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What is Ikigai and how can Ikigai Improve Your Life?

You can define your Ikigai as the intersection between what you are good at, what you love, and what you value. When all three of these factors align and are congruent, you will likely have discovered your Ikigai.

What Is Ikigai And How Can Ikigai Improve Your Life?

Published on:

18 Apr 2024

Is it possible to find your zone of brilliance using Ikigai?

How do we use Ikigai to create a life where we’re firing on all cylinders?

Even more important, can we get paid to live passionately in that state of brilliance?

What is Ikigai? 

In some parts of the world, the average lifespan is longer than in others. In his research, Dan Buettner dubbed these regions “Blue Zones.”

Japan and Okinawa, in particular, are such regions. The key to maintaining health and vitality among Okinawa residents is having a ‘goal’ in life: Ikigai.

‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese concept combining the terms iki, which means “life,” and gai, which means “benefit.” Besides eating habits (including green tea) and living environment, this Japanese concept is essential for ageing healthily and living long and happy. While going through a difficult time, your ‘Ikigai’ keeps you looking forward to the future.

But Ikigai is more that just finding your zone of brilliance, your venn-diagram of purpose, it’s about feeling a part of your community. It’s knowing that your work, your life every day isn’t just helping you but the wider community that you are a part of.

History of Ikigai 

Ikigai means your ‘reason for being.’ Your Ikigai is your life purpose or bliss. It brings you joy and inspires you to get out of bed daily.

Hasegawa believes that the word Ikigai originates from the Heian period (794-1185). “Gai comes from the word kai, which means shell in Japanese. From there, it evolved into the word Ikigai, which means value in living.” Okinawa is a Japanese island south of the mainland. The island has the world’s highest proportion of people over 100 years old, and Ikigai plays a significant role in Okinawan culture. In 2009, Dan Buettner gave a TED Talk about his research on the Blue Zones—this officially catapulted Ikigai into mainstream popularity.

“Japanese dictionaries define Ikigai in such terms as Ikiru Hariri, yorokobi, meate (something to live for, the joy and goal of living) and ikite iru dake no neuchi, ikite inu kōfuku, rieki (a life worth living, the happiness and benefit of being alive).

A life without Ikigai lacks passion, purpose, usefulness, and fulfilment. Can we put that off until tomorrow?

Whenever you live a life of purpose, you wake up happy and excited to be alive. What’s your honest assessment; do you bounce out of bed each morning? Did you sleep the night before feeling at ease and grateful?

Why is Ikigai so relevant in today’s world?

The West identifies our passions as what we love to do, while Ikigai also emphasizes doing something we love within a group and fulfilling a role that benefits that group.

For example, A fisherman’s Ikigai might be to hone his craft so that he can help successfully feed his family.

In some cases, an Ikigai may be the gift of wisdom that a grandmother imparts to the young generation, whereas for other people, it might be directing the church choir every week.

Ikigai is sometimes compared to happiness in the West, but they are not the same.

As opposed to finding happiness in some final goal that promises bliss, ikigai refers to finding happiness in daily activities.

 The concept encompasses finding meaning in the smallest things in life.

An individual’s Ikigai gives them a reason to live even when they are miserable at the moment. Victor Frankl wrote about this in his epic book, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning.’ In other words, one can still experience their Ikigai during times of hardship or suffering. It fosters resilience.

Look around you, and you’ll notice that everyone is running behind something. Someone’s running behind money, someone’s running behind a materialistic lifestyle, someone’s running behind toxic relationships, and the list goes on. But is anyone truly happy? Are you happy and satisfied even if you have all the riches you desire? The answer for most of us is a no, and that’s the sad reality.

Stress doesn’t end there. Many people in the country put in long hours at the office, governed by strict hierarchical rules. Overwork is common, and the last trains home on weekdays around midnight are always crowded with suit-clad commuters. As soon as we reach our goals, we start to chase something new. The more we focus on staying busy, the more we stop giving time to ourselves and the people around us. This applies to every aspect of our professional and personal life. But how do they manage everything?

This may be a result of what the Japanese call Ikigai.

How do you prepare yourself for Ikigai?

Preparing yourself for Ikigai means you shape your mind and vision of the world & life itself so that it’s conducive to adopting Ikigai.

You don’t want to be “pearls before swine,” so you reject the amazing results Ikigai’s influence could provide.

  1. Do you think you can offer something special?

  2. Do you think it’s OK to get paid for providing a service?

  3. Do you know what life is like when you’re always “going with the flow?”

  4. Do you care to live your life on a mission?

Ikigai is about firing on all cylinders. It’s like being high all the time. You have so much energy and no brain pain surrounding your daily activities. You’re in the mood to squeeze and crush everything about life.

