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What’s Your Ikigai?

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What gets you out of bed in the morning? Statistics suggests that only 3 in 10 people are happy with their lives. According to the Japanese, everyone has what is known as an Ikigai. The term is composed of two Japanese words: ‘iki’ referring to life, and ‘kai’, which roughly means ‘the realisation of what one expects and hopes for’.  Or what the Japanese call ‘a reason for being’.

Ikigai can be achieved by answering four distinct questions:

  • What do you love? (your passion)
  • What does the world need? (your mission)
  • What are you good at? (your vocation)
  • What can you be paid for? (your profession)

Knowing the answer to these questions allows you to understand your meaning to life. Understanding what you love and what you’re good at leads you to passion. On the other hand, finding what the world needs and what you can be paid for identifies your vocation.

Many ancient indigenous cultures took time to honour the question of purpose through ceremony, vision quest and rites of passage in order to help reveal the essential role that each member was born to play in the greater tribe and the story of life.

In his 2009 TED talk, Dan Buettner, an American explorer and author talked about his work researching the world’s Blue Zones, areas in which people live inordinately long, healthy lives.

The Blue Zone with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world is the archipelago of Okinawa. Here, men and women routinely live to exceed 100 years of age. At this age, they are still physically capable, fully alert and involved in the world around them. They work in their gardens, play with their great, great grandchildren and when they die it is generally quickly and in their sleep. Their rates of disease are many times lower than much of the world.

While Dan and his team were conducting their study, they used a questionnaire with the Okinawans and one of the questions on it was, ‘What is your Ikigai?’ Nearly all of the people were able to answer immediately.

For a 102-year-old karate master, his Ikigai was to teach his martial art. For a 100-year-old fisherman, it was continue going out and bringing fish back to his family three days per week. For a 102-year-old-woman, her Ikigai was to spend time with her great, great, great granddaughter.

What’s really interesting is that the Japanese don’t have a direct word for retirement. They believe that when you’re living your life by Ikigai you will remain active and work at what you enjoy, because you’ve found the purpose to your life, so in actuality there is happiness in always being busy.

We see so much of health prevention today focusing on nutrition, lifestyle and exercise. Though the truth is, that even when these are being addressed and you have no clear sense of purpose in your life, you can still suffer from physical health issues.

If in answering the four questions above, you find that where you are now in your life, is miles apart from where you would like to be, then my recommendation would be to make this the year that you connect with and find your Ikigai.


Image credit: Freepik

Dean Griffiths is the founder and CEO of Energy Fusion, the first interactive online platform to subjectively assess physical and mental health.


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