What’s Your Ikigai?

View of ocean from Okinawa

I recently finished reading The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha. It’s an interesting book with some very practical ideas and I do recommend it.

One concept that he talks about in the book is the importance of having an “ikigai (pronounced’ ‘icky guy’), which roughly means ‘the reason you wake up in the morning’.” Ikigai is a Japanese word and Pasricha describes it in a section of the book on retirement and that while the people of the Okinawa region of Japan have no word for retirement they have an ikigai. 

Candice Kumai wrote about ikigai in her book Kintsugi Wellness. She describes ikigai as being “your deeper purpose”.  

In a 2017 article for the BBC, Yukari Mitsuhashi, describes ikigai in terms I think we can all relate to right now. He says, “Ikigai is what allows you to look forward to the future even if you’re miserable right now.”

Ikigai doesn’t just sound good, it’s also good for your health. In that same article, Mitsuhashi points toward research showing that the people of Okinawa are the longest living in the world because of both their diet and because of ikigai. He cites the research of Dan Buettner who found evidence of the benefits of ikigai not only in Okinawa, but also among the people living in other communities with long life expectancy:

“According to Buettner, the concept of ikigai is not exclusive to Okinawans, ‘there might not be a word for it but in all four blue zones such as Sardinia and Nicola Peninsula, the same concept exists among people living long lives.’”

Knowing your ikigai, your reason for getting out of bed is particularly important right now, not just in an effort to live a longer life, but to actually get out of bed when you’re stuck at home. I’m working from home and have a 9 AM team meeting Monday through Friday, but I’ve had times when I could have used a clear and inspiring reason to get out of bed. 

Pasricha explains in The Happiness Equation that he and his wife wrote down their respective ikigai and put them on their nightstands so they could see them when they went to bed and when they woke up in the morning. There were a lot of mornings that this would have helped me to more easily get out of bed.

In that same BBC article, Mitsuhashi also described an exercise Buettner suggests to help you find your own ikigai:

“Buettner suggests making three lists: your values, things you like todo, and things you are good at. The cross section of the three lists is your ikigai.”

This graphic to the right is also frequently used to show how one might find their ikigai, though it is a westernized version (the “paid for” part isn’t traditionally part of considering you ikigai).

It seems like a good time to consider and clearly articulate to yourself what your ikigai might be. Is it to help those who are sick? Is it to spend more time with your children now that you all have the time? Is it to paint or write or learn to cook, to create to share with others? Is it to make masks for front-line workers? Is it to discover a vaccine for COVID-19?

Maybe you know what it is, but you don’t feel like you can act on it while staying safe at home. What can you do to prepare for acting on it when you can? How might you act on it while at home?

Whatever it is, knowing your ikigai is good for your mental and physical health, and in many cases, your ikigai may be good for your community as well.

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