As Vetrehabbers, we truly have one of the most incredible professions and professional lives. We can find great fulfilment, meaning and purpose in doing our work well. But what if, sometimes, you struggle to see the purpose? What if you start to feel frustration instead of excitement? Understanding ikigai, and your ikigai, can help you.
When we find ikigai in our lives, we find joy in the small moments, feel fulfilled in what we do, continue to improve our skill and craft, and can impact our communities positively.
Let’s discuss this Japanese concept and what it means for us as Vetrehabbers.
What is Ikigai?
There are a few different ways to translate and to understand ikigai, which is made up of two words –iki meaning life, and kai meaning worth, or the realisation of hopes and expectations. According to Noriyuki Nakanishi of Osaka University, ikigai is something that gives an individual person a sense of a life worth living. It does not need to be related to economic status or value, and is very personal; it ‘establishes a unique mental world in which the individual can feel at ease’.
Understanding ikigai and making it your own
True to our Western culture, we have taken this nuanced concept and made it our own, putting it neatly into a box. This slightly warps the original concept, but it does help us to understand a complex idea that is foreign to our culture, and gives us the ‘steps’ or ‘tools’ to work with it. Marc Winn created a diagram that many of us are familiar with, after being introduced to the concept of ikigai. He merged the ideas of two people; the Purpose Venn Diagram originally created by Andres Zuzunaga, and ideas shared by Dan Buettner in his Ted Talk on How to Live to 100+.
‘Having spent most of the last few years helping dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs find their ikigai, whilst also searching for my own, I can now visualise where it belongs.’ Marc Winn.
Many have commented that the above diagram better represents entrepreneurship than true Ikigai, which is so much more than this diagram describes. Ikigai does not necessary fall in the centre of these quadrants for every person.
Ikigai can be found in your first cup of coffee in the morning, in your child, in the enjoyment of a sunset or the feel of a hand in yours. It does not have to be linked to financial gain, and does not even have to be something that you love! It simply has to be something that conveys meaning or purpose to you.
When we look at the above diagram and consider finding our own ikigai, we may feel that we have a lot of work to do – that we need to create the change that will eventually lead us to achieve our ikigai, as if ikigai is some far-off goal. In reality, you already have your ikigai and just need the time and space to find it through a little self-reflection.
Let’s look at the Venn diagram form two perspectives to see if we can better understand this concept.
|Ask the question||Western perspective||Japanese Perspective|
|What do I love?|
Your Ikigai will be something that you truly enjoy doing, that brings a smile to your face, fills your tank, and gets you excited. Think about your hobbies and the things you love doing. Consider what activity allows you to be truly present in the moment and to achieve a state of flow.
|While ikigai can come from something that you love, it can also come from many unexpected places and sources. It is more about living out your values and finding meaning and purpose in daily life, regardless of what challenges or circumstances you may face.|
|What am I good at?|
Your ikigai will be something that you are naturally good at, or want to be better at and strive to learn more about and to accomplish. It is something that you are willing to overcome obstacles for, that you are willing to put the work and time into to achieve mastery.
|You don’t have to be good at something to find ikigai; it can come from a simple daily ritual or practice, and can be the exploration of a new hobby or skill. It can be thought of more accurately as growth, rather than mastery.|
|What can I get paid for?||It is not enough to love doing something; we need to gain financial compensation for it, too. Realistically, we need to be able to sustain our families and homes without the stress and anxiety that comes from financial uncertainty. Without this, we cannot truly find our ikigai.||Ikigai is not at all the pursuit of professional success or financial freedom. While these could be by-products of your ikigai, they are not the focus. Your work may form a part of what brings ikigai into your life, or it may allow you to pursue your ikigai in your personal life.|
|What does the world need from me?||We are hardwired as people to want to make a difference in our community, to have a place and a function that matters. Our ikigai should allow us to make the world a better place and to improve the lives of those in our community.||Ikigai is rooted in community, family, friendship and the role that we play in those environments. It is more about connecting with and helping people who give meaning to our lives, and building relationships, than about changing the world.|
So you see, there is truth in our Western understanding, but it is not the whole truth and in some ways it can make it hard for us to experience a sense of ikigai. A more meaningful framework on which to build our understanding of, and incorporate the concept of ikigai into our lives, is described by Ken Mogi in his 5 Pillars of Ikigai.
The 5 pillars of Ikigai
‘Ikigai is small-scale, patient, mundane and long-sighted.’ Ken Mogi.
In Ken Mogi’s book, The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding your Purpose in Life, he describes five pillars that create a framework for ikigai.
- Start small
This is built on the concept of kodawari – an approach where extraordinary care is taken of the little details, where we allow ourselves to take small steps, paying attention to the details in each step. This working towards excellence in the little things allows us to always become better, improve our skill and our ability, and achieve great results. The important thing is not achieving excellence (or our goal), but rather the process of working towards a goal and learning from our attempts to do so.
- Release yourself
“Accepting yourself is one of the most important and difficult tasks we face in our lives. Indeed, accepting oneself is one of the easiest, simplest, and most rewarding things you can do for yourself. A low budget maintenance-free formula for being happy.’ Ken Mogi.
This is all about finding happiness through accepting ourselves for who and what we are. We each have our own view of life, we have unique characters and personalities, and this individuality is valuable. We should stop comparing ourselves to others, and pursue our own way of engaging with life.
- Harmony and sustainability
‘Sustainability applies not only to man’s relation to nature but also to the modes of individual activities within a social context. You should show adequate consideration for other people and be mindful of the impact your actions might have on society at large. Ideally, every social activity should be sustainable.’ Ken Mogi.
While our thoughts and opinions may differ from those of others, the Japanese do not believe that being outspoken about those differences helps us to solve any social issues or make progress as a community. The principle of harmony and sustainability requires us to put our selfish needs aside, and to think about the effect we have on others.
- The joy of little things
‘No matter where you are in the world, if you make a habit of having your favourite things sooner after you get up, for example, chocolate and coffee, dopamine will be released in your brain, reinforcing the action of getting up prior to the receipt of the reward.’ Ken Mogi.
Mogi proposes that we start the day off with cultivating a sense of ikigai, using the little things that we enjoy to create pleasurable, rewarding experiences to facilitate contentment. This allows us to experience moments of happiness in our day, no matter what else may happen.
- Being in the here and now
Being present helps us to bring out our inner child, an important attitude in today’s world. Our inner child easily experiences happiness in all sorts of moments in our own and our loved ones’ lives. When we are in this state, we experience the world as having infinite possibilities, we are not defined by social roles or status, and we can remain in a creative flow, open to continuous learning.
Ikigai as a concept is subtle; both complex and simple at the same time. It is worth developing an understanding of it, as it has the power to enhance enjoyment in our lives, and to help us discern meaning and value in simple things. An awareness of ikigai fosters creativity, learning and contentment in our daily routines. Would that not be a great way to live?
Our ikigai doesn’t have to be an extravagant goal or dream, an ideal, career or profession. It does not have to be your overarching life’s purpose, which few of us really understand. Instead, it can be found in the simplest and most mundane events. Instead of striving for more or ‘other’ in our lives, let’s learn from the Japanese and foster enjoyment of and gratitude for the things we already have, do and feel!
The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding your Purpose in Life by Ken Mogi.