The Japanese Concept Of Ikigai Might Just Answer Your Life-Long Question Of ‘What Is The Meaning Of My Life?’
Many people find themselves stuck in the same two dilemmas. It’s either they love what they’re doing but are not getting paid enough to pay for the rent, or they are earning so much for something they want to kill themselves doing.
But some people are even at worse states. Some people are utterly lost, unable to find the meaning in their lives, unable to find their purpose. So you are earning money, but what should you spending it on? Sure you may be following your heart’s passion, but what about your wife and children’s future?
An excerpt from the book Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations by Antony de Mello read:
A woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Judgment Seat.
“Who are you?” a voice said to her.
“I’m the wife of the mayor,” she replied.
“I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.”
“I’m the mother of four children.”
“I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.”
“I’m a schoolteacher.”
“I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.”
“I’m the one who went to church every day and always helped the poor and needy.”
“I did not ask you what you did but who you are.”
She evidently failed the examination, for she was sent back to earth. When she recovered from her illness, she was determined to find out who she was. And that made all the difference.
As a Japanese culture enthusiast, this writer has found many Japanese concepts that have no direct translations in English. One of them, most recently, is the concept of Ikigai, which loosely translates to “reason for being.”
What Ikigai lacks in direct translation, it makes up for its universality. This concept basically offers an alternative to what people should be striving to achieve in their lives. Maybe it’s not just the crude concept of happiness that we should be looking for, or the mundane triviality of financial success. Maybe we should be seeking to live a purposeful life—and that is Ikigai.
Ikigai breaks down this seemingly complex concept of the meaning of our existence into four questions: What do you love? What are you good at? What does the world need from you? What can you get paid for?
For easier understanding, it’s finding the balance that sits at the middle when you create a Venn diagram of these four questions. You may arrive at some sort of state of life when what you’re currently doing sits at the intersection of two or three of the questions. But your goal is to find that optimum activity, thing, something that will tick all four questions—and then work your bones off to achieve that.
Chris Myers took Steve Jobs as an example of someone who has achieved Ikigai. While many would say technology could have been at the center of Jobs’ Ikigai diagram, Myers says it is fine craftsmanship that Jobs really strived to achieve in his life. He obsessed over fine crafts—from Japanese tea cups to the design details of his products—and created Apple and Pixar to be his medium of expression.
You may think that finding your own Ikigai is as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. But finding it is actually the easiest part—you just have to focus on working towards it.
Ikigai author Hector Garcia says to find your Flow. “When we enter a state of 'flow' we lose the sense of time passing. Have you ever been so absorbed in a task that you forget to drink and eat? What type of task was it? Notice those moments when you enter flow, and your ikigai might be embeded in those moments. If you increase the daily time at flow you will increase your connection with your ikigai.”
Making changes to your lifestyle to stay true to your Ikigai will be hard at first, but you’ll find yourself happier, more content, and maybe set for life when you do so.
Garcia says, “Then I have to learn how to make changes in my lifestyle to tilt towards more and more meaning. For example I've become stronger at my daily job when it comes to saying ‘no’ to things I know dislike and I'm not good at, and putting myself into situations where I'm doing things that I love and I'm good at.”
Do you love photography? Then maybe you can start working towards honing and even mastering it. This would open you up to more paying opportunities (opportunities, which may come harder to come at the start and may take guts and patience and perseverance to find), which can eventually lead to satisfaction and happiness. What you’re left to find is a mission so as to use your knack for photography into something that benefits the world. Only then will you find true purpose in your photography.
It can even be something as ordinary as love for dogs. Do you love your dogs so much you’ve come to love creating outfits for them? And then you find yourself taking sewing and design classes, reading up, honing your skill. And then you start posting them on social media and people find your designs and approach you for outfits you can create for their dogs as well. Do your creations bring happiness to the world? Are you contributing a part of your income to an organization that saves mistreated pets? You’ve found and maybe even accomplished your Ikigai then.
Balance may be hard to find at first. But then true happiness and satisfaction are hard to come by. It all boils down to finding the right route to that piece of peace—and then setting yourself to completing the journey, no matter what traffic jams, road construction, or accidents that obstruct your way.