Ikigai: It’s More Than Just a Pretty Venn Diagram
By Sarah Firth
Like me, you may have heard of ikigai before or seen the compelling venn diagram and been attracted to the simplicity of using this to find your purpose. On closer inspection, I have learnt that just as life is more complex than one word, so is ikigai.
WHAT IS IKIGAI?
Ikigai, pronounced ‘ick-ee-guy’, has no direct English translation and is a multi-faceted Japanese philosophy that incorporates the meaning of life and personal agency. That sense that you are in control and feel positive towards the future.
“The word ‘ikigai’ is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable…. Ikigai is more concerned with the future: for example, even when one feels that one’s present life is dark, possessing a desire or goal for the future allows one to feel ikigai.” – Noriyuki Nakanishi
To have ikigai is to embrace the joy of the little things and can be the joy of knowing an overall goal or feeling of personal satisfaction. An ikigai is essentially having a clear and compelling reason to get up in the morning.
In 2014, Marc Winn merged his interpretation of ikigai and an existing venn diagram for purpose.
This new diagram created a viral sensation and is now known in the western world as ‘how to find ikigai’. Winn himself says that the merging of these two concepts was “45 minutes of my life that got out of hand”. While the diagram does not represent the full context of either ‘purpose’ or ‘ikigai’, the diagram does get people thinking, listening and investigating their path to living with a sense of joy and knowing.
If, like me, you are just finding this out and feel disappointed or even deceived, fear not! Ikigai DOES represent the aspects of your life crossing over and not working in a silo, noticing that each aspect contributes to your overall wellbeing. I like to describe Ikigai as the sum of small joys.
WHY DO I WANT IKIGAI?
Your Ikigai helps you live longer.
Having or knowing your ikigai will not only help you quickly achieve a sense of joy and wellbeing, but it might also help you to live longer.
There are seven areas in the world, known as blue zones, that have a higher than usual number of people living much longer than average. These people share common lifestyle characteristics that contribute to their longevity. Along with diet, exercise, healthy social networks and sleep, those living longer in these areas put a strong emphasis on knowing what helps them wake up in the morning and bring them joy, making this an integral part of their culture.
A 2019 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association has linked a strong sense of purpose with a lower risk of all-cause mortality after age 50. The study followed 6,958 adults over the age of 50. Participants were interviewed using a questionnaire to rank their life purpose. While this study is based on correlative data, there is evidence to suggest that having a strong sense of purpose can impact health and longevity.
Your Ikigai can change or grow over time.
To find and know your ikigai is one of the most rewarding things in life. They are the memories that you will look back on and smile at, and the thing that will lift you up in times of hardship.
Your ikigai benefits your social relationships.
As you become more self-aware it assists you to be mindful of your impact on others and the environment. This self-awareness leads to resilience. Knowing what lifts you up, brings you down and gives you more energy, will help you weather storms and embrace change.
Your ikigai sets you up for success.
By experiencing ikigai you will get into your flow state faster and set yourself up for success. When you get into flow at work and feel like you are onto something that brings you joy and excitement for the future, you are experiencing ikigai. For example, you might be writing or speaking about something that you are passionate about which also helps others. When you’re doing this, you find that the words flow easily, you smile and feel satisfaction. The subject matter of the article and the writing or presenting could be your ikigai.
FINDING IKIGAI IN EVERYDAY LIFE (THIS INCLUDES WORK!)
Ken Moji, a neuroscientist and author of “Awakening Your Inner Ikigai” suggests bringing ikigai to your life by embracing sensory pleasure and enjoying the dopamine hit that comes along with it. Maybe this is by using your favourite mug for your morning coffee or placing an object that makes you smile on your workstation and bedside table. Don’t underestimate the power of small pleasurable and rewarding actions.
Ikigai is personal and the more we endeavour to find ikigai the better we know ourselves. One way to begin to know yourself better is to put aside some time to question and reflect, try these questions on for size as a starting point:
- What activities make you feel productive, inspired and useful?
- What do you like to do and feel at your best while doing it?
- What values that you hold close are being demonstrated when you are doing the thing that makes you feel like the best version of yourself?
- What small actions can you take to feel ikigai?
- How can you incorporate more ikigai into different parts of your life?
Answering these questions for yourself and incorporating the answers into work, play and everything in between will bring you closer to living with and feeling ikigai. Try to weave the answers to the above question into each day and remember that there is joy to be found in the journey.
About Sarah Firth
Sarah enjoys helping others turn their ideas into action by coaching them towards clarity and confidence.
When she isn’t coaching or teaching mindfulness, Sarah is with her family and friends in the beautiful Martinborough.