I was reminded of this word again recently and I can’t stop recalling where I heard or read it, and thinking what does it even mean—before asking for help from the internet, of course.
But from one look, ikigai is an incredibly beautiful word. It’s a Japanese word by the way and if you are an otaku (or a newly converted otaku like me), almost everything Japanese is kawaii! Or sparks interest at the least!
But diving deeper into it, I realized that ikigai isn’t just a cute Japanese word that I encountered randomly. And I felt the need to share what I have learned with all of you.
So, what even is Ikigai?
Originating from Okinawa, an island famously known to be inhabited by residents with the highest life expectancy in the world. Once called the “land of immortals”, it is recognized by the United Nations for having the highest number of centenarians to date.
Okinawans live by the principle of ikigai. It basically comprises of two parts, “iki” meaning life and “gai” representing value. This term refers to the things that make one’s life worthwhile, the reason you get out of bed every morning. Your reason for being.
Ikigai revolves around four main qualities: what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be rewarded or paid for.
When what you love aligns with what you are good at, it manifests as passion—a deep-rooted and meaningful pursuit that justifies personal sacrifices. It encompasses the things that bring you joy, excitement, and a sense of fulfillment. Things you’re passionate at, things that make you feel alive.
And when you acknowledge the importance of addressing the needs of society, you have your mission. This is the positive impact you contribute by doing the things you love in order to serve a grater purpose of meeting the needs of the world around you.
Vocation refers to your job or occupation, the work you do to earn a living. This is the intersection between what the world needs and what you can be paid for. This is using your skills to provide value to others, often in exchange for financial support.
Lastly, profession is doing what you are good at while getting paid. While vocation is focused on the practical and economic aspects of your work, profession considers your personal fulfillment. But it should ideally align with your passion and mission, allowing you to find fulfillment and satisfaction in your career.
The “sweet spot” in the middle is your ikigai. It is all of these four intersections combined. It is doing something you are passionate about, that you are also good at, that the world needs now, and for which someone will pay you. It represents a state of balance, where you experience a deep sense of meaning and satisfaction in your life.
Upon learning all of these things, I realized that this word is really a treasure map. A treasure map that has four directions and following those can help you find your way to finding wonderful things about yourself that you can share with the world and the world will say thank you for it.
Discovering Your Ikigai
By actively exploring one’s passions and interests, individuals can unlock new dimensions of their minds and discover their purpose—their ikigai. Surprisingly, but not at the same time, embracing ikigai not only leads to a more meaningful existence but also provides protection against stress and illness.
Research by the American Psychosomatic Society suggests that having a strong sense of purpose in life is associated with reduced mortality and a lower risk of cardiovascular incidents. Those who possess a clear purpose tend to lead healthier lives, exhibit greater motivation, and display resilience. It is my belief that everyone has an ikigai waiting to be discovered, but it demands a profound introspection and a willingness to take courageous steps forward.
However, it is important to emphasize that finding one’s ikigai is not an easy task. It requires courage, determination, and a readiness to make sacrifices. In my personal journey to discover my ikigai, I had to detach myself from fears, negativity, and worries. Frequently doubting my ability to contribute meaningfully to society, I questioned whether anyone would care about my endeavors or whether I even had a purpose. I subjected myself to constant self-criticism, endlessly finding flaws in who I was and what I did.
After years of self-doubt and lacking confidence, I realized that I was my own worst enemy. If I continued down that path, I would never reach or unlock my true potential or experience the joy of discovering my purpose. So I tried convincing myself that my contributions do matter and that I do have a purpose, but I just couldn’t seem to believe that. So that is when I decided to take concrete actions that would build up the confidence inside of me and help me see what I am actually capable of.
The Pros! …and the Cons
Like any other philosophical concept, ikigai also has its share of pros and cons. While it offers a bucketload of benefits, it is important to consider its potential challenges. I want to share these with you so you don’t get overwhelmed by the journey.
Meaning and Purpose
By its meaning alone, ikigai helps us find a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. It gives us a clear framework for self-discovery and aligning personal values and passions with actions, leading to a more fulfilling and purpose-driven existence. Discovering your ikigai is like life having an instructional guide! Or diagram in this case!
Motivation and Resilience
Embracing ikigai can enhance motivation and resilience. By pursuing activities that align with our passions, we are more likely to be deeply motivated and committed, which enables us to overcome challenges and persevere in the pursuit of our own goals.
Balance and Integration
Ikigai encourages us to seek balance and integration in our lives. That is basically what the diagram is telling us! By considering the different dimensions of passion, mission, vocation, and profession, we can strive for harmony and allocate time and energy to various aspects of our life, leading to a more balanced and holistic way of living.
Well-being and Happiness
Ikigai has been linked to improved well-being and happiness. Just look at the island of Okinawa! When live in alignment with our ikigai, we experience a greater sense of satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment in our lives. It fosters a positive mindset, enhances overall mental health, and contributes to a higher quality of life.
Discovering your ikigai is a personal journey that requires self-reflection, exploration, and sometimes trial and error. It can be a complex and ongoing process that may take time and effort. Not everyone may find it easy to identify their passions, values, and purpose. It may even lead to frustration or a sense of confusion.
I have thought about these external factors, such as socioeconomic circumstances, cultural expectations, and societal pressures, which can influence an individual’s ability to pursue their ikigai fully. Financial constraints, family obligations, or societal norms may limit the choices individuals can make and hinder their alignment with their true passions and purpose.
I learned that ikigai has deep roots in Japanese culture, and its effectiveness and applicability may vary in diverse cultural contexts. Ikigai can be applied or more aligned with countries that are pluralistic such as Asian countries, those with an emphasis on community, social roles, and expectations. These may not align with the individualistic values in some societies, making it challenging to fully embrace the concept worldwide.
While ikigai provides a valuable framework for personal fulfillment, it may not address all aspects of life. It focuses primarily on individual purpose and well-being, and it may not fully consider broader systemic issues or societal challenges. Therefore, additional approaches and considerations may be necessary for addressing complex societal problems.
The beauty of ikigai lies solely in and on itself. The sweetness of finding this middle spot outbounds all that our minds can comprehend. But all of that is not that simple, eh? Although having considered discovering my ikigai, it was a challenging and rough road to take. At times, I even think that I am still continuously on that road. It seems endless but I am encouraged by the fact that I have a hope that I look forward to.
While I acknowledge that ikigai is not a panacea, it’s safe to say that I enjoyed the part where I get to self-reflect, motivate myself to take action, set a momentum, and eventually, slowly build a sense of purpose.
Ikigai really offers us this powerful framework for discovering purpose and achieving a meaningful life. Its combination of passion, mission, vocation, and profession provides us with a map; a compass to navigate life and find deep fulfillment. So I encourage you to embark on your journey to discovering your own ikigai!
Ultimately, it is also important to note that different philosophies can complement and coexist with each other. What works best for an others can vary based on personal preferences, cultural background, and individual circumstances! It’s okay to explore and simply draw inspiration from different concepts to find what resonates most with you and supports your personal growth and well-being. You don’t have to be pressured! Our goal is to land at the same sweet spot of happiness and fulfillment. Even planes don’t land the same exact way, at the same exact place, at the same exact time, or even by the same exact pilot. Everyone is different, and you are the pilot of your own life. Your ikigai circles may consist of different things, therefore a different ikigai is waiting for you to be discovered.
Don’t fret because you don’t want regrets in the end. Everything takes time and if you got a lifetime to pursue it, why hurry?
Discover life’s treasure by the map that is IKIGAI. Share your journey of discovering your ikigai and tag us on Facebook!
Read more from Jannah Janela Martos here!