What is your life’s purpose?
The answer to this question refers to a Japanese psychological concept, ikigai. Ikigai refers to what makes life meaningful.
Having ikigai is associated with longevity and wellness (Sutton, 2021), reduced cardiovascular mortality (Hiroyasu et al., 2022), and longevity (Koichiro, 2022). Mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are less common in those with ikigai. In fact, the Japanese government recognized the importance of this concept through public health campaigns. Ikigai examines personal growth and well-being through pleasurable activities and behaviors that promote optimal health. When we have greater ikigai, we feel fulfilled, motivated and healthier.
Part of Ikigai refers to social engagement and engaging in worthwhile activities. This aspect purports that we should do what we love and are good at but align this with what the world needs. Is what you are doing a reflection of this professionally? If not, you may be limiting your ikigai. Ikigai is a comprehensive approach to life satisfaction, identity, self-efficacy, and life meaning and motivates one’s professional and personal life.
The traditional Japanese perspective of ikigai may be different from this Westernized perspective; however, the intention and benefits of this process are nonetheless helpful.
How do I develop greater ikigai?
Developing greater ikigai first starts with examining your current life situation. Exploring the four areas below will help you get started.
You Love It
This domain refers to finding your passion in life. Identify the activities that bring you the most happiness and joy.
- What are the things that you love to do?
- What gives you a sense of meaning?
- What activities keep you fully engaged?
- When do you feel happy?
You Are Great At It
Take a personal inventory of your aspirations, skills, and talents. This takes honesty and openness to examine what you are great at and where you might want to improve. Unfortunately, we often minimize or overlook our entire repertoire of abilities. You may need to consult with others in your professional and professional life to assist with this step. For example, you may be great at playing sports, talking with others, cooking, learning new things, or drawing.
- What are your skills and talents?
- What have others said that you do well?
- What are your hobbies?
- What did you do well at in school or in extra-curricular activities?
- What would you like to be good at?
You Get Paid For It
This aspect of the ikigai focuses on aligning your career with a sense of meaning in your life. However, not everyone has to get paid to have ikigai. This aspect might be related to volunteering or contributing to the functioning of one’s home life. In this case, think about the position or role you might want to have.
- What are some jobs/roles that inspire you?
- Does your current job/role give you a sense of meaning?
- What is the job market like for a chosen career?
- What skills would you need to obtain for your ideal career/position?
- Does your current career support you financially?
The World Needs It
Ideally, what we do would benefit the world in some way. This can foster a sense of meaning because we are contributing to the greater good. This could be on a local level or more broadly applicable.
- How could what you do benefit others?
- How would you be helping the community?
- What can you do to solve a particular problem in the world?
- How can you help solve a future problem?
Putting it all together
After examining these facets, look for intersections and patterns to identify your ikigai. While going through this process, be compassionate to yourself. Assessing what you are great at and where you want to require comfort with change, ambiguity, and curiosity.
Consistent with your values and committing to action provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Embracing your ikigai can lead to optimal living and wellness. If you start feeling anxious, fearful and avoiding, reflect on what brings you purpose and connect with your values. Remember that fear is just a feeling, but you can always engage in committed action.
Hiroyasu Iso, Akiko Tamakoshi, Kokoro Shirai, Takashi Kimura, Satoyo Ikehara, & Junji Miyazaki. (2022). Purpose in life (Ikigai) and employment status in relation to cardiovascular mortality: the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. BMJ Open, 12(10). https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-059725
Koichiro Shiba, Eric S. Kim, Kokoro Shirai, Naoki Kondo, Takeo Fujiwara, Katunori Kondo, Tim Lomas, Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, Ichiro Kawachi, & Tyler J. VanderWeele. (2022). Ikigai and subsequent health and wellbeing among Japanese older adults: Longitudinal outcome-wide analysis. The Lancet Regional Health. Western Pacific, 21(100391-). https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.lanwpc.2022.100391
Sutton, J. (2021). 6 Worksheets & Templates To Find Your Ikigai. Positive Psychology. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/ikigai-worksheets-templates/