What is Ikigai?
There is something fascinating about Japanese culture. What surprises about the Japanese most is their longevity (the Japanese have the longest life span of any race in the world), the importance they attach to teamwork, social relations and social responsibility, and their extremely healthy diet.
If you ask someone why the average Japanese lives so long, you will probably get the answer “because they eat healthy food”. And that answer is largely correct. But in the end, it can be more than just a question of healthy eating. It may also have to do with the fact that the Japanese believe in and adhere to what is called “ikigai”, which loosely translated means “reason to be” or “reason to wake up”.
The Japanese take their ikigai seriously, and this motivates them in many ways. It’s like the word “passion”. It can have to do with a person’s career or profession, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, only about one-third of Japanese people say that their Ikigai is related to their work.
Very often the Japanese refer to social relationships and responsibilities as their ikigai. For example, the older generation is respected and highly esteemed. Their opinions and experiences are taken into account by society, making them feel responsible for others. In other words, their lives make sense.
Unlike in the West, where we are mainly concerned with what we like to do, ikigai is also about doing what we like to do, focusing on the group and fulfilling a role that benefits the whole group. Many Japanese people belong to organized groups called “Moai” and believe that their relationship with these groups is very important for their lives.
The ikigai of the fishermen may be that they improve their craft to feed their family, their moai, their town or village. The ikigai of a grandmother may be to pass on wisdom to the younger generation. The Ikigai cook can be to preserve and pass on old recipes so that each new generation can enjoy traditional cuisine. A man who conducts an orchestra could call it his Ikigai.
Interestingly, many studies show that the earlier a person retires, the greater the risk of premature death. This could be related to inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle. It may also have something to do with the loss of the “raison d’être”, the ikigai.
Some people in the West compare ikigai to happiness, but the two are not synonymous. Ikigai refers to the search for happiness and joy in small everyday activities. More precisely, the search for the meaning of the small things in life. In fact, ikigai gives a person a reason to live, even if he is unhappy or temporarily depressed. In other words, you can still experience your Ikigai even in times of difficulty or suffering. It promotes stamina.
How do you find your Ikigai?
In short, your Ikigai is both what you know how to do, what you love, and your values. If these three factors go together, you have probably found your Ikigai. Try to remember the times when you were so absorbed in your activities that you lost track of time until you forgot lunch or dinner.
By attaching importance to the tasks that captivate you, you will find your ikigai and even deepen your attachment to them. You will find that your life is more important and more enjoyable. Then you can take the next step to integrate more important tasks into your life. In other words, you have to take action, because it will not happen.
It is also about removing certain things that do not agree with your values, that you are not good at or that you do not like to do. This does not mean, of course, that you can get rid of every task or activity you do not like to do (some people do not like brushing their teeth, but you still have to do it). But it does reduce the number of tasks that are not useful for you. Some people delegate these “meaningless” tasks to others to save time for those involved in their ikigai.
The important thing is that once you have found your ikigai, you can see the big picture and even make some of the activities more meaningful.