What’s the reason you get up in the morning? What’s your purpose in life? Where do your values, passions, beliefs and talents overlap?
These are big questions, which many of us struggle to have the answers to. But, could the Japanese concept of Ikigai be the answer to finding the answers? The practice of Ikigai is growing in popularity around the world as people use it to unearth and identify their purpose, and lead longer, more fulfilling personal and professional lives.
What is Ikigai?
“Ikigai refers to the things that give joy in your life,” says Ken Mogi, a Japanese neuroscientist and author of The Little Book of Ikigai.
“Ikigai is a spectrum, from small joys to life’s big goals. Ikigai can be a private joy, as well as something socially valuable. Quite often, Ikigai is the reason you get up in the morning.”
Some of the world’s longest-living citizens reside in Japan and it’s thought that Ikigai contributes to longevity1, not only in Japan, but around the globe (whether they have a word for it or not).
There are four principles of Ikigai:
- What you love (passion and mission).
- What the world needs (mission and vocation).
- What you are good at (passion and profession).
- What you can get paid for (profession and vocation).
If you picture a Venn diagram with these four principles, the place where the four circles overlap is your Ikigai.
“Ikigai gives your life a purpose, while giving you the grit to carry on,” says Mogi.
Why Ikigai resonates with so many
Mogi believes that Ikigai is an antidote for the stresses and psychological pressures of living in a fast-paced world.
“Under the globalising economy, people are increasingly feeling pressured to do better with their lives,” he says. “But success does not come to everyone.”
The principles behind Ikigai recognise that private joys in your life might not necessarily have social significance or translate into your professional life.
“When you have Ikigai, you are likely to perform better, realising flow and mindfulness,” says Mogi.
“And as a result, you might have social success, but that’s a bonus. Even if you do not succeed [at work], you would have Ikigai all the same.”
Ikigai is an antidote for the stresses and psychological pressures of living in a fast-paced world.
Finding your Ikigai
Ikigai isn’t about recognition or acclaim, but rather, it’s about starting small and following the things that give you pleasure.
According to Mogi, there are five pillars of activity that allow Ikigai to flourish:
- Starting small (focusing on the details).
- Releasing yourself (accepting your strengths and flaws).
- Finding harmony and sustainability (connecting with others).
- Recognising the joy of little things (appreciating your taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing).
- Being in the here and now (being mindful of what you’re experiencing).
Mogi says these five pillars underpin the essence of Ikigai and can be applied to any of the four principles (what you love, what you can get paid for, what the world needs or what you’re good at).
“If you apply the five pillars of activity to the intersection, you would get the most Ikigai,” says Mogi.
Applying Ikigai to your career
The work of childhood is play, and Mogi believes that if someone has lost their passion for work, the best place to start is by reflecting on childhood or a time when life seemed simpler.
“Ikigai is like reviving the inner child,” he says. “What were the things that gave you joy? What did you enjoy doing, without any consideration of social relevance or contributions to your eventual success?”
Children are naturally drawn to the activities and the people that give them pleasure with little regard for how they are perceived or the end product.
“Going back to the intuitions of the inner child would give the necessary rehabilitation, and re-boost your passion to live fully,” says Mogi.
You can define and pursue your own Ikigai, without needing endorsement or authority from others. But, Mogi says, discussing your Ikigai with family and friends can help to realise the rich diversity of Ikigai among people.
“Starting really small usually does the trick,” he says. “If you follow your Ikigai intuitions wholeheartedly, small projects often lead to big things.”