Could This Japanese Concept Be the Key to a Life Well Lived?

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Perhaps you’ve heard the term bandied about in your weekly wellness reading material. Or maybe you’ve come across a version of the image representing it, which consists of several overlapping circles that denote different aspects of your life, resulting in one central glue that holds it all together. Google “Ikigai” and you’ll find that there’s even been a book written on the subject, appealingly titled: “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life”. A quick browse through the book’s official Instagram page, filled with soothing, positive messages, will reveal clues to what a life with ikigai looks like – think: smiling, giving thanks, reconnecting with nature, getting in shape, staying active, and surrounding yourself with good friends. Sounds promising, but what exactly is it?

Essentially, the meaning of the word roughly translates from Japanese to English as “a reason for being”. That will obviously differ for each and every one of us, so there is no set formula for finding your ikigai. Much like the French concept of a raison d’être, the passions and joys that fuel our existence differ from person to person, and it’s within this truth that the secret of ikigai itself seems to lie. This individualized search is as important as the destination, requiring you to forge your own path to fulfillment, living a life that is meaningful to you with a unique sense of purpose, and having the courage to go down that road. According to the book, everyone has an ikigai, and if you think you don’t, then you simply haven’t found it yet. Think of it as your reason for getting up in the morning; that which allows your inner desires to align.

This Japanese concept is rumored to have been inspired by the people living on the Japanese island of Okinawa, one of the world’s “blue zones”. In fact, life expectancy on the island is so high that it’s even been nicknamed “the land of the immortals”. Not only do Okinawans live for a long time, but they’re also said to be much healthier than most people who do make it to that age. Aside from maintaining a lifestyle that incorporates a healthy diet and regular exercise, they also exhibit a unique attitude and perspective towards life, which is where ikigai comes in, and care very much for each other. The result is a community with far lower stress levels (physical, mental, and emotional) than what we’re used to seeing in other regions.

Photo: Courtesy of Toronto Star Graphic

If you’ve decided to take a page out of the Okinawans’ book, the first step is to define the different “ingredients” that make up your own ikigai. This is most easily done by answering the different questions that will help you fill out the famous diagram. For instance, what does the world need, in your opinion? This will help define your mission and vocation. What do you love to do? This will help define your passion and mission. What are you good at? This will help define your profession and passion. What can you be paid for? This will help define your profession and vocation.

Draw out the ikigai venn diagram and fill it out so that you can look at your answers laid out in front of you. You’ll hopefully be able to get a better idea of what makes your life essentially vibrate at a higher frequency. Once you are aware of these things, you will be able to not only spend more time focusing on them (or developing them, if need be), but you can also work on balancing them, which in turn will help you live in a sustained state of ikigai. It is, essentially, a process to guide you through finding fulfilment via self-realization and, in turn, allow you to live a happier, healthier, and longer life.