Ikigai is a lifestyle concept that has become more than just a trend over recent years, and according to the Japanese, we all have one. Your Ikigai is essentially your reason for being, that which gives your life purpose and the reason you get out of bed in the morning. While some may have found theirs, others are still looking, searching, for something that lies within them.
It’s no secret Japan has some of the longest living citizens in the world, in particular on the island of Okinawa where there are 24.55 people over the age of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants. Recent research in the village of Ogimi in Okinawa showed that in addition to a healthy regime of a nutritious light diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep it’s the ikigai that shapes the lives of some of the longest-living people in the world.
Having a sense of purpose is attributed to being the most vital factor to our sense of health and vitality. So even if you followed the prescribed healthy lifestyle ‘by the book’, without a clear sense of purpose in life you may still suffer from ongoing physical health challenges. In case studies on concentration camps, “psychiatrists confirmed that the prisoners with the greatest chance of survival were those who had things they wanted to accomplish outside the camp, those who felt a strong need to get out of there alive.”
The word itself, ikigai, has been translated in many different ways. Akihiro Hasegawa, clinical psychologist and associate professor at Toyo Eiwa University said, “It is composed of two words: iki, which means life and gai, which describes value or worth.” A 1966 publication by psychiatrist Mieko Kamiya, states that it is “similar to ‘happiness’ but has a subtle difference in its nuance. Ikigai is what allows you to look forward to the future even if you’re miserable right now.”
Personally this is my favourite interpretation, because let’s face it, we have all hit those low moments in our lives wondering where to go next.
So where do you begin in your search for meaning? Well luckily there is a treasure map to help you visualise your journey.
Breaking down the diagram you can see that your ikigai lies at the centre of four elements, Passion, Vocation, Mission and Profession.
How do you balance these factors to create a life that is meaningful and that you value every day?
What am I good at?
What do I enjoy doing…. creating, connecting, healing, teaching, providing, building…?
What are the things that are important to me?
Don’t let the monetary factor hold you back at the beginning, as that can come later or, not at all. In fact the money circle has come under criticism as a quick western interpretation of the original philosophy.
Give this journey time, so start slowly and give yourself space to figure out what’s calling you. Discover what it is that lights you up then figure out a way to weave it into your everyday life so that each morning you rise from bed motivated to live this life and not simply go through the motions.
Having a clearly defined ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness and meaning to our lives. Remember, you will most likely have more than one ikigai in your life as you evolve and grow. It can be overwhelming to think you have only one life purpose.
At first you may want to develop and keep this new found purpose to yourself, explore it until it feels right. But after you find it you have to put it into action, give it an outlet.
To quote Hector Garcia, “You don’t need huge ambition to be very happy, you just need a bunch of friends to drink green tea and talk with. Get rid of the mess and at the core is your ikigai.”
In the book, “Ikigai, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life,” by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, the authors state that while ikigai lies at the root of living long and happily, another main factor is feeling you are part of a community. In fact the authors visited the famed village of Ogimi and conducted one hundred interviews with the elder members of the community, discussing their life philosophies, their ikigai and the secrets to longevity.
They found the following statements by Ogimi residents to be especially meaningful and inspiring:
1. Don’t worry
While a little bit of stress is good for you, too much and the degenerative effect on our cells is greater, leading to premature ageing.
“Here, everyone gets along. We try not to cause problems. Spending time together and having fun is the only thing that matters.”
2. Cultivate good habits
Movement (not necessarily vigorous), the right amount of sleep, eating well (and only until you are 80% full), a positive attitude and emotional awareness are key.
“I wake up every day at the same time, early, and spend the morning in my vegetable garden. I go dancing with my friends once a week.”
3. Nurture your friendships every day
“Getting together with my friends is my most important ikigai. We all get together here and talk – it’s very important….that’s one of my favourite things in life.”
4. Live an unhurried life
Focus on one task at a time, this is the most important factor in finding your state of flow.
“My secret to a long life is always saying to myself, ‘Slow down,’ and, ‘Relax.’ You live much longer if you’re not in a hurry.”
5. Be optimistic
“Every day I say to myself, “Today will be full of health and energy. Live it to the fullest.”
Take this moment here and now to consider what could be your ikigai. Once you find it, pursue it with determination and nurture it with love.