What is Ikigai?

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Dec 6, 2019

What is Ikigai?

We’ve all got something that drives us to get up in the morning. That special something – a cause, a person, a purpose – that helps us enjoy life. What’s yours?

Let’s be honest, we all feel lost sometimes. We may ask ourselves: ‘What am I doing with my life?’ or ‘Aren’t I supposed to have a five-year plan by now?’

As teenagers, we think we’ll have everything figured out by our 20s. In our 20s, we think we’ll have made it by 30. By our 30s? It dawns on us that somewhere along the line, we’ve become a fully-fledged adult, and we still don’t have all the answers.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re treading water and aren’t sure what the big picture is for you, it may be because you haven’t discovered your ikigai yet.

What is it?

Ikigai | noun | Japanese Roughly translating to ‘purpose in life’ or ‘something one lives for’

A Japanese concept – roughly translated as our ‘reason for being’ – your ikigai is based on your life, values, and beliefs. It’s a reflection of your inner self and what really matters to you.

Similar to ‘finding your passion’, discovering your ikigai encompasses what fills you with joy, gives you a sense of purpose, and an overall feeling of wellbeing. Aiming to balance the spiritual with the practical, ikigai transforms all areas of your life.

Mixing together your passion, profession, vocation, and mission, finding your ikigai is essentially about combining what you love and what you’re good at, with what you can be paid for and what the world needs.

Is it attainable?

Money doesn’t buy happiness; it’s an old saying, but it can cause a lot of guilt and conflict. We all like the idea of living with meaning, yet in order to do this, we need the security that comes from having money to support our goals and ideals. Discovering our ‘purpose’ can feel like a privilege reserved for those who can afford to focus on ideals over survival.

We may already have a passion for writing, painting, or photography, but take the ‘safer’ career path that pays the bills. Uncovering your ikigai can help you to find the balance between what you need and what you want.

Discovering your ikigai

woman walking towards building, smiling with fist in the air

Take time to ask yourself what you love; what you are good at; what you can be paid to do; and what the world needs? A goal that fulfils only one or two of these may leave you financially secure but feeling unfulfilled, or your sense of wellbeing may increase while your stability decreases.

What you are passionate about, and how you express it, can cover a huge range of possibilities. It could be through art, giving back to your community, or passing on your skills to help others achieve their full potential. It doesn’t have to be career-based; your ikigai may be found in taking care of your family, or working towards social change.

It’s easy to think of our passion, job, family, and desires as separate entities, or parts of life that rarely intersect. Discovering your ikigai is all about uncovering how all aspects of life are connected – helping us feel joy, fulfilment, and balance in our day-to-day life.

How do I know if I’ve found my ikigai?

It can be hard to describe. Really feeling your ikigai can be a combination of satisfaction, love, happiness, and a feeling of personal maturity. It can lead to a clearer sense of what you value in life, as well as a better understanding of yourself.

It isn’t like a lightbulb moment; you won’t wake up one day with a clear picture of what your purpose is. It’s more of a journey; you need to actively seek it, spend time reflecting on all aspects of your life, and consider how they are connected.

Once you have found your ikigai, always remain curious. Just as in many ways we aren’t the same person we were 20 or even 10 years ago, so our reason for being can evolve over time.

The path towards finding our ikigai allows us to see meaning in the everyday, and discover happiness in places we may not have considered before. It’s about being inquisitive, open, and looking at our desires and needs as a whole. It’s about recognising and celebrating what truly matters to us.

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