What is ikigai?

Ikigai, a combination of the Japanese words ‘iki’ (生き), which translates to ‘life,’ and ‘gai’ (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, is all about finding joy in life through purpose. In other words, your ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going.

In November and December of this year I had the absolute pleasure to travel in Japan, and while I was there I was reading about ikigai.

This age-old Japanese ideology has long been associated with the nation’s long life expectancy and the antitheses of short-sighted resolutions. Of course life-style and diet come into play for life expectancy, but what is it that keeps your spirit strong?

What is the secret to people living in harmony in Japan?

Harmony in Japan Japan was a curiosity to me in how so many people could live together in relative harmony in such a small geographic area. In greater metropolitan area of Tokyo the population alone is similar to the size of Canada’s population at 36 million! And even with all these people, it was one of the cleanest and quietest city in the world that I have ever visited. (I have traveled to 58 countries.)

Even with these cramped living conditions, the Japanese are one of the most polite societies in the world. So what is going on?

One part of the equation is possibly their Buddhist faith. But what about all Japanese workers long hours and commuting on packed trains. This must cause stress!

A possible answer may lie in the practice of ikigai.

How do you feel about your daily life?

This is where ikigai can help in framing your mental processes to believe what you are doing each day has meaning. And this meaning gives the individual a purpose or reason for being. In having a purpose you feel useful and this increases your happiness.

Since January is usually the time where you mind wanders to the past and then back again to the future it is a good time to consider what makes you feel good and rejuvenates your spirit.  It will encourage your ikigai to come through even stronger in 2019.

For some, it maybe what gets you up in the morning? What do you look forward to, or enjoy doing each day?

It does not have to be complicated or focused on your work. What small everyday activity brings you satisfaction… makes you happy?

For some people it could be cooking a delicious meal for your family. For others it could be their morning yoga practice. For me, it is the time I spend with my niece playing outside, or with Arie discovering the world around me.

It is okay to have both small activities that bring you joy, or larger goals and plans that require more steps to achieve. It is the sense that you are living, not just going through the motions and getting through the day. Even if it is just one small part of your day that brings a smile to your face that brings your stress levels down, you are practicing ikigai.

The trick is to start shifting more time in doing activities that make you feel good whether at work or at home. There is always going to be the mundane activities you need to do, i.e. household chores or administrative tasks at work, but the key is to have other activities that inspire and uplift your energy.

Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in more fulfilling life as a whole.*

Can ikigai exist at the workplace?

In the workplace, ikigai is about feeling your work makes a difference in people’s lives. How people find meaning in their work is a topic of much interest to management experts. One research paper by Wharton management professor Adam Grant explained that what motivates employees is “doing work that affects the well-being of others” and to “see or meet the people affected by their work.”**

It is something to consider as we start a new year.

Best wishes for 2019,

* Mieko Kamiya, Ikigai-ni-tsuite (About Ikigai), 1966

** Yukari Mitsuhashi, 7 August 2017, Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170807-ikigai-a-japanese-concept-to-improve-work-and-life

What is your Ikigai – Purpose in Life?
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