Ikigai: The Japanese Concept Of Finding Purpose In Life

There is no need to introduce about Japan! We all have heard, learned and knew about Japan from our childhood. Japan is famous for being the first country to see the first Sunrise on earth. People in Japan are the most honest and responsible people as per tourists acknowledgement and experience. It is also famous for cars, technology, martial arts, and also being the only country with a long Life expectancy about 92 years, but many of them live longer than this. So what are the secrets?

Today, let’s learn one of the Japanese secrets from their age-old ideology but still relevant for everyone of us. One of those secrets is Ikigai. Ikigai, the age-old Japanese ideology that’s long been associated with the nation’s long life expectancy. A combination of the Japanese words “iki” (生き), which translates to “life,” and “gai” (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, ikigai is all about finding joy in life through purpose.

In other words, your ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you moing.


So what exactly is ikigai?

The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Clinical psychologist and avid expert of the ikigai evolution, Akihiro Hasegawa released a research paper in 2001 where he wrote that the word “gai” comes from the word “kai” which translates to “shell” in Japanese.

During the Heian period, shells were extremely valuable, so the association of value is still inherently seen in this word. It can also be seen in similar Japanese words like hatarakigai, (働きがい) which means the value of work, or yarigai ~ga aru (やり甲斐がある), meaning “it’s worth doing it.”

Gai is the key to finding your purpose, or value in life. The best way to really encapsulate the overarching ideology of ikigai is by looking at the ikigai Venn diagram which displays the overlapping four main qualities: what you are good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and of course, what you love.

Ikigai is anything that brings you joy – that first cup of tea of the day, walking the dog, mastering a new yoga move – and, crucially, it debunks the age-old notion that we should all be striving for bigger and better – the top job with the generous salary, that dream home, the perfect relationship, living our BEST LIFE EVER. Which frankly was exhausting, anyway. Instead, ikigai is about finding happiness and fulfilment in the small, mundane stuff. Here’s how to find your own ikigai and bounce out of bed every Monday…

The Five pillars of Life!

There are five pillars that underpin the foundations of ikigai, and they are: Starting small, releasing yourself, harmony and sustainability, the joy of little things, and being in the here and now. Master those and you’re well on your way to nailing ikigai. As the lines between work and play become ever more blurred, its worth knowing that ikigai is where your job and your passions meet. Essentially, it’s the sweet spot where you fall in love with your job, over and over again.

These five pillars can be used as a foundation to allow your ikigai to flourish. The greatest secret of the ikigai, ultimately, has to be the acceptance of oneself, no matter what kind of unique features one might happen to be born with. There is no single optimum way to ikigai. Each of us has to seek our own, in the forest of our unique individualities. But don’t forget to have a good laugh while seeking yours — today and every day!

Four Components to achieving Ikigai

Ikigai is the union of four fundamental components of life: passion, vocation, profession, and mission. In other words, where what you love and are good at meet what you can be valued and paid for because this skill is needed in the world. Ikigai is only complete if the goal involves service to the community. 

Once you’ve identified these components, the next step is to start following your compass. Start working on your answers and see what you discover or even rediscover.

It’s important to understand that Japanese find ikigai in various areas of their lives — from small everyday rituals to the pursuit of meaningful goals.

Ikigai is not always a sweet spot of doing something that you love, that you are good at, that the world needs and that you can be paid for, but a rich spectrum where you can find ikigai in the realm of small things, in the practice of a hobby, in your roles and relationships, and by simply living your values.

Ikigai is something easily achievable, not a single formidable life goal that might take us years to achieve as represented by the Westernised version.

Begin your Ikigai today!

Self understanding is important as much as self loving. Self loving might turn into selfishness without self-understanding. Self-understanding is where the ikigai stands for. Here are the few keys that you can follow every day..
These keys are easy to put into practice and are based on experience.

  • Do what you do best
  • Know how to say no
  • Take care of your energy
  • Practice continuous personal development 
  • Make time for things that are fulfilling
  • Align your personal values with those of your company
  • Simplify, don’t make things difficult
  • Love the ‘why’ of your company
  • Trust others

Ikigai in Japan

To the Japanese, the word ‘ikigai’ is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. According to Japanese neuroscientist and author, Ken Mogi, ikigai is a spectrum, that includes all the things we value, from the little joys in life to the pursuit of life-defining goals.

Noriyuki Nakashi, who has Doctor of Public Health, from Osaka University, writes;

Ikigai is personal: it reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully.

Ikigai, which is the highest level of desire, may be considered to be essentially the process of cultivating one’s inner potential and that which makes one’s life significant, a universal human experience we all wish to achieve.

While misunderstood as the “Japanese secret” a long and happy life, it is believed that ikigai can contribute to your health because it is closely related to creativity and is indispensable to well-being.

Ikigai is not the convergence of four vocational elements that involve doing:

  • what you love
  • what the world needs
  • what you are good at
  • what you can get paid for

While this a helpful framework, its origin does not lie in Japan, and it really has nothing to do with ikigai. At best, we could say this is a Western interpretation, but the truth is, it was the result of one man’s idea to merge two concepts, one of which, he had no understanding of.

You can find or experience ikigai

– in the building of harmonious relationships that align with your values (connection & harmony)

– when reaching a flow state in your hobbies, interests or work, and by expressing your creative self (creativity & flow)

– by expressing gratitude, and in the helping of others via your life roles (gratitude & contribution).

– when being present while performing daily rituals, and in appreciating the small joys of life (rituals & small joys).

If your feelings aren’t saying much at the moment, connect with a family member, share a laugh with an old friend, help a stranger or someone in need, pick up that hobby you have always been curious about doing, work on something you believe in, appreciate the freedoms you have, challenge yourself with a new project or pursue your personal mission.

Finally, understand that ikigai comes and goes, will change over the course of your life, and best of all, you can have more than one.

And when we do find our ikigai, we find purpose in lives, meaning in what we do, freedom our in day to day living, and personal growth as we proactively engage with those around us.

Why do we need Ikigai?

The need for:

  • life satisfaction
  • change and growth
  • a bright future
  • interpersonal relationships and acceptance by others
  • freedom
  • self-actualization
  • and meaning and value.

Ikigai is more concerned with the future, with one needing to feel that his or her life is moving in a better state or direction.

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