What's your ikigai?

21 February 2018 - inspiration

If you’ve seen this venn diagram somewhere, you may be familiar with ikigai, a Japanese concept that loosely translates to “a reason for being” or to some, “the reason to get up in the morning”.

Source: dreamstime / Toronto Star Graphic

In the Western definition of ikigai, the venn diagram breaks down the Japanese term into four spheres: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. Where all four spheres overlap, you find your ikigai. But if it’s a little too complicated (or specific) for you, no matter.

To the Japanese, ikigai is more fluid and rooted in the everyday. Here are 5 ways ikigai has been described by the Japanese.

1. Income (or work) may not play a factor in one’s ikigai at all. In a 2010 survey of 2000 Japanese, only 31% considered work their ikigai.

2. In the book About Ikigai (1966), Mieko Kamiya describes ikigai as what allows one to move forward even if the present feels dark. In other words, it’s about knowing (and holding on to) what makes your life worth living. To some, their ikigai may be their children or friends. To others, a hobby.

3. Clinical psychologist Akihiro Hasagewa describes ikigai as being aligned with the Japanese term seikatsu, which means “everyday life” (as opposed to “lifetime”). In his research, he found that Japanese people found fulfilment in the sum of small, everyday joys. In other words, one’s overall purpose and fulfilment is rooted in the present—what we already have, rather than grandiose ideas of what to look for.

In The Little Book of Ikigai, Ken Mogi emphasises the joys of completing daily tasks well, partaking in hobbies, being grateful for and supporting people in our lives, and recognising modest achievements.

4. In What Makes Life Worth Living?: How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds, anthropologist Gordon Matthews asserts that ikigai is linked to either ittaiken, which means “a sense of commitment to a group or role” or jiko jitsugen, which is associated with the process of self-realisation.

5. According to writer Yukari Mitsuhashi, “ikigai is about feeling your work makes a difference in people’s lives”. But what if you retire or lose your job? According to Matthews, ikigai is fluid. In other words, it may be better to ask yourself what you need fundamentally and find different ways to meet that need.

Ikigai can be as simple or complex as you wish to define it, and different individuals emphasise different aspects of it. What’s clear is that ikigai isn’t a mysterious secret of life—it’s something we already know we want and need.

What this Japanese term does is prompt us to ask ourselves the questions that can make a difference. What makes your life worthwhile even when things are difficult? What are the everyday things that bring you joy? The list goes on. It’s time to ask the question/s that make sense for you.

What's your ikigai? Inspire us at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team