Science of Ikigai: Japanese Way To Happiness In Life & Work

What’s your reason for waking up every morning?

The Japanese know the answer. They have a construct called ikigai that reflects a sense of having a ‘purpose in life’ or a ‘reason for living.

When you find the purpose of your being or your ikigai, you’ll discover the happy activity to not only satisfy your desires but also fulfill what the world needs as well.

ikigai - Japanese concept of happiness
Finding your ikigai is not an end goal, but a process of discovery.

What is the ikigai concept of happiness?

The ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) concept of happiness is a Japanese philosophy that involves finding and pursuing your purpose in life. Ikigai roughly translates as “the reason for always being happy-busy.”

When you discover your ikigai, and practice it, you get a sense of fulfillment in life. It motivates you to pursue activities that you enjoy while also contributing to society, and aligns with your strengths while also providing financial stability.

Ikigai is a traditional Japanese concept that is common in villages and non-urban areas.

Japan’s Toxic Work Culture

Strangely, mainstream urban Japan is notorious for its soul-crushing work culture – everyone is expected to put in more than they are paid for.

For example, a worker is never expected to leave the office as long as their boss is there.

Overwork is a mammoth issue — the Japanese staff overworks themselves to stress and sickness. In fact, people there are known to die from overwork. They even have a term for this – karoshi.

Still, many Japanese manage to wade through such high levels of stress, and seem to remain happy and peaceful.

Studies coming out from Japan suggest it is because they have found their ikigai – the reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Scientific Studies On Ikigai: Evidence of Ikigai Benefits

Research shows that having an ikigai is associated with better physical health (Murata, 2006), lower mortality (Tanno, 2009), and reduced functional disability (Mori, 2017).

  • Having a sense of ikigai has been linked to physical and psychological well-being in Japanese samples (Mori et al., 2017; Okamoto & Harasawa, 2009; Sone et al., 2008; Tanno et al., 2009).
  • A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, which used data from ten studies, found that having a strong sense of purpose (a central concept in Ikigai) in life was linked with reduced risk of mortality and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or stroke (Rozanski, 2016).
  • A 2022 study published in The Lancet journal found that having Ikigai was longitudinally associated with some favorable physical health outcomes (lower risk of developing functional disabilities and dementia), reduced psychological distress (depressive symptoms and hopelessness), and improved subjective well-being (happiness and life satisfaction).
  • Psychologically, ikigai may be important in developing one’s sense of self-understanding, goal attainability, and problem-solving skills.
  • Kotera & Kaluzeviciute (2021) say that based on a number of meta-analyses and longitudinal studies, evidence suggests a protective benefit and positive correlation between ikigai and better physical health, and an inverse relationship with all-cause mortality.
  • A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction suggests that ikigai positively predicted well-being and negatively predicted depression (Wilkes & Garip, 2022).

So what exactly is ikigai? By its simplest definition, it’s the reason for being. It’s the mindset that encompasses joy, well-being, and a sense of purpose in everything you do.

Discover Your Purpose in Life (Ikigai in 4 Steps)
Find Your Ikigai In 4 Steps

How To Find Your Ikigai

1. Find A Routine That You Love

Do you have a hobby? Do you have something to commit yourself to every single day?

It might be as simple as cooking a healthy meal. It could be a daily practice of yoga. Maybe, you love keeping a journal. Maybe, you enjoy walking in nature. Whatever your hobby, you first need to turn it into a routine.

Take the example of the Japanese people we mentioned above: they found something they enjoyed doing, and they’ve been repeating that activity for many years of their lives — even after they retired from their work.

Your ikigai may be focused on your career, but it may also be a pleasurable activity that you dedicate time and energy.

2. Make Sure It’s Useful To Others

When we talk about ikigai, we don’t simply refer to something you love doing. Yes, of course, your inclination to this activity is important, but so is the value it gives to the world.

If you do yoga, find a way to share that passion. It inspires you to be a better person, and that reflects on the world around you.

If you engage in the art, make it beautiful and realize how it’s making a contribution to people’s lives. The world needs to get some value out of your ikigai.

3. Find A Way To Get Paid For It

When we start talking about money, you might think that the concept of achieving happiness loses its essence. But you’d be wrong to think that.

[By the way, what’s the truth behind the dictum: money can’t buy happiness?]

You have to work to make a living, right? You spend many hours of your day at work. If you work for 8 hours and sleep for 8 hours, you have only 8 hours left of your day.

The chances are, you’ll spend at least 2 of those for activities related to work. You’ll spend those 2 hours getting ready, and commuting to and from work.

So, when you spend that much time, at least 10 hours, of your day doing something for the money, you can’t be happy.

That’s why the concept of ikigai has to be related to finances. When you can get paid for doing what you love, you have the ideal foundation for a happier life.

When you combine your work with passion, you never get retired. That’s the secret to long-living Japanese people, and, perhaps, it’s also the ultimate secret to a happy and fulfilled life.

It’s not about money. And it’s not merely about joy. It’s about combining happiness, passion, work, and money, thereby getting the most out of life.

4. Rediscover Your Passion

Many people find their passion early in life, but abandon it for “practical” reasons.

Changing your career path is not a problem. The problem occurs when you abandon a sincere passion to pursue a journey that’s way too practical and doesn’t kindle any positive emotions in you.

If you feel trapped in life and not happy with the choices you’ve made, it’s likely that you haven’t found your ikigai yet. When this happens, recalling some satisfying moments of your life might help.

When was the last time you truly felt happy? What were you passionate about when you were young?

Once you answer those, find out if you could revive those passions. Perhaps, you can combine it with the skills and knowledge you gained and make it your ikigai.

5. Be Mindful About Things You Do

Each action you take reflects on the world around you. It also reflects within your subconscious mind. Your inner state of happiness is a mirror of everything you’ve done and everything you keep doing.

You can’t just wait for happiness, health, and longevity to come your way. You have to do your part of the deal, and the results will come in return.

The main thing to realize is that everything is connected. You’re taking action every day, whether you’re aware of it or not. The moment has come to start taking the right actions. The concept of ikigai drives you in that direction.

[If you want to learn how to start being mindful in a small way every day, here’s one concise guide to getting started: 7 Mindfulness Steps]

What are the 4 components of ikigai?

The four components of ikigai are:
1. Passion: What you love. Finding something that brings you joy and excitement.
2. Mission: What you’re good at. Understanding why this passion matters to you.
3. Vocation: what the world needs. Turning your passion into an occupation.
4. Profession: what you can be paid for. Finding success in your career.

What is the Japanese formula for happiness?

The Japanese formula for happiness is often associated with the concept of “ikigai,” which refers to finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It means identifying and pursuing the things that bring joy and fulfillment, through work, hobbies, relationships, or personal goals. By living in accord with one’s ikigai, we can experience greater happiness and satisfaction in our daily lives.

Final Words

Finally, by combining what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs, and what we can be paid for, we can experience a sense of fulfillment and happiness.

So, find your ikigai. This Japanese philosophy helps us prioritize what actually matters to our brief life on this earth.

Be passionate about it. Make it an essential part of your life, and find joy in life’s simple pleasures.

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Author Bios: Silvia Woolard is a writer and entrepreneur from Phoenix. She writes on topics from popular psychology. You may follow her on Twitter. Edited and re-written by Dr. Sandip Roy— a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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