Finding Your ‘Ikigai’

Veera is a published Author (‘Endured’ and ‘#LoveBitesLifeHacks’) and Columnist; a passionate Educator and Counsellor; Poet and Philosopher… but most of all, a lover of all things literary.

‘Ikigai’ – you’ve probably heard or seen the word. Or, maybe you’ve seen the multi-circle Venn diagram. A while ago, this book, ‘Ikigai’, with the serenely beautiful blue cover and a stylistic cherry blossom, started doing the rounds and immediately became a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Ikigai (pronounced ‘eye-ka-guy’) became a topic of conversation and the book sold copies like hot cakes. The authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles were intrigued by the Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’ or a reason for living. In researching this book, the authors interviewed and the residents of the Japanese island, Okinawa, which boasts of the highest percentage of 100-year-olds – one of the world’s Blue Zones.

Why do the Okinawans live longer than the average Western lifecycle? Ikigai revealed the secret to their longevity and happiness. According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai or ‘reason for being’- and finding it is the key to a happier and longer life. Having a strong sense of ikigai – the place where Passion, Mission, Vocation and Profession intersect – means that each day is infused with meaning. The book claims and provides practical tools to help you find your own ikigai. Because, let’s be honest – in this crazy world we inhabit, who doesn’t want to find happiness and real meaning in their every day?

Ikigai is, above all else, a lifestyle that strives to balance the spiritual with the practical. This balance is found at the intersection where your passions and talents converge with the things that the world needs and is willing to pay for. For most of us there is this existential frustration that stems from our conflicting desires. We all want a life of meaning and consequence on the one hand, while striving to enjoy the lifestyle that comes with money. In trying to find the balance between all the things that make money and the things you care about, the result invariably is infuriating.

According to Japanese culture everyone has ikigai. It indicates the value one finds in their life or the things that make someone feel their life is valuable. It involves both – mental and spiritual circumstances to make one feel that one’s life has purpose. What is unique about ikigai is that it’s interchangeable. It is unique to every individual and accepts the idea that happiness is actually quite elusive. Ikigai as a concept can grow and develop just as you do. If one path of purpose ceases to exist, you can adapt, change and pursue new passions with purpose. Ikigai makes room for this. Ikigai is as much about the changes, challenges and the mistakes we may make as we go about the ultimate achievement of a happy life.

How To Find Your Ikigai?

Detecting our strengths is not always easy. But theses four simple questions can help us find our path. Writing them down and regularly reflecting on them, one can use them as a compass bringing you closer to your purpose. To find your Ikigai, ask yourself:

1) What do I love? (Passion)

2) What am I good at? (Vocation)

3) What can I be paid for? (Profession)

4) What does the world need? (Mission)

Ikigai is the union point of these four fundamental components of life: Passion, vocation, profession and mission. In finding your sweet spot with Ikigai one has to remember a few fundamental things too…

Your Ikigai Doesn’t Need To Be All About The Money:  Your career is not your ikigai. The Japanese believe there is more to life than work! (And this coming from perhaps the most extreme workaholic cultures in the world.) To the Japanese, hobbies, family, and friends all scored higher than work when asked about their ideal ikigai. If your career is the reason you spring out of bed each morning, then that’s awesome. But if it’s not, there’s really no need to despair. Many elderly Japanese women are housewives. Their ikigai is their family and close group of friends. Yet they never consider their life to be without real purpose just because they don’t make money doing what they love. Addiction to monetizing everything can really get in the way of our individual ikigai. Sometimes it’s just right to keep your passion as a hobby to add more value to your life rather than adding a price tag on it.

Your Ikigai Really Doesn’t Need To Be Found: Your purpose in life is certainly not floating around waiting to be caught. Everyone’s reason and purpose of being stems from within and it is definitely you who decides what it is. Oftentimes, self-doubt plagues the best of us. Why? Simple – it’s because we haven’t found that magical purpose we are all striving for. That idea that something is out there to make our lives perfect, is a fallacy. It’s certainly comforting to begin with, but destructive when the chase is eternal. Our purpose can come into our lives accidentally and we may grow to love it. While we all seek to do what we enjoy, sometimes we need to also enjoy what we do, instead.

Your Ikigai Can Be Multidimensional: While the idea of one pure purpose in life can certainly be enticing, most of us find joy and purpose in many parts of our lives. So, is a happy person cheating on their ikigai if they love their family and their work? Of course not. It’s the different areas of our lives that make for happiness and stability. A person who finds joy and purpose in different areas, rarely fails to be at peace.

Your Ikigai Can Change: Change is the only constant in life. Our life is a series of events and circumstances. Over time, we as humans grow, changing physically, mentally and emotionally. As we evolve, so must our purpose. When we choose to cling to our past selves, we tend to limit our present purpose. To accept change and flow is a basic part of Ikigai.

Your Ikigai Needs To Be Simple: Ikigai isn’t about impressing other people. Ikigai is primarily about what is important to you and not who other people would like you to be. It is really about the joy of little things. For the Japanese, ikigai can be a practice in gratitude. It is about not getting caught up in what we do not have. It is all about things that bring happiness to your everyday life… What puts that smile on your face and what adds immeasurable value to your existence. Basically, what would you continue to do even if you had enough money to live the happily ever after?

Man is a paradoxical creature – we can be foolishly clueless at times, yet so tuned in otherwise, to our purpose here. I am learning each day, a moment at a time my ‘Perfect Ikigai’. Are you?

Veera Shroff Sanjana
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