The Japanese Philosophy of IKIGAI

The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigaia reason to jump out of bed each morning. Ikigai, a Japanese concept, could also be roughly translated into – the happiness of always being busy doing things you love.

Ikigai is a combination of two Japanese words, “iki” and “gai” where “iki” means life and “gai” means to arrive at a reason for living, a meaning for life.

If we ponder over the quintessential quest of human life, two very stark questions have always evaded us….

  • What is the meaning of my life?

Is the point just to live longer or is there a higher purpose?

  • Why do some people know what they want and have a passion for life, while others languish in confusion?

The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai helps answer these timeless, universal questions to quite an extent.

In simpler words ikigai can be described as a motivating force or something/someone that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living. Anything or anyone that brings us pleasure or fulfilment reinforces our belief systems and our moral fabric. How important it is to have a driving force inside us so that we can look forward to each day of our lives with excitement and happiness. To be able to channel our thoughts and actions towards a goal that is as passionate as it is grounding, as profitable as it is inclusive, is the whole purpose of living a life full of contentment.

According to ikigai there are four elements convergence of which gives us a sense of happiness and purpose in our lives. These four elements are:

  1. What you love, your Passion.
  2. What the world needs, your Mission.
  3. What you are good at, your Vocation.
  4. What you can be paid for, your Profession.

When we find a kind of semblance in all these elements of our life, our passion, mission, our vocation and ultimately our profession we can steadily and surely move towards fulfilment.

Our Ikigai is different for all of us, but there is one thing that ties us all in one thread and that is, our search for meaning. When we spend our days doing what we feel connected to and what feels meaningful to us, we live more fully. And when we lose the connection, we feel despair.

Unfortunately, modern life takes us further away from our true nature, making it very easy for us to live lives that lack meaning. There are just too many forces like competition, money, power, success and attention that distract us each day and take over our lives, therefore taking away our happy place. This where the disconnect happens and we feel constantly running aimlessly to feel purposeful in daily banalities and frivolities of this ever-changing and speeding world.

Our intuition and curiosity play a very powerful role in helping us connect back to our ikigai. They behave like our anchors. Follow the things you enjoy and get away from those you dislike, listen to what your intuition tells you. Stay curious and keep doing things that keep you busy filling your life with meaning and happiness. They don’t have to be big things, it could just be small little things like growing plants and tending to them daily, helping people in need, loving and caring for animals around you or anything that makes you feel good and happy.

There is no perfect strategy to connecting with our ikigai, but there are things that you can accommodate in your daily life practices that can help you identify your ikigai.

Here are ten rules of Ikigai that you can start living by as you go along on this beautiful journey of life:

  1. Stay active: Don’t retire: According to a Japanese proverb, “Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.” Those who give up the things they love with time end up losing their purpose in life. That’s why it is so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out and shaping the world around you so that you keep feeling worthy and keep giving to the world.
  2. Take it slow: As the old saying goes, “Walk slowly and you’ll go far.” When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on a new meaning.
  3. Don’t Fill your stomach: Less is more when it comes to eating for long life. In order to stay healthier longer, we should eat a little less than what our hunger demands instead of stuffing ourselves.
  4. Surround yourself with good friends: Friends are the best medicine especially when it comes to sharing good and bad days, for confiding in, for destressing and for finding motivation and validation when in need.
  5. Get in shape for your next birthday: Just like water, as it keeps flowing it remains fresh and the moment it is stagnant it starts to stink, so is the case with our body. The more we move, the more our cells regenerate. Daily maintenance of our body through exercise or any form of movement keeps us fit for longer and also releases our happy hormones.
  6. Smile: A cheerful attitude is not only relaxing but also helps us socialise and make new friends. Smiling more makes us look at life and its blessings again and again through fresh perspective and helps us appreciate the here and now in a world full of possibilities.
  7. Be grateful, give thanks: Thank the nature which provides you with fresh air to breathe and the food you eat. Be grateful to your friends and family and to everything that brings you joy and brightens your day. Spend a moment everyday to thank the universe for its abundant blessings and also give gratitude to your ancestors for bringing you into this world.
  8. Reconnect with nature: Human beings are made to be part of nature and to live surrounded by nature. Our urban lifestyles estrange us from nature which in turn leads to more stress. We should try as much as we can to return to natural surroundings to recharge our batteries and connect with nature and its bounties.
  9. Live in the moment: To accept the present as it is and not cast a shadow of neither our past nor our future worries to our now is a very big power. Being in the present and being mindful while appreciating this very moment makes a very big difference and helps us lead a life unbiased, and in all its beauty.
  10. Follow your ikigai: There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that drives you each day to share the best of yourself with the world until the very end of life. If you haven’t yet found your ikigai yet, as Viktor Frankl says, your mission is to discover it!

Inspired from the book IKIGAI.

Pearl Jasra
Author: Pearl Jasra