“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” - Pablo Picasso
You may be surprised to hear that the secret to a long, happy, and fulfilling life has been known for centuries. This ancient wisdom, which has been passed down through generations in Japan, is called Ikigai. You may be even more surprised to hear that you already knew that, because…well, it’s the reason you got out of bed this morning!
While there is no direct translation into the English language, Ikigai is loosely translated into two words: iki, which means ‘life’, and gai, which describes your ‘value’ or ‘worth.’ In western cultures we tend to equate that to the idea of your ‘life purpose’ – your reason for being. In those terms it can be quite an intimidating idea and tends to evoke images of Gandhi or Mother Tereasa – which, for most of us at least, is a tough comparison! Perhaps a more accessible way to think of your Ikigai then, is as the sum of the small joys achieved in everyday life, which collectively add up to a more fulfilling life as a whole.
As we’ve already suggested, there is a part of you that intuitively understands what your Ikigai is – albeit perhaps unconsciously. Your Ikigai is a powerful source of energy and motivation to you, and that’s what you’re tapping into on those mornings when you find yourself springing out of bed, or when you find that extra skip in your step as you head out the door. It’s when you feel at your best, because it’s when you’re being the best version of yourself.
Being connected to your Ikigai is of course a great way to feel good about yourself and your impact in the world, but it goes much deeper than that. Research has shown that it can also impact your mental and physical health, and your longevity. It’s no coincidence that Okinawa in Japan boasts the highest population of centenarians per capita, and is also a place where Ikigai is central to the culture.
While finding your Ikigai is, and should be, a lifelong pursuit, it is also something you can bring more of into your conscious awareness today. By looking at the intersection of the following important areas of your life:
- What you love – start by listing your values, those principles in your life that you’re not willing to compromise
- What you’re good at – recall the moments when you’re in that magical state of flow, achieving timelessness as you create your best work
- What you can be rewarded for – and, by reward, we don’t necessarily mean financial (your Ikigai is not your work, although your work should be an expression of it). Reward here is the sustaining feedback you receive when you’re having the impact you desire
- What the world needs – think of where you’re having that impact and it matters not just to you, but to those around you
Your Ikigai sits at the center of all that. It is not any one of those things, it is all those things combined. For example, simply doing what you’re good at may lead you into a professional niche which could become a career dead-end. Similarly, focusing purely on what the world needs can lead you to lose who you are, and to de-prioritize your own values for those of others. So, none of those things are guaranteed to bring you joy in isolation, but in a balanced combination, they will be a limitless source of sustaining energy for you,