joy felt at that time provides a major emotional uplift and leads to subsequent activities.

The third value is Great: enjoying value beyond expectations. Compared with the first and second values that are borne of new activities, Great increases the sense of satisfaction derived from an already planned action. People who feel value beyond their expectations are more likely to repeat the activity and recommend it to other people.

The NPO Atami Kicollys, which works in the forest conservation space, is a real-life example of these three values. The organization was originally set up by people who had studied forestry in Atami, a city in Shizuoka Prefecture. Many of its current members come from a wide range of backgrounds unrelated to the timber field. While logging is at the heart of its activities, the NPO is also working to provide relaxing forest spaces for local residents to access or for education programs on nature, as well as supplying local restaurants with tableware made from timber sourced from forest thinning.

Comparing this with the three actfulness values described above, we can see that the Atami Kicollys members aspire to protect forests (Wish), engage in new activities such as forest experiences or nature education (New), and create added value beyond expectations through their tableware supply to local restaurants (Great).

In addition, by raising money through crowdfunding and providing gifts to those who donate, Atami Kicollys has successfully fostered local activity while bringing on board supporters from outside the immediate area. As well as increasing the members’ own actfulness and improving wellbeing, the activities bind in all sorts of other people, promoting further consumer action and generating new business opportunities. Actfulness services need to provide these functions of promoting participation in initiatives like Atami Kicollys’s, fostering action, and expanding the program.

Actfulness services also deliver a fourth value, Smooth: solving problems, which creates the physical and emotional space to be able to undertake activities in line with the other three values. The services minimize the burden of taking action and make processes more efficient by saving time and effort.

A host of services are already available. For example, in the mobility space, multiple companies are already at work on Mobility as a Service (MaaS) apps to provide a single place to book, use, and pay for various transportation options.

In the MaaS domain, services are starting to appear that integrate bookings for transportation options to get to leisure facilities, such as tourist sites. Looking at this through the lens of actfulness, we see that the key goal is to deliver the services needed at the right time and to fit the situation the target user finds themselves in. Making transportation more efficient translates directly to problem solving.

Actfulness services meeting these criteria prompt new activity and create business opportunities, which triggers more action by individuals. This synergy can improve individual wellbeing and lead to sustainable growth for business and local communities.

Towards collective action by local governments and businesses

We think that conventional interactions between local governments and business, whereby companies develop their own services in line with government-proposed frameworks, is not enough to foster both wellbeing and sustainable growth in areas.

First, local authorities and companies need to understand how better wellbeing among residents can translate into sustainable growth and increased value for both government and business. Furthermore, local governments and business need to work as one on common targets aimed at achieving wellbeing. We look for the various organizations involved to work together, taking a collective approach to maximizing outcomes.

This type of collective impact needs to be created between local governments and businesses, and also between the various local companies, including those that compete directly with each other. Rather than competing over a limited pie within an area (markets, customers), we look for the pie itself to be expanded through an actfulness approach to connections based on partnering, sharing, and integration of both data and services. When the slices of the pie are larger, companies can start to understand the opportunities for market creation or the value of investment in new services.

Instead of pursuing business results each of their own accord, local companies and governments must harmonize their efforts and create a new system whereby the work done by each to better the area as a whole also translates into new business value.

Using visualization and connection to achieve breakthroughs

Two catalysts are paramount here: visualization of the current situation, initiative progress, and outcome results for each participating entity; and connection between the entities involved (Figure 2).
[Figure 2] Fostering collective action through visualization and connection
[Figure 2] Fostering collective action through visualization and connection
Source: Mitsubishi Research Institute
Technological progress, such as advances in sensors and AI, has made it much easier to obtain and utilize a wide range of information relating to activity by individuals or in specific localities. This makes it possible to readily quantify outcomes and create visualizations.

For efficient progress in multi-company public-private initiatives, visualization must cover processes, progress, and results against targets aligned with the local government's policy framework, and these insights must be shared among participants to foster a sense of responsibility in the initiative as a whole. In other words, rather than simply using relatively simple indicators — customer traffic, business earnings, local GDP — participating entities need to look at more multidimensional outcomes, such as user activity volume or satisfaction levels. The key is to incorporate technologies that can be used to measure outcomes, such as analysis of data from movement trackers on mobile phones or emotional recognition from camera reel photos.

Visualization is also important for the individual. Technological advances have made it possible to understand as data the content and values behind activities. This spans preferences, intentions, and needs seen in travel histories or purchasing trends. This information can be returned to the individual so they can visualize the outcomes of their chosen actions, which has the potential to increase the individuals’ satisfaction with their choices and kindle a desire for further activities. The technology also has the potential to create connections with other people involved in similar activities, encourage the formation of new communities, and motive others to take action.

Turning to the second catalyst, connection, we see that increasingly advanced ICT can form connections between organizations or different industries that were simply not possible before. This technology can remove physical barriers, even at the individual level, and provide ways to connect such as through the sharing of knowledge and skills. This in turn results in services that best satisfy individual needs.

Mitsubishi Research Institute was involved in a program in the Otemachi-Marunouchi-Yurakucho (Daimaruyu) area of Tokyo called Daimaruyu SDGs ACT5 that aims to advance five themes to drive action for achieving the SDGs. The program demonstrated how an app that visualized how much work was being done as a whole and by separate in-company divisions to achieve the SDGs, could create a sense of community and togetherness, thereby fostering action.

Making information on initiative outcomes immediately available can improve services and accelerate action on business development. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is building an information infrastructure called the Tokyo Data Platform (TDPF) and is piloting a scheme to increase customer traffic through the consolidation and dissemination of real-time information on how busy retail areas and stores are.

In a related article, we focus on regional currency schemes as a specific measure to create connections between individuals, businesses, and regions, and identify trends.

We hope that our proposed concept of actfulness can provide clues on how to achieve individual wellbeing while also realizing sustainable regional growth.