Ikigai is about being efficient. You’ve lived an entire life up until now, and there’s no use in throwing it away. Ikigai is about utilising everything you’ve acquired up until now in your favour. The skills, ideas, mindsets, inventions, goals, and accomplishments that are already a part of your life can be mastered for your happiness and utilised for the benefit of others.

What can your Ikigai help you to do?

  1. Design your ideal work lifestyle

  2. Build strong social connections at work

  3. Maintain a healthy work-life balance

  4. Pursue your career dreams

When you know your Ikigai and understand its meaning, you’re aligned with the work you’ve longed to do and the work the world needs you to do.

What brings you Ikigai?

Meiko Kamiya did not just popularize Ikigai in Japan. Several researchers (including professor Hasegawa) have used her findings to try and understand the true meaning of Ikigai.

In Kamiya’s works, she argues that each person has a specific focus for their Ikigai. It can be related to the past, present, or future, and it can include a variety of things, such as:

  1. Observations

  2. Memories

  3. Well-being

  4. Interests

  5. Friends and family

  6. Social responsibilities

  7. Events in the future

  8. Intuition

A person’s Ikigai can be fueled by any of these, leading to several positive feelings of life satisfaction:

  1. Realization of one’s self and willingness to live

  2. Fulfilment in every aspect of life

  3. The desire to live

  4. The feeling of being alive

  5. A feeling of control

We call these feelings Ikigai-kan. In the West, we’re often driven by similar motivational forces that we’re not always aware of. It is common in Japanese culture to connect happiness and well-being to the Ikigai, finding meaning and staying strong in the face of stressful everyday situations. Often, the Japanese can be credited with their endurance, discipline, and determination based on their self-defined Ikigai.

How do you find your Ikigai?

You can define your Ikigai as the intersection between what you are good at, what you love, and what you value. When all three of these factors align and are congruent, you will likely have discovered your Ikigai. Try to recall when you lost track of time while doing something and forgot to eat lunch or dinner because you were so engrossed in it. It is commonly referred to as being in the “flow.”

When you focus on tasks that seem to “flow” to you, you are more likely to discover your Ikigai and deepen your connection to it. Life will become more meaningful and enjoyable for you. Having identified your meaningful tasks, you must then take the additional step of incorporating more of them into your life. It won’t just happen on its own; it requires you to take action.

As part of this process, you should also eliminate some things you are not good at or prefer not to do. This does not mean you should eliminate all the things you don’t like (for example, some people don’t like brushing their teeth, but they have to do it). However, it does reduce the number of meaningless tasks. Delegating these “meaningless” tasks to others allows people to devote more time to their Ikigai.

When you identify your Ikigai, you will be able to see the bigger picture and approach even mundane tasks with more purpose. Researching and writing blogs are very meaningful to me. When researching for a new podcast, I often experience “flow” and lose track of time. However, I have also learned that writing a script, proofreading it, and cross-checking the facts are necessary to record an episode that my listeners like and can benefit from. But, these necessarily are not my favourite things to do.

Identifying your Ikigai can not only help you live a more fulfilling and meaningful life but also help you live longer and healthier. It makes sense when you think about it: a person is more likely to get up in the morning with vigour if he knows he will get better at his job, be happier, and make a difference in the world. You are more likely to take better care of your health if you have a sense of purpose in life.

In his 2017 book, The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life, Tokyo-based neuroscientist, writer, and broadcaster Ken Mogi argues that no matter what you do, whether you’re a cleanser on the Shinkansen bullet train, a mom of a newborn or a Michelin-starred sushi chef if you find joy and satisfaction in what you do and are good at it, you’ve found your Ikigai.”

If you feel like you’re struggling, Garcia suggests you “gain awareness of the current status of your life.”

Do this to find your Ikigai

Make a list of the top 10 things you have done this week. After writing them down, ask yourself if those things add purpose to your life. You can subdivide it by asking yourself four questions:

  1. Is it something that I love doing?

  2. Is it something the world needs?

  3. Is it something I’m good at?

  4. Is it something I can get paid for? If it’s not something you can get paid for, is it something you can get paid for as a good trade-off for financially supporting your Ikigai?

If this all feels too cemented, and you have trouble committing, don’t sweat it. Research has uncovered that just like music, taste, fashion, and opinions, a person’s Ikigai can change and morph with age, so chances are they need a semi-regular checkup.

Maybe in the second half of 2022, you’ll spend time refocusing the goals you’ve been ignoring and embracing the larger picture: Finding your Ikigai.

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