Ikigai is a Japanese concept worth your time.
The Japanese have long been recognized for their concepts that reveal the secrets to living a simple and meaningful life. These concepts range from philosophies to aesthetics, ethics, design and morality. When we travel, we may not understand the language of a country, but understanding her life philosophies can be a fascinating insight into a culture’s soul.
I recently came across a wonderful Japanese concept, ikigai, which seems to be more all-embracing, and universally applicable.
What is ikigai?
The loose translation is “your reason to live”, from the Japanese iki (to live) and gai (reason). Those who have lived according to this philosophy for years are quick to point out that the purpose does not have to be a grand end-goal; rather, the purpose should apply to your everyday life.
To put it another way, ikigai is the reason you get out of bed every morning.
The word is often translated as: “that which makes life worth living” – having a purpose in life. Examples of ikigai could include aspects related to one’s social identity, like work or family, or the pursuit of self-realization, such as hobbies or travel, activities that are seen as ends in themselves. For many people, striving to find their purpose in life can resemble a similar winding quest, filled with many twists and wrong turns. Some blindly follow passions that aren’t based in reality, then wind up feeling discouraged when their dreams don’t materialize. Others resign themselves to careers that bring them money and status but aren’t fulfilling. In both cases, over time, their sense of purpose can begin to fade.
One international study found that people who have a sense of purpose in life are at lower risk of death and heart disease. Why? Researchers found that those who feel purpose often have healthier lifestyles. They are more motivated and resilient, which protects them from stress and burnout
It’s easiest to think about ikigai as an intersection, the common ground between:
- What you love
- What you care about
- What the world needs
- What you can get paid for
We are usually drawn to the mere norm “anything for money” and always forget our true purpose in the journey of life. Some of you might think that this idea sounds too pie in the sky, and that since it’s from the Western world, it might be a problem to integrate into the African context. But that’s not the case.
Here are some steps to help you develop your Ikigai:
- Start with Questions
- What do you love? (These speak to your passion.)
- What are you good at? (These speak to your profession.)
- What does the world need? (These speak to your mission.)
- What can you get paid for? (These speak to your vocation.)
You don’t have to force yourself to come up with answers in one sitting. In fact, it’s more productive to take your time. Over the course of a few days or weeks, take notes as ideas and insights come to you. Most importantly, be radically honest with yourself. Don’t be afraid to jot down whatever comes to mind, no matter how crazy or irrational it might seem right now.
If those questions aren’t sparking as much insight as you would like, try these:
- What would you like to see change in the world?
- What, in your life as it is now, makes you happy?
- Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
- Have you had any life-changing moments that provided a lightning bolt of clarity?
Be sure to include other life or career experiences that significantly inform your values.
After you’ve answered these questions thoughtfully, start to look for patterns. What kinds of themes are apparent? Are there obvious intersections among categories, or do they seem disparate? If clear links aren’t evident, don’t worry — that’s normal. This process will take time.
- Map it out.
Mapping out your answers to the questions above is helpful, especially if you feel stuck. There are all sorts of ways to create a map; experiment with whatever makes visual sense to you.
Some people find it helpful to draw interlocking circles for each category, while others like to map it on a quadrant, writing ideas that meet multiple criteria near the intersection of the axes. The map doesn’t have to be beautiful. It just has to organize your thoughts. This is a living document, so it will change and evolve over time. As you start to test your ikigai in the real world, you will strike out things and add others.
- See if it feels right.
Whether you’re holding a list or a map or something else from the steps above, reflect and do a gut check.
“How’s it going? What’s bothering me? What’s really going on now?”
These are worthwhile questions to ask, whether you determined your ikigai forty years ago or you’re just learning about the concept now. If you’re on an initial ikigai fact-finding journey, integrating instinctive nudges with logic-driven thinking can lead to a deeper, more coherent sense of purpose.
- Test it
The payoff to finding your ikigai is in living it out. Like any aspiration, it doesn’t happen through introspection alone. You have to commit to consistent action in order to make strides—and also to make adjustments along the way to continue to grow.
- Build your support system
As with most of life’s transitions, it’s critical to have support while consciously developing your sense of ikigai.
If you’ve decided to work towards another career — turning a side project into a full-time endeavour, for instance—it’s crucial to have mentors guiding you, as well as to have caring people in your corner
An ikigai, in some ways, is like a compass. Aligning your actions with the “thing that you live for” helps you navigate life ups-and-downs. As your career evolves and you’re presented with more opportunities, you can rely on your ikigai to steer you in the right direction.
Remember to evaluate your sense of happiness and purpose at every step along the way. By seeking growth that fits your sense of purpose, you pursue health and happiness as well.