Discovering the Most Important Things with the Ikigai Art of Japan

Feeling dissatisfied with your life? A Japanese concept known as ikigai offers a way to understand, remember, and determine one's purpose on earth.

Bitely Team
Last update:calendarApr 20, 2024
Read time:clock12 min
Discovering the Most Important Things with the Ikigai Art of Japan

Feeling dissatisfied with your life? A Japanese concept known as ikigai offers a way to understand, remember, and determine one's purpose on earth.

Many people experience disorientation, heaviness, loss of purpose, and reassessing what matters to them in life. As a result, our perception of ‘typical’ life can change; many could rethink how they live their days and where joy lies. If you are looking for more purpose and joy and are wondering what you should be doing with your life, the concept of ikigai in Japanese might be able to point you in the direction of what you should be doing with your life. 

What is Ikigai?

It is said that the origins of Ikigai in Japanese culture can be traced back to Okinawa Island, the home of the world's most significant number of centenarians. The secret to their long life can be attributed to their inner drive or desire to live, referred to as ikigai in Japanese.

Ikigai in Japanese comes from the combination of iki, which means 'life,' and gai, which means 'value' or 'worth,' Essentially, your ikigai motivates you to wake up every day! You can live an extended, meaningful, and fulfilling life if you focus on this motivator to live it to the fullest.

“At some point in our conversation, the mysterious word ikigai came up. This Japanese concept, which translates roughly as “the happiness of always being busy,” is like logotherapy, but it goes a step beyond. It also seems to be one way of explaining the extraordinary longevity of the Japanese, especially on the island of Okinawa, where there are 24.55 people over 100 for every 100,000 inhabitants—far more than the global average.”

— Francesc Miralles and Héctor García from their book Ikigai

Héctor García and Francesc Miralles' 2016 international bestselling book Introduction to Living a Long and Happy Life, inspired by Japanese culture, their book was hailed as a must-read for anyone interested in living a long, fulfilling life. Having dual citizenship over Japanese and Spanish cultures, Héctor García's interest in understanding the Japanese way of life is an excellent demonstration of ikigai at work.

García and co-author Francesc Miralles, a bestselling author, essayist, and interpreter, conducted over a hundred interviews with Okinawans. A critical factor that the interviewees shared was the existence of an ikigai.

Four factors determine your ikigai: 

  • The first one is what you care deeply about, what you love. Then, it would be best if you enjoyed doing your ikigai. In the end, when you think about it, it can be anything that gives you a good feeling, anything you would be happy doing at any time.
  • The second one is your area of expertise. The skill can be something you've spent decades perfecting, such as writing, speaking in public, designing clothes, singing, drawing, or working with computers. Therefore, if you are doing something you enjoy and are good at, you have already crossed off two items on your list of how to find your ikigai.
  • Your third contribution is what the world needs. Seeing our efforts contribute to a better world makes us feel good about our actions. In addition, our community is a big part of what we do, so it makes us feel we have a unique role to play. 
  • The last component of finding your ikigai is how you can earn a living. You should also be aware of how you can be financially rewarded. As we all know, if you want to live a decent life, you must earn a decent living to support yourself and provide for your family. 

You need to interpret this Venn diagram to find your ikigai. Finding purpose and joy in your life will likely be found by considering your interests and strengths. It is a belief held by many people that each person has a destiny to fulfill, and it is called ikigai in Japanese culture.

“Take it slow. Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to the quality of life. The old saying goes, “Walk slowly, and you’ll go far.” Life and time take on new meaning when we leave urgency behind.” 

 — Francesc Miralles and Héctor García from their book Ikigai 

What is the best way for you to discover your ikigai? 

A person's ikigai may be clear to them from a very early age, and they find it fairly quickly in their lives. Sometimes, it may be easier to discover the truth than others. Even so, the concept of ikigai can provide great satisfaction and inspire you to keep doing what you do, so it is worth exploring.

Another aspect of Ikigai is that we can feel Ikigai when we create social connections. It might be that this explanation is due to the ingrained social connection that Japanese society encourages and is conditioned to seek as part of its social structure.

Awakening Your Ikigai is a book by Ken Mogi, a neuroscientist and the author of five pillars that he believes are essential to awakening our ikigai. These pillars are:

  1. Start small: pay attention to the details.
  2. Embrace yourself: give yourself a chance to express yourself.
  3. Connecting with the world around you: bringing harmony and sustainability to life.
  4. Seeking out small joys: learn to appreciate sensory pleasures.
  5. Being in the here and now: let your flow take over.

Ideally, you should integrate the five-pillar method within the first few hours of waking so your brain gets accustomed to these thinking patterns.

Dan Buettner, the best-selling author of The Blue Zones and a member of the National Geographic Society, recommends another simple exercise. Write down three columns on a piece of paper or your computer and label them as follows: your values, what you enjoy doing, and your strengths. Finding the common factors will help you find meaning in the lists.

When working out to find your ikigai, you must consider activities in which you can become deeply involved. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term 'flow' in the 1970s, describing a state of deep concentration or enjoyment that shuts out all other thoughts and concerns at the moment. Therefore, there is a good chance that you will experience flow while working or while doing something you enjoy.

It can make you feel less stressed, increase your enjoyment of life, and even extend your lifespan. If you want to achieve flow, make the task challenging — a simple task will bore you — but not so challenging that you lose motivation. By engaging your interests in new ways, you can keep them interesting and exciting.

As a rule, Okinawans remain active well into their retirement years, believing their ikigai is their job. However, even after retirement, they stay active in their communities. Being social and having a purpose in life is essential to their longevity.

You can make your profession your ikigai, but this isn't always true for many people. For example, only 31% of Japanese respondents considered their job to be their ikigai in a 2010 survey. Instead, people who participated in this survey responded that hobbies/leisure and family/pets were the two main categories in which they found their ikigai.

If it is just a hobby, dedicating more time to ikigai can add more meaning and happiness to your life. Make it a point to prioritize your home life, as this is where most of your meaning is found. The importance of social interaction is perhaps more apparent in 2020 than ever, as many people see their ikigai in their interpersonal relationships.

In Okinawa, people describe their ikigai in many ways, including 'the joy of having the opportunity to see and be surrounded by my loved ones’ and 'being happy every single day.'

“It doesn’t need to be a big thing: we might find meaning in being good parents or helping our neighbors.”

– Francesc Miralles and Héctor García from their book Ikigai

What are the advantages of ikigai?

Research shows that an active mind can increase longevity and improve a person's health as they age. Dementia and heart disease rates among the centenarian population in Okinawa are shallow compared to other countries. They are very healthy due to their vegan diet and the fact that they stay active and move a lot. Other Okinawan tips include not worrying, wishing others well, and being content. 

Also, it would help if you kept trying new things as you grow. You can improve your health and keep your brain active by keeping your sense of curiosity and trying new things instead of getting used to the same routine. Our mental health often goes unnoticed, with physical health taking precedence over our mental health, but both impact the well-being and longevity of our lives.

Stress reduction is another important factor. As we live through a tough time at the moment, it can be challenging to deal with the anxiety that comes with it. Knowing the methods you find compelling in handling stress- such as meditation, yoga, taking walks, or even just taking a moment to take a deep breath and allow your brain to slow down- will help you enormously.

By focusing on your breathing and your body instead of rushing thoughts, you can help calm your mind. A crucial part of the Okinawan culture is living in the moment, no matter what hardships the society has faced in the past, as they view them as a crucial part of the journey to now.

 "My ikigai is to live or aspire to live in a beautiful world. 'Beautiful' can mean many things, including comfort and harmony, as well as something looking or feeling beautiful.." 

— Yukari Mitsuhashi

It can be challenging to figure out what motivates and makes you happy. Nevertheless, ikigai in Japanese culture is about being grateful for small pleasures in everyday life. You will feel better by finding time for the little things that make you happy during the day and including them in your schedule. It is a philosophical concept and also a life philosophy. I wish you all the best in your search!

If you are interested in ikigai in Japanese culture and other aspects of personal development, you should check out the Bitely app! Its wide range of categories means a wide range of books to explore.

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