Mental Health 4 MIN READ

Ikigai: Find Your Reason For Being

When you wake up every morning, do you do it with fervour, or is it a struggle to leave the warm comfort of your bed? Do you find yourself jumping up, ready to tackle the day with renewed enthusiasm every morning, or is it a constant battle to pry yourