Ikigai: The Japanese Concept of Happiness in Life and Work

ikigai - Japanese concept of happiness

— By Silvia Woolard

What’s our biggest aspiration in life?

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about personal or career success. Our greatest aspiration remains the same. We all strive for happiness.

We wake up everyday wondering:

Will this be a good day? Will I be happy?

When you work towards your ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy), you don’t lose that wish for happiness. In fact, you become more aware of it. You understand what being happy truly means, and you start seeking that persistent state of fulfillment.

While we’re at it, what’s your reason for waking up every morning?

When you find that answer, you’ll eventually discover the ultimate happiness in life. You discover your purpose of being, or your ikigai.

What’s Ikigai?

Do you know someone who lives in a big Japanese city? How does their typical day look like?

Usually, their day begins with a lot of stress. They have to get up before the sun in the morning. And then commute to work in an overcrowded train. Once they reach their workplace, they keep themselves tied to their desk almost always till after their official work hours.

Japan is known for its notorious work ethics – everyone is culturally expected to give it all they’ve got. Overwork is a mammoth issue — they overwork 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. Moreover, they seem to remain perfectly happy and peaceful despite their immense daily challenges. That’s because they have found their ikigai – the reason to get out of bed in the morning.

In 2016, Hector Garcia, a former software engineer who was born in Spain, but has lived in Japan for over 13 years, joined forces with Francesc Miralles, one of the most charismatic modern authors in Spain, to investigate the concept of ikigai. The result was Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life — a book that’s practically changing lives by introducing people to this simple philosophy of happiness.

Discovering your ikigai, or passion, can be one of the greatest journeys you will embark on. —Forbes Click To Tweet

However, the book also faced a bit of criticism due to its “bloggy” style of writing. But we can certainly extract some shining pearls from it. Most of all, we get to learn about the concept of ikigai, which has been brought to the attention of the West after ages. This wasn’t the first time someone wrote about ikigai, but we are, finally, seeing the philosophy gain more popularity.

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.

Kyotango, a small town in Kyoto, has three times more 100-year-old residents when compared to Japan’s average. Takeshi Kitano, a Japanese movie director, followed seven of these people around to find out what the secret to their happy life was.

Kitano realized that they all had something in common: a hobby that they practiced every single day. For few hours each day, they did that one thing that kept them focused and interested. For example, one of the men painted, while one of the women carved traditional Japanese masks.

Kitano felt that this one daily activity creates a sense of meaningful purpose in their lives. And this leads them towards a happier and a longer life.

The big question is: How do you attain such state of mind? How do you find your ikigai?

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 journaling. Maybe, you enjoy walking in nature. Whatever your hobby, you need to turn it into 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 around your career, but it may also be a pleasurable activity that you dedicate time and energy to.

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 art, make it beautiful and realize how it’s making a contribution in people’s lives. The world needs to get some use 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 on 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.

If you check out the diagram Garcia and Miralles included in their book, you’ll notice that ikigai is a composite of few important things in life:

  • What you love
  • What the world needs
  • What you’re good at
  • What you can be paid for

ikigai-Mikel-Agirregabiria

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, money, and 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. Some were into photography, but joined business school. Others were into philosophy, but their parents convinced them it wasn’t a viable career, so they decided to learn programming instead.

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?

And then, find out if there’s a chance to revive those passions. Maybe, you can combine it with the skills and knowledge you gained since and make it your ikigai.

5. Be Mindful About Things You Do

Each action you take reflects itself 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 actions 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 practicing mindfulness, here’s the best guide to it: 7 Steps To Mindfulness]

Final Words

Hector Garcia wrote in a post in The Guardian:

The lesson we can draw from the people of Japan – and specifically the residents of Okinawa – is that we should do less when we are feeling overwhelmed, but keep busy when we feel like doing nothing. Don’t overwork, but don’t fritter those hours away either. The answer to longevity may well rely on a balance between the two.

So, find your ikigai. Be passionate about it. Make it an essential part of your life, and you’ll find balance along the way.

Here’s a short video about ikigai:

• • •

Author Bio: Silvia Woolard is a writer at Career Booster and novice entrepreneur from Phoenix. In her free time, she writes on topics from the field of popular psychology. You may follow her on Twitter.


√ A Courteous Call: If You Enjoyed this, Please Share it on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn below.