Ikigai is a term that has become quite popular recently, and even some celebrities have shared their interest the concept! According to the Japanese, the answer to a meaningful life can be attained by discovering your ‘ikigai’, but what does this mean, and how do you find it.
The term has been used most recently in the study of octogenarians and super- octogenarians living in Blue Zones (areas where there is high life expectancy), but it is most relevant to the Blue Zone in Okinawa, Japan [Octogenarians (100+) and super- octogenarians (110+)].
In Okinawa and specifically some of the smaller towns there is a much higher percentage of Octogenarians and there are many reasons why life expectancy is higher there. Many of the reasons are obvious, and are due to their diet, climate, pollution etc, but one of the main reasons is that they all have strong ikigai. Essentially, they all have a reason to get up in the morning, and that is what keeps them alive!
You weren’t born to work! It needs to be thought of as a purpose or sense of worth. It isn’t measured by how much you earn, or you own, rather a mental sense of inner happiness. If your life’s purpose is related to work, then so be it, but many Japanese who adhere to the principles of Ikigai are not focussed on this at all. Their focus is one of completeness.
It is worth adding that many Japanese never really retire, at least not from what is considered work. In Okinawa for example, the residents tend to their gardens, or draw, or use skills honed over many years to keep their lives fulfilled. They have strong community responsibilities too and are social beings.
It is mostly about process vs the final aim – a sense of mastery or process and immersion.
Creatives, artists, musicians etc. but also engineers, scientists understand that many hours and days can be spent on mastery and immersion of what they are doing, but it will always be a part of a greater plan – there is a holistic nature to this.
It is possible to have more than one Ikigai in your life, and these can be edited and changed as life goes on. It is natural that a purpose will develop over time.
When someone is in their ‘ikigai’, they are said to be in their flow. An example of this is being completely immersed in your experience – not being distracted by anything else. It could be playing a game, reading a book, whatever activity absorbs you. Time becomes forgotten as we become engrossed.
It works both ways too – a task we don’t want to do ends up feeling like it lasts forever as we do it, yet no time at all passes.
The key to achieving flow is to not get caught up in activities which offer immediate gratification – such as over-eating, drinking or over-eating in front of the telly. Flow is about getting deeply involved in the process – it is a journey with an aim. It is also about freeing ourselves from distractions. Being mindful helps with this and helps to brings our attention back to the present moment.
Being Mindful is about the here and now, but perhaps more importantly, it is about paying attention. It is not necessarily about calmness, or meditation. For example, when you become stressed, take a moment to examine how you are reacting – your pulse and breathing may have sped up, you may be more alert. This is your body preparing itself for the task you are about to perform. By listening to your body and taking your time, you can grasp better what is happening and focus. Your body is prepared, and you can be mentally prepared too.
To find your Ikigai, there are four important areas or questions to ask yourself and evaluate:
These four parts above are essential to finding your Ikigai. As you can see from the diagram above, the Ikigai is at the intersection of what you love doing, what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what you get paid for.
Ikigai isn’t an end goal, it is a process of discovery and reflection, and there is no set time frame on when you might find your purpose. The main thing is to keep your focus on the process. Once you have identified what you are naturally good at, and what you enjoy doing, the next step is to take action. This could be in the form of a class or perhaps doing some volunteer work in the area you have identified. Without action, it will be impossible to discover your Ikigai!
At first sight, it may not seem easy to find your own Ikigai – and that’s okay. We already know that finding the meaning of life is not a simple task, but doing an Ikigai test can help you to find the right direction. From there, it gets easier. Plus, you can always ask a coach, mentor, or role model for help to define your ultimate life goals.
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