What is ikigai?
Ikigai is a Japaneese concept and it roughly transforms to “reason for being”.
“Ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going”
The best way to really encapsulate the overaching ideology of ikigai is by looking at the ikigai Venn diagram which displays the overlapping four main qualities: what you are good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and of course, what you love.
Boiling it down to most basic theory, it’s within the crossover of these points where ikigai stands.
As this diagram shows, ikigai holds the central position and involves four major spheres of interest and how they might overlap in one’s life. In trying to determine your own personal ikigai with the help of such a diagram, you would fill in each sphere with its appropriate content based on your own experiences, self-knowledge, and understanding of the world.
What you love
This sphere includes what we do or experience that brings us the most joy in life and makes us feel most alive and fulfilled. What we love in this sense might be sailing, writing poetry, rock climbing, singing in a rock band, reading historical novels, spending leisure time with friends, etc.
What is important is that we allow ourselves to think deeply about what we love, without any concern for whether we are good at it, whether the world needs it, or if we can get paid for doing it.
What you good at
This sphere includes anything you are particularly good at, such as skills you’ve learned, hobbies you’ve pursued, talents you’ve shown since an early age, etc. What you are good at might be, for example, playing the piano, being empathic, public speaking, sports, brain surgery, or painting portraits.
This sphere encompasses talents or capabilities, whether or not you are passionate about them, whether the world needs them, or if you can get paid for them.
What you can be get paid for
This dimension of the diagram also refers to the world or society at large, in that it involves what someone else is willing to pay you for or “what the market will bear.” You might be passionate about writing poetry or very good at rock climbing, but this does not necessarily mean you can get paid for it.
Whether you can get paid for your passions or talents depends on factors such as the state of the economy, whether your passions/talents are in demand, etc.
What the world needs
The “world” here might be humanity as a whole, a small community you are in touch with, or anything in between. What the world needs might be based on your impressions or needs expressed by others. The world’s needs might include skilled nursing, clean water, home heating, election day volunteers, or improved police training.
This domain of ikigai connects most explicitly with other people and doing good for them, beyond one’s own needs.
There is a healthy debate about whether the diagram discussed above best represents the traditional Japanese concept of ikigai or a Westernized version of it. Some adherents will say that one’s ikigai does not have to involve something the world needs, or that you can get paid for, or that is a talent. The traditional japaneese ikigai concept is closer to:
“…embracing the joy of little things, being in the here and now, reflecting on past happy memories, and having a frame of mind that one can build a happy and active life.”
Why is ikigai important?
Many sociologists, scientists, and journalists have researched and hypothesized the usefulness and truth behind this particular phenomenon, and they’ve come to a number of very interesting conclusions. One particular theory is that ikigai can make you live longer and with more direction.
In September 2017, the popular Japanese TV program Takeshi no katei no igaku partnered with a group of scientists to conduct research in the small town of Kyotango in Kyoto, a place which prides itself in having a population that has three times more residents over the age of 100 compared to the average of the rest of the country.
The program wanted to know what commonalities these elderly happy people had in their daily lives and so followed seven people in their late 90s and early 100s around from morning ‘till dawn, doing blood tests and other health check-ups.
Interestingly enough, as the program followed those men and women around, they found one single thing they all had in common: a hobby they practiced every day that they were really into. One woman in her late 90s was seen spending a few hours everyday carving Japanese traditional masks, another man painted, another went fishing daily.
“If you can find pleasure and satisfaction in what you do and you’re good at it, congratulations you have found your ikigai.”
Ikigai is about finding joy, fulfillment, and balance in the daily routine of line.