Ikigai

Enter ikigai, the age-old Japanese ideology that’s long been associated with the nation’s long life expectancy. A combination of the Japanese words “iki” (生き), which translates to “life,” and “gai” (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, ikigai is all about finding joy in life through purpose. In other words, your ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going. The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). The word “gai” comes from the word “kai” which translates to “shell” in Japanese. During the Heian period, shells were extremely valuable, so the association of value is still inherently seen in this word. It can also be seen in similar Japanese words like hatarakigai, (働きがい) which means the value of work, or yarigai ~ga aru (やり甲斐がある), meaning “it’s worth doing it.” Gai is the key to finding your purpose, or value in life. The best way to really encapsulate the overarching ideology of ikigai is by looking at the ikigai 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 its most basic theory, it’s within the crossover of these points where ikigai stands. Why is ikigai important?Many sociologists, scientists, and journalists have researched and hypothesized the usefulness and truth behind this particular phenomenon, ikigai can make you live longer and with more direction. DHEA, a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands that many believe may be the miracle “longevity hormone.” Interestingly enough, men and women who "lived long", 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. While the correlation between having a hobby you love and the increase of DHEA is yet to be proven scientifically, the program suggested that having this one thing that keeps you interested, focused, and gives you a sense of satisfaction in life may boost your youth DHEA hormone, thus leading to a longer and happier life. Where is ikigai practiced?Okinawa, the southern island off of mainland Japan, is home to one of the highest ratios of centenarians to population. Okinawa is also a hotbed of ikigai ideology. Here the mild weather, healthy diet, and low level of stress are also factors, but it’s the island’s active population of non-retiring, purpose-driven residents that links them to other long-living communities in Sardinia, Italy and Icaria, Greece.What’s your ikigai?Ikigai ideology has changed the way many shapes their day. Improving your morning routine to start your days doing what is most important to you before getting busy with others.” In other words, prioritize the duties that give you purpose. Have a cup of green tea, do 15 minutes of easy yoga poses and then write for one hour. Dedicated time to my health and one of the activities that give ikigai to your life. Though it may sound career-focused, ikigai is not always about financial endeavors. Having a hobby that you can dedicate your time to, raising a family, or being able to work and make steps towards diving deep into that passion project you’ve always fantasized about, are all ikigai. Finding your ikigaiIf you’re feeling lost or unsure about what your ikigai is, there are a number of ways to refocus your mind and purpose. If you find yourself blocked because change is difficult, try adding some new thing to your life: a new hobby, new circle of friends, or a new job on the side. If you can find pleasure and satisfaction in what you do and you’re good at it, congratulations you have found your ikigai. If you feel like you’re struggling, I suggestion that you gain awareness of the current status of your life. Start by putting together a note of the top 10 things you have spent your time on this week. After writing them down, ask yourself if those things are adding purpose to your life. You can subdivide by asking yourself four questions:

  • Is it something that I love doing?
  • Is it something the world needs?
  • Is it something I’m good at?
  • Is it something I can get paid for? If it’s not something you can get paid for, is what you can get paid for a good trade-off for really financially supporting your ikigai?

If this all feels a little too cemented and you have trouble committing, don’t sweat it, research has uncovered that just like music taste, fashion and, opinions, a person’s ikigai can change and morph with age, so chances are they need a semi-regular checkup. It’s never too late to start enjoying life.