'Ikigai' is the Japanese art of finding one's purpose in life
You will find your ikigai at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing.
The quest for happiness is part of being human, and every culture has its own idea for how to go about seeking it. You've probably heard of hygge, the Danish concept of coziness meant to create space for warmth and togetherness. Or perhaps you're familiar with Swedish lagom, a phrase that means "not too little, not too much," and encourages finding balance and mindfulness in all that you do.
Now there's another, less-Nordic concept gaining popularity. It's called 'ikigai' and it comes from Japan.
Ikigai, whose name comes from the Japanese words iki, meaning life, and gai, meaning value or worth, is about finding purpose in life. It is about establishing a career that is "at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing." It's about feeling your work makes a difference in people's lives.
As written in the Independent, ikigai could be considered the antithesis of hygge:
"Instead of encouraging us to slow down, it’s about find striving to find purpose in life, or raison d’etre to use a French equivalent."
Finding one's ikigai requires thinking, exploring, and working hard, but in return it offers a great sense of hopefulness: "Ikigai is what allows you to look forward to the future even if you’re miserable right now."
How do you find your ikigai?
Hector Garcia Kirai, author of "Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life," explains how to use the following Venn diagram to pinpoint what gives you the most meaning in life.
The intersection of four key questions is where you find your ikigai. If you're retired, then you seek your ikigai where the other three questions meet.
- What do you love?
- What are you good at?
- What does the world need?
- What can you be paid for?
Does ikigai actually affect longevity, as Garcia's book title suggests? Dan Buettner, who has researched and written about 'Blue Zones,' those rare places in the world with disproportionately high numbers of centenarians, believes it does. He is quoted by BBC:
"[In these places] 'Older people are celebrated, they feel obligated to pass on their wisdom to younger generations.' This gives them a purpose in life outside of themselves, in service to their communities. The concept of ikigai is not exclusive to Okinawans [in Japan]: 'There might not be a word for it but in all four blue zones such as Sardinia and Nicoya Peninsula, the same concept exists among people living long lives.'"
When a person loses their purpose in life, it can have a detrimental effect. Studies have even shown that people living aimlessly are more susceptible to disease (Independent).
No doubt some readers will shrug this off as yet another airy-fairy lifestyle trend that looks pretty on Instagram, but there is a valuable message at its core. It is important to cultivate professional interests that make you feel fulfilled and satisfied, in order to make the best of these fleeting years on Earth.
We could all stand to focus more on developing our ikigai -- perhaps with a dash of hygge and lagom thrown in for good measure.