Ikigai is a concept in the culture of Japan that describes a balance between life and purpose – the pursuit of a goal worthy of your time while providing satisfaction in the work itself, not just the result, like getting a paycheck at the end of the month, a concept that can seem quite alien today.

What is Ikigai?

The Oxford English Dictionary describes ikigai as “a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living”. It can be thought of as a pursuit that simply brings pleasure and enjoyment. More importantly, it’s also a mindset to adopt within that pursuit.

The word itself combines two Japanese words:

  1. Iki – meaning life or alive

  2. Gai – meaning result, fruit, worth, benefit

The resulting word Ikigai gives us – reason for living or meaning of life. It’s our sense of purpose. The scholar Michiko Kumano explained that the feeling of Ikigai within Japanese culture means to have the feeling of accomplishment, fulfilment and the satisfaction that’s felt when people pursue their passion. It’s important to note that these passions are a deliberate choice by the individual – work for the sake of the work rather than the reward – and not something imposed, like a job that one must take in order to live. However the two can be one and the same.

The Japanese psychologist Katsuya Inoue described Ikigai as being formed of two parts:

  • “sources or objects that bring value or meaning to life”

  • “a feeling that one’s life has value or meaning because of the existence of its source or object”

From there Inoue divides Ikigai into thirds:

  1. Social Ikigai – referring to that which are a benefit to society such as volunteering

  2. Non-social ikigai – referring to those which are not directly social – such as inner faith and self discipline

  3. Anti-social ikigai – referring to those which are fueled by emotions such as hate, envy and revenge

The concept of ikigai, and the search for a purpose worthy of one’s time has been credited to provide the Japanese people with long life, the resistance to retire, and living a healthy, happy existence. In contrast to the western way of life where people work jobs they often don’t like in order to retire as early as possible.

The origins of the word Ikigai itself seem to be found in the most basic of Japanese health and wellness traditions from as far back as the Heinan period running from 794 to 1185,, and the belief that our mental and emotional health is heavily influenced by one’s sense of purpose.

Michiko Kumano even drew comparisons to the Greek concept of eudaimonia – a path the ancient stoics sought to follow – meaning flourishing, or happiness. The feeling of wellness and resilient happiness that arises from a life well lived in alignment with our values and goals.

Similarly to the Stoic virtue of justice, which considers the wider community, Ikigai traditionally considers one’s purpose and how it influences the wider community around them.

How Can We Find Our Ikigai?

The concept of Ikigai is grounded in the individual, by that I mean that yours will depend upon your own blend of talents, passions, and the value you can bring to society, It’s often shown as a Venn diagram showing intersecting circles of:

  • What you love

  • What you are good at

  • What the world needs

  • What you can get paid for

However, often our ikigai is not immediately clear – we often have no idea how we can take all of these points and find where they intersect, no can tell us because they don’t know us that deeply, and it’s unlikely we’ll stumble across it accidentally, although there is a chance this can happen, where people land in jobs that satisfy them completely and for life.

The path to finding our own ikigai lies in self-reflection, effort and time.

The buro-scientist Ken Mogi, working out og Tokyo, Japan, explains in the Little Book of Ikigai that it doesn’t matter if “you are a cleaner of the famous Shinkansen bullet train, the mother of a newborn child or a Michelin-starred sushi chef’ – if you can find pleasure and satisfaction in what you do and you’re good at it, congratulations you have found your ikigai.”

Something as simple as a hobby you love, raising a family, or the everyday tasks you enjoy can all lead you to a better understanding about what your ikigai could be.

When struggling to find the answer to some of these questions , Hector Garcia, author of Ikigai: The Secret to a Long and Happy Life suggests that awareness one of the most important steps to answers.

Whatever you find yourself doing, ask yourself the following:

  • Is it something that I love doing?

  • Is it something the world needs?

  • Is it something I’m good at?

  • Is it something I can get paid for? If it’s not something you can get paid for, is what you can get paid for a good trade-off for really financially supporting your ikigai?

If we make this practice a habit, day by day it may well lead us to our ikigai.

Similar Posts