Ikigai – Discovering Your Reason for Being



Having a purpose in life is one of the essential factors that drive our life. A goal helps structure our life and move along a specific path we select for ourselves. In today’s dynamic lifestyle, finding a particular purpose can be a very challenging concept. Selecting a specific purpose that will define our life seems like a tough choice to make. There are so many things to do and so many choices to choose from in our multitasking lifestyle. Pointing to one specific factor that drives us to move forward is an intimidating action that many cannot take. Here comes the concept of Ikigai to help us discover the reason for our being.  

Ikigai is a term that is in a lot of use in recent times. But what does Ikigai mean? Where does the word come from? How can the concept of Ikigai help us better shape our lives? The answers to these questions can help you better understand the concept of Ikigai and consequently help discover your reason for being.  

What is Ikigai?

Image – Julie Jordan Scott/Flickr

Ikigai is a Japanese concept and term. It is an ancient philosophy that has become a way of lifestyle for the Japanese and now in the West also. 

Etymology and meaning

Ikigai is a combination of two Japanese words. ‘Iki’ means life, and ‘gai’ means to value or worth. The pronunciation of the term is ‘ee-key-guy.’ It means realising the value or purpose of our life that helps us get out of bed every morning.  

Origin of Ikigai

Origin of Ikigai
Image – Akihiro Hasegawa / Facebook

Akihiro Hasegawa, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Toyo Eiwa University, had co-authored a research paper on Ikigai in 2001. It has since then become a part of the everyday Japanese language.  

The origin of the word dates back to the Heian period, 794-1185. Etymologically, ‘gai’ comes from another Japanese word, ‘kai’, which means shell. ‘Kai’, or shells, were precious, and from hereon, it was derived as a word that stands for ‘value in living.’ Further, the concept of Ikigai is more in alignment with seikatsu. Hasegawa’s research discovers the understanding that people in Japan favour small joys. For them, everyday happiness, small pleasures lead to a more fulfilling life.  

Studies also show that Ikigai as a proven concept originates from the island of Okinawa in Japan. The longevity of the inhabitants of this island is above the national average. The people of Okinawa have found their Ikigai. Having a purposeful, happy life has increased their life span for the better.  

Elements of Ikigai

Elements of Ikigai
Image – Ben Freeman/Flickr

Realising anything in life requires a lot of questioning and answering with the self. This particular Japanese concept needs a lot of deep understanding of ourselves. Ikigai deals with an in-depth awareness of your passions. Ikigai is unlike the power that helps us earn our livelihood. It is more about the psychological and spiritual well-being of the self, the force that keeps our soul thriving.  

To understand Ikigai, there are four fundamental questions that aids in discovering the reasons for our being. The four questions are- 

  1. What do you love? (Passion)
  2. What does the world need? (Mission)
  3. What are you good at? (Vocation)
  4. What can you get paid for? (Profession)

Having a healthy, successful, and happy life is all about balance. The above four questions help us find some form of balance, a framework that structures our life. Making a list and answering these questions can serve the purpose of finding the centre of our happiness.  

Another way of realising your purpose can be stopping yourself in the middle of your work and asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Narrowing down our reasons for any particular work can help us realise our happiness.  

Importance and popularity of Ikigai

Importance and popularity of Ikigai
Image – Rina Rinari / Facebook

Ikigai is rising in popularity because people can relate more to its importance. Not just the elderly but the youth are also incorporating the concept of it. 

Following are some of the importance of finding yours- 

  • Having a balanced lifestyle. 
  • Improvement in both physical and mental health. 
  • The improved success rate in various endeavours of life. 
  • Having an optimistic approach to life. 
  • A good reasoning ability. 
  • Potential to distinguish between what one needs and what one wants in life. This is a crucial realisation. Having the ability to differentiate between ‘need’ and ‘want’ can lessen unwanted cribbing and suffering in life. 
  • It is empathy for others. 

There is much importance of Ikigai. Everyone has one of their own. But empathy is one of the most crucial realisations of Ikigai. Realising the purpose behind your actions can help you acknowledge that others too have their goal for their actions. This leads to a healthy community. One does not need to understand the other person’s Ikigai. Only acknowledging the other person’s Ikigai is enough for empathy.  

It has become a vogue, especially in western culture. Its rising popularity in the West is more in alignment with people selecting their right career. The westerners’ orientation is focused on having an established career. Their pivot on career has made them wholeheartedly adopt the philosophy of Ikigai to better establish themselves. This understanding of Ikigai, to some extent, delineates from the original concept of its philosophy. But many psychologists and researchers have condemned that Ikigai inevitably is the reason for one’s life that helps one perform better, increase their potential for success, and find meaning in life.  

Practicing and finding your Ikigai

Practicing and finding your Ikigai
Image – Ikigai Holistic / Facebook

The four elements are the founding pillars of teaching the philosophy of Ikigai. Indulging in the habit of renewing, reviewing, and reorganising the answers to the questions can become your surviving guidelines.  

The motivation to wake up every morning can change according to situations in life. First, it is essential to understand that just like life keeps changing its course, our Ikigai can also vary accordingly. The passion for developing our talents, increasing our productivity, desire to assist others, and making our living are basic human instincts. Sometimes the motivation behind these instincts may not always be at par with having a good life. That is why it is essential always to analyse ourselves to understand our needs better and wants.  

Ikigai is similar to the French term ‘raison d’etre’, meaning ‘reason for being’. It is, therefore, a holistic approach towards leading a content life. Realising our purpose to wake up every morning, the driving force that shapes our successful life, is the need of the hour. Ever since the pandemic, the restricted life has become too monotonous for people to find any kind of optimism. We must find our Ikigai to maintain a semblance and rediscover our reason for being. 

Suggested Read – Tethered Together or Poles Apart? Japan and India: A Cultural Comparison

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