Is there a secret formula for longevity and happiness? The Japanese have an answer to this question, and it is called Ikigai (pronounced Ick-ee-guy). This Japanese concept can be translated as “a reason for being”. It refers to having a direction or purpose and motivation in life that makes one’s life worthwhile. In other words, it is a reason to jump out of bed each morning. According to psychological research, if you have a purpose, a motivation, and a reason for getting up in the morning, you become happier and live longer!
Let’s take a deeper look at how this works!
What Is Ikigai?
The word Ikigai consists of two words: ‘Iki’ (to live) and ‘gai’ (reason).
This philosophy originated on the island of Okinawa – home to the largest group of centenarians in the world.
Could the concept of Ikigai contribute to health and longevity?
National Geographic reporter, Dan Buettner, believes it does. According to Buettner, Okinawans have less desire to retire, as people continue to do their favorite job as long as they remain healthy.
Searching for Ikigai is a long process that requires a deep understanding of your desires and needs in all areas of your life.
Unfortunately, most people don’t even know what their purpose and greatest inspiration in life. Not having a reason to jump out of bed each morning leads to a meaningless life, depression, apathy, and even health problems. While some people feel their calling and love for their work, many spend most of their lives trying to figure out what makes them happy.
Four Primary Elements Of Ikigai
The Ikigai concept consists of four primary elements:
- What you love (your passion)
- What the world needs (your mission)
- What you are good at (your vocation)
- What you can get paid for (your profession)
According to the Japanese idea of self-development, each of us has an Ikigai. All we need to do is just to reveal it to make life meaningful and fulfilling.
If you want to discover your Ikigai you need to ask yourself the following four questions:
- What do I love?
- What am I good at?
- What can I be paid for now — or something that could transform into my future hustle?
- What does the world need?
Element 1: Your passion
What is that you love doing? This can be your hobbies: music, dancing, drawing, swimming, cooking gardening. Try to understand what gives you real satisfaction.
These things will motivate you and help you choose the career that suits you best.
If you make enough money, but you are bored and uninterested in the work you do, even if you are successful in it, it may be time to reconsider your preferences.
Element 2: Your mission
What are you good at? Knowing what you love to do and understanding what you are good at are two different things. You may not like your current job, but you can do it perfectly with a high level of professionalism.
You may enjoy drawing, but your paintings won’t be worth a damn. You may be passionate about one thing, but skilled and talented at something else.
Try to find what you are good at and find out what skills you need to improve.
When you are confident in your abilities, you can build a career and make money by doing what you love. This will help you find satisfaction and feel the meaningfulness of life.
Element 3: Your vocation
Let’s say you can cook delicious meals. It’s wonderful! However, if you do not share your skills and talents with the world, and do not do what is valuable and what others need, you will not be able to achieve your goals based only on your skills and hobbies.
If you are a good cook, you can work in a restaurant, run your own cafe, or help feed the poor.
Helping others gives us a sense of belonging, and the lack of this element can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Element 4: Your profession
Although it is important to think about three other elements, you must not forget about make enough money for living a joyful and comfortable life.
True Ikigai can be achieved when all four intersect at the center of a balanced and happy life.
For example, you can do what you love and what others need, but it may not make you money. Or Vice versa, you can choose what is well paid and what you are strong at, but you will feel empty and unrealized.
Striving for Ikigai is a challenge and requires dedication, but it will make your life happier and more meaningful.
10 Ikigai Rules
The essence of Ikigai can also be represented in the form of 10 rules that were written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles in their book “Ikigai The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life“:
- Stay active and don’t retire;
- Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life;
- Only eat until you are 80 percent full;
- Surround yourself with good friends;
- Exercise daily;
- Smile and acknowledge people around you;
- Live in harmony with nature;
- Be grateful for everything that makes you happy;
- Live in the moment;
- Follow your passion and listen to your heart. This will lead you to Ikigai.
Where Should I Start?
Searching for Ikigai is a process that requires time, effort, and patience. The purpose of your life will become clearer to you over time, but this does not mean that you just need to relax and wait. Here are the steps that you can take already now.
1. Ask questions
Start with asking yourself the main questions:
- What do you like to do most?
- What are you good at?
- What do others need and what can you offer them?
- What can you be paid for?
Take your time with the answers, you need clear and detailed answers. But at the same time, it is not necessary to puzzle over questions. Write down your answers.
Trust the natural flow of thoughts. Note all your thoughts and possible answers that you come up with for a few weeks. Some of them may seem crazy and absurd to you, but you should continue to remember or better write down everything that comes to your mind. But most importantly, try to be honest with yourself.
Take into account your experience and important life moments, both personal and professional, to understand what makes you happy, what fascinates you, and what you value the most.
Once you find honest answers and are satisfied with them, try to find the intersection between the four elements. Even if you can’t do it right away, don’t worry. Over time, you will see the picture clearer.
2. Make a plan
If you find it difficult to answer the above questions, you may want to make a list of all possible answers and draw up a diagram.
Try creating a diagram of four overlapping circles-elements to find your ikigai, and have a clearer picture.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. The main thing is to write down your thoughts and organize them.
The more thoughts and answers you have, the clearer the picture will become.
For example, start by writing what your typical day consists of, and then make a picture of what your ideal Ikigai day should look like. See what you can add or remove compared to your typical day. Perhaps some things will be a discovery for you.
As you improve your picture, you will get closer to the life of Ikigai.
Once you have created a plan and started searching for ikigai, you need to check it in action.
You will learn from experience whether you have really found Ikigai and whether it works for you. It’s not enough just to think about it, you have to live it!
If you want to experience the fullness of life, you need to constantly take some actions. Moreover, you will need to constantly adapt and make some adjustments to move on and develop.
You may need to be ok to prioritize some things more or change the direction you’re moving in. For example, if you change your job, you will need to change your habits and lifestyle, learn to multitask, and be a patient learner.
Ikigai will bring certain changes to your life so that you can create the life you want. This may cause some discomfort during the transition period, but as soon as it is over, you will realize that you have come to what you were aiming for.
4. Find support
While you are working on your Ikigai, it is important to take care of the support you may need during the transition period.
For example, if you plan to change a job, talk to those who have already made progress in similar activities. Don’t be shy to ask such questions as:
- What did you do to achieve your goals?
- What difficulties did you face?
- How long did it take you to make the changes?
- What was the experience like?
- What reward did you get?
When you have someone to guide and inspire you, you will be highly motivated to move forward even in the most difficult and desperate moments.
It is worth understanding that on the way to the finish line, you will have to meet certain difficulties and overcome obstacles. This is why it is important to have support that will help you on your way.
5. Follow your own path
Finding your passion and your ikigai will be the best achievement in your life. However, this may require you to be patient, introspect, and take positive action.
Ikigai is not just about living a healthy and happy life. It’s about opening yourself up and accepting the path you’ve chosen.
It means enjoying life and understanding what really makes you happy and gives meaning to your life.
Ikigai And Longevity
And in the end, I would like to say a few more words about Okinawa – the Japanese island where Ikigai was originated, and where an incredibly high percentage of centenarians live.
In Okinawa, people try to develop close and meaningful relationships with each other. Friends and family members support each other throughout life, and no one is left abandoned or alone.
The old take care of the young, the young take care of the old. Such connections help not only reduce stress but also provide the necessary support in everyday life, where everyone can count on the other.
In terms of nutrition, most Okinawans eat fruits, vegetables, and tofu. They almost don’t eat meat, fat, sugar, or processed foods, which protects them from cancer, heart disease, and excess weight.
Residents drink a lot of green tea, and also consume ginger, various herbs and chili peppers.
They also exercise regularly – walking, dancing, working in the garden and spending time outdoors.
Many of them do not measure quality of life by wealth and success, but rather by being at peace while living an active and meaningful life.
Scientists have found that Okinawa has the lowest death rate from age-related chronic diseases, as well as one of the highest life expectancy.
There are other places in the world where conditions are similar, but there are not as many centenarians. Perhaps the secret lies in Ikigai.
In conclusion, I would like to share with you one Japanese parable about the the concept of Ikigai in Japan:
In a small village outside of Osaka, a woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Voice of her ancestors.
“Who are you?” the Voice asked her.
“I am the wife of the mayor,” she replied.
“I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.”
“I am the mother of four children,” she replied.
“I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.”
“I am a school teacher,” the woman answered.
“I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I am a Shinto.”
“I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.”
“I am the one who wakes up each day to care for my family, and nurture the young minds of the children at my school,” she replied.
She passed the examination, and was sent back to earth. The next morning she woke at sunrise, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose. She tended to her children’s lunches, and planned fun lessons for her students that day. The woman had discovered her Ikigai.