“Karoshi” or the Japanese word for “overwork death,” while initially a term reserved for the nation of nearly 126 million. Only a few years ago, a Japanese woman died from Karoshi after logging 159 hours of overtime in a month.
A labor restructuring spurred by the 1973 oil crisis has created an environment where working over 70 hours a week is viewed as normal and honorable.
“However, by the nineties, the ravages of this phenomenon were seen, with stories of employees falling dead in their offices after an extended working day or who decided to commit suicide because they could no longer bear the work pressure,” according to the article in the Institute for Future of Education.
Japanese researchers and sociologists have been studying the cultural phenomenon that was believed to be unique to their country to the point that the Ministry of Health of Japan legally recognized that karoshi exists as a severe cultural issue in 1987.
While Japan has been working to address the issue, it has since become a worldwide problem, with the World Health Organization warning people that working over 55 hours per week is a health hazard.
The report published by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization notes that long work shifts increase deaths from strokes and cardiac disease, citing data that overwork and work-related stress led to 745,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke in 2016.
It was a landmark study, the first global study of its kind, that analyzes illnesses and deaths that come as a result of excessive, prolonged work, with the conclusion being that working in excess of 55 hours per week increased the risk of stroke by 35% and the risk of dying from heart disease by 17%, sometimes even decades after overworking.
Ironically, it often takes something cataclysmic – a form of intense trauma or a close brush with death – for many people to realize there is more; that they are meant for more and life can actually be so much more.
The very same drive that compels us to succeed in work should extend to other areas. While this may logically be understood, it takes real dedication and a deep dive from introspection to be able to embrace a new path. Purpose in life must extend beyond work.
In the book Life Could Be Sweeter, author William Sinunu discusses his near-death experience and “that his own exhausting career-driven existence was preventing him from truly living, and he needed to find a way to regain the health, happiness, and balance he had known growing up abroad and had witnessed during his career as a flight attendant.”
He discusses cultural norms and differences from across the globe and shares nuggets of truth from his experiences to show how other cultures experience life.
“Search the world for the secrets to life’s greatest emotion,” flashes up on the trailer for the documentary film called Happy, which takes viewers on a “journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy.”
There is wisdom in the world– in how people choose to live their lives. We can learn from others, if we choose to learn.