Ikigai: The Japanese secret to living a longer and more fulfilling life

If I were to ask you “What is your reason to live?” or “Why do you wake up in the morning?”, would you immediately know how to respond? Being able to give a clear answer to these questions means knowing your ikigai.

What is Ikigai (生き甲斐)?

Ikigai (生き甲斐) is composed of two words: iki which translates to life and gai which describes value or worth. In other words, it is a term that refers to what makes your life worth living. It is your “life’s purpose” and “your reason to live”. Although the Japanese concept of ikigai dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), the ideology has only begun to receive worldwide attention in recent years. In a 2009 TED talk, the American author Dan Buettner explained that the concept of ikigai is especially prominent in Okinawa, a group of over 150 islands south of mainland Japan. Interestingly, Okinawa is also known as “the land of immortals” on account of having the highest rate of centenarians in the world. Their secret, Buettner explained, is having and knowing their ikigai.

Your ikigai does not have to be related to your job.

In his TED talk, Buettner revealed that The National Institute on Aging had given a questionnaire to several centenarians in Okinawa. One of the questions it asked was, “What is your ikigai?” Surprisingly, every single person knew how to instantly respond. While some people said that their reason to wake up in the morning was work, a 102-year-old woman shared that her ikigai was simply her great-great-great-granddaughter.

In addition to this, the Central Research Services conducted a survey of 2,000 Japanese men and women in 2010. According to the BBC, it found that “just 31% of recipients considered work as their ikigai.” This finding shows that the majority of people do not associate their job with their life’s purpose. It is important to note that those who consider their job as their ikigai risk feeling a sense of loss and emptiness upon retirement.

How can you find your ikigai?

In a TEDx talk,  Tim Tamashiro explained how one can find their ikigai. He notes that this concept is a combination of four things. Therefore, to find your purpose, you need to:

  • Do what you love.
  • Do what you are good at.
  • Do what the world needs.
  • Do what you can be rewarded (or paid) for.

Although it may sound or seem simple, finding your ikigai is challenging and it requires a lot of work. Tamashiro recommends trying to find a “part-time ikigai”. Taking this further, he suggests figuring out what you love to do and what you are good at and then doing that from 5-9 am before work or 5-9 pm after work. Furthermore, he explains that your ikigai should be a verb. For example, your ikigai can be to create, to serve, to teach, to provide, to build, to connect, etc.

Ken Mogi, the author of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day”, further emphasises that finding your ikigai will take time and effort. According to CNN, Mogi writes: “You need to find your ikigai in the little things. You’ve got to start small. You need to be here and now. Most crucially, you cannot and should not blame the environment for a lack of ikigai. After all, it’s up to you to find your own ikigai, in your own way.”

Your purpose, your ikigai, or your raison d’être does not have to be complicated. It just has to be something that gets you out of bed, makes you smile, and adds meaning to your life.

“A little bit of joy every day is going to add up to a lifetime of joy.”

TIM TAMASHIRO

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