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What is Ikigai ?


Are you leading a comfortable life, but feel there is something missing? Or is day-to-day life an

endless struggle? Are you wondering how you ended up where you are, or where you are heading?

Perhaps you just haven't found your ikigai yet. The Japanese term ikigai has no direct English translation, but, in simple terms, it describes reason for living. It is the amalgamation of two words: iki (to live), and gai (which describes value, worth or reason). There are myriad interpretations of ikigai meaning, even among Japanese people who habitually use the word. Here is just a small selection: joy and a sense of well-being from being alive; a reason to jump out of bed every morning; realizing the value of being alive; useful purpose; your current aim; the object - for example, a person, job or possession that makes your life worth living; a subjective happy feeling, and, my personal favourite, a springboard for tomorrow.

In essence ikigai is about living a personally meaningful life that truly expresses your inner self. It is

about making the most of every day, rooted in the belief that finding fulfilment in many things, both

large and small, is the secret to a more rewarding life, rather than extrinsic measures of success, such as wealth or social status. The sense of purpose derived from pursuing ikigai will also bolster your resilience so that you can overcome setbacks and feel positive about your future


Aspects of ikigai


Japanese psychiatrist Mieko Kamiya identified seven key needs associated with ikigai: a fulfilling

existence; change and growth; future perspectives; receiving responses; freedom; self-actualization;

and significance and value. The balance of such biological, social and spiritual needs varies from

individual to individual, and some of them are interlinked and may be met by following a single

objective. The key is to try to achieve things that align with your true nature. When you embark on

your journey, whether you fulfill your goals is relatively unimportant; it's taking steps in the right direction - the right direction for you - that counts.

Everyday life

It goes without saying that a good life should include many moments of great joy and happiness -

say, the immediate elation of reaching the peak of a mountain or of winning a prize - but these are

likely to relatively fleeting. In Japan, ikigai is a more highly valued aspiration. The concept offers a

more nuanced view of well-being. Rather than strive for happiness as an end goal, then, far better to

seek meaning and fulfillment in everyday life - the highs, the lows and the humdrum.

“ Ikigai isn't a grand target … it's a spectrum of small things. The really big things might only happen

once a decade, so life isn't sustainable without small daily joys.”

- Ken Mogi, neuroscientist, author and broadcaster


Ikigai is sometimes framed as the reason for getting up in the morning. One of Japan's great

communal pastimes is called radio taiso and traditionally takes place in local parks as early as

6.30am. Although people of all ages are known to practice radio taiso, older generations, in

particular, gather to perform gentle mobilization exercises to music broadcast on the radio. For

devotees, this ritual is, in itself, an ikigai, an essential part of their lives. If you struggle to get up in

the mornings, find a physical activity that motivates you to do so, and that mobilizes and energizes

you for the day ahead.


The Okinawa archipelago in Japan has a population with one of the highest overall life expectancies

in the world, and a disproportionate number of centenarians living active, purposeful lives. Their

longevity is attributed to a number of factors. They enjoy a healthy, varied plant-based diet and

practice har hachi bu – eating until they are 80 per cent full. The same sense of moderation is

applied to exercise, with regular light, physical activity integral to their lifestyles - that is, staying

mobile, rather than going to the gym. Okinawa is also notable for its strong and cheerful community

spirit founded on yuimaaru (teamwork) and each individual's ikigai, the inner drive to make the most of every moment.

Perfectly imperfect

The Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi teaches us to appreciate the innate imperfection and

impermanent nature of the world around us and this idea can be helpful in our pursuit of ikigai. Say

one of your ikigai is to maintain a stable, organized and happy home. Your vision of what this means

will be challenged by changes and flaws in yourself and family members, outside influences and even

the life cycle of household objects and appliances. Nothing is fixed, perfect or lasts forever, so rather

than rage against the imperfections, quirks and idiosyncrasies you will inevitably encounter in life,

find beauty in the blemishes.


The Venn diagram that is used as a basis to explain the concept of ikigai had the word 'purpose'



  • Introduction to IKIGAI

  • Aspects of IKIGAI


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