Ikigai: a Japanese concept of the meaning of life
If we talk about human needs, we probably think of Maslow’s pyramid, whose theory is the best known among those dealing with positive psychology and the search for happiness and personal satisfaction. But it’s not the only one.
In addition to this there are multiple perspectives, including philosophical ones, that address the issue. Some of them come from the East, specifically from Japanese popular wisdom and culture. For them, one of the main needs and at the same time one of the main keys to achieving happiness (although it does not necessarily imply nor is it synonymous with it) is to find our ikigai or reason for being .
What is the ikigai?
Within Japanese popular culture, ikigai is understood as that element that is our reason for being in the world, the motivation that drives us to act and live. It is about seeking and recognizing one’s place in the world, which makes our life worth living.
It is important to keep in mind that the ikigai is not identified with happiness, although knowing it makes it easier to be happy. The ikigai allows us to look to the future with hope, with the certainty that we are doing what we believe we have come to do in the world . The ikigai is linked to self-realisation and is something intrinsic and spontaneous, which means that our acts are not lived as if they were imposed by society or the world, but are carried out with pleasure and cause us satisfaction in themselves.
This vital sense is also something related to the world of work, our occupation, and how our interests interact with the world. In this way, the meaning of our life is also linked not only to our being but also to what happens in the world in which we move. It is not only intrinsic but also extrinsic.
However, it is important to keep in mind that it is not enough to identify our life purpose(s), but we also need to set out to achieve it. It is a matter of seeking and exercising that purpose in order to have a full life. Furthermore, we must bear in mind that this purpose does not have to be stable. It can be an element that varies throughout life. It must also be taken into account that it includes and requires both a self-realization component and a commitment component with the role or people who are part of it.
How to identify it?
The ikigai can be found at the confluence of what we love, those things we are good at, what we can be paid for, and what the world needs. These aspects can be related in different ways, but it is difficult to perceive that we are in front of our reason to exist if there is no balance.
The interaction between what we love and what we are good at is our passion, which in turn flows into our profession (which arises from the confluence between what we are good at and what we are paid to do) . However, we perceive it as useless unless it is connected to what the world needs.
The interaction between what the world needs and what we can be paid for allows us to find our vocation, which if it is related to our profession generates comfort but the feeling of existential emptiness if it is not linked to our interests and what we love.
On the other hand, what the world needs and what we love converges in what we understand by our mission. If our mission and our passion coincide, we will feel fulfilled and enjoy ourselves, but we cannot reach a position and maintain ourselves if it does not come together with what we can be paid for. If mission and vocation are in relation, we will be in front of something that will excite us and make us feel that we are doing a useful task, but if we are not in front of something we are good at we will be insecure and uncertain about our actions.
In conclusion, a perfect balance between the different elements mentioned is needed to reach and identify our ikigai. It is a question of seeking to ensure that our vocation, profession, mission and passion coincide in one or more themes or aspects, in such a way that it becomes a central element in our life. This allows us to be in tune with what we have come to do in the world and to be more authentic, natural and connected to ourselves.
That said, it may seem that this is something very difficult to identify. However, the truth is that on many occasions and for a large number of people, it is knowledge that they already possess to some degree and that they can find in the most obvious and natural. The problem is that it is often mutilated, sublimated or distorted by elements such as social desirability, the search for stability and security and the lack of reflection on what we really consider important.
A Japanese life philosophy with many advantages
Taking into account the ikigai or sense of life can have great repercussions at a lifestyle level or even reduce the risk of different diseases. Not in vain, some of the regions with the longest life span on the planet are in Japan, and this type of concept can be one of the possible facilitators of this.
In this sense, in areas such as Okinawa, for example, the number of cardiovascular problems and even cancer have been observed to be less frequent, and their evolution. We have to take into account that it has been observed that aspects such as hostility and competitiveness (typical of a type A personality) facilitate the former, as well as type C personalities that inhibit the expression of negative emotions are more predisposed to suffering from cancer.
It is also common to experience lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, because an attitude in line with what we consider our life goals and our sense of place in the world facilitates a contemplation of our day-to-day life as something more positive. They can have a more committed life and at the same time be freer, something that influences a great diversity of vital areas.
- García, H. and Miralles, F. (2016). Ikigai. Japan’s secrets to a long and happy life. Uranus.