A Japanese concept to bring purpose to work and life.
First there was Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), the Danish lifestyle which creates comfort, coziness and safety in the home and enhances enjoyment of family, friends and the small pleasures in life. As we know, Denmark usually ranks #1 in the happiest countries in the world. Read our article on Hygge.
Now we are learning about Ikigai (pronounced ee-kee-guy) that means “purpose of being” in Japan. It is similar to the French phrase “Raison d’etre” which means reason for being. In Japanese culture, everyone has an ikigai, and everyone must find it for themselves. This often requires a deep search of self, and the discovery brings meaning and satisfaction to one’s life. Examples of an ikigai could be a profession, a special hobby, or raising one’s children. The ikigai concept is now becoming very popular outside of Japan.
The origin of the word is thought to be from the Heian period (794-1185). Gai comes from the Japanese word for shells which were very valuable, and from there ikigai evolved as a word meaning life’s value.
Ikigai is what makes each life worthwhile, the reason you get out of bed in the morning. It is having a goal one is working towards, often accompanied by a spiritual influence. It allows a person to look forward to something even if they are unhappy at the moment. When you understand what has meaning for you, you function better in all areas of your life. For example, if a particular hobby totally absorbs you so that time passes and you don’t even stop to eat, it’s important to make certain you allow enough time in your life for that hobby. If you focus on what you are good at, and eliminate what you are not good at, every aspect of your life will improve. The Japanese believe that small daily joys result in a happy overall life.
Several philosophers believe ikigai is similar to the Venn diagram which has four overlapping qualities: What you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for. Others, like Dan Buettner who wrote Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, suggest making three lists: your values, what you like to do, and what you’re good at. The cross section of the three lists is your ikigai.
Those who feel their work is their ikigai (a 2010 study found 31% of Japanese thought their work was their ikigai) feel that their work makes a difference to people’s lives. The first step is to find your ikigai, but the second very important step is to put it into action. It is important to keep in mind that one’s ikigai can change with age. Retirement might bring a new search for ikigai.
This book about ikigai is popular. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia. $12.65
Listen to this TED talk by Dan Buettner about ikigai and living longer.