IKIGAI : The Real Question That Needs an Answer

If you search the word “IKIGAI” on Google, chances are this diagram (or variations of it) will pop up.

While it is not wrong, it doesn’t reflect the true meaning of the Japanese word.

If we look at the word IKIGAI (生き甲斐), it literally means “the results of being alive”. If you do some cosmetic touch up on the translation, the best representation that fits the context would be “sense of purpose”.

For a typical Japanese on the street, IKIGAI means “a reason to wake up every morning”. So, it is more of a motivation concept than anything else.

Your IKIGAI can be anything – scale is not a factor. It can be as big as your mission in life or as small as being excited to try out your new pair of shoes. What matters is, this IKIGAI of yours should give you something to look forward to on a daily basis – a reason to feel alive.

It should be that simple.

But how, or why did IKIGAI get blown out of proportion?

The way I see it, based on my years of living in Japan and interacting with Japanese on a regular basis, IKIGAI is a simple mindset that the Japanese community lives by, somewhat the result of an unwritten rule that “puts the society at the center of the individual’s function”.

You see, the Japanese were molded by a very unique set of influences both historically and geographically. This has shaped the society to be appreciative of what little resources they have and in exchange for peace and harmony, they understand the responsibility that one has in carrying their own weight. A child is taught to be independent from a young age and once they enter a “community” (school, work, etc.) they must play their role to their best ability.

This is quite different from the Western culture that puts more emphasis on the “self”. Their individualistic mind couldn’t quite comprehend the Japanese meaning of “happiness” for having an IKIGAI (being useful and contributing to others) and in turn, tried to formulate this simple mindset into a framework which consist of key elements to ensure that all human-related aspects were taken care of with this “sense of purpose in life”.

As I had mentioned before, although the four (4) key elements of doing something that:

  • you LOVE
  • you are GOOD AT
  • you can EARN

is not wrong to be taken as your personal IKIGAI, rather than restricting yourself to find a single goal as a “purpose in life”, you may want to look at if from wider lens.

Consider your IKIGAI (days that makes up your total lifespan) to be something that is supported by these pillars from the four (4) key elements with “balance” in the long run as your ultimate goal.

So if you can wake up every morning with a smile, excited to start working on your project or anything that gives you a surge of energy, that is already an IKIGAI in my books.

Now if that something benefits you emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually (by feeling a sense of contributing to the world), it should be considered as a bonus.

So the question is, do you have an IKIGAI?

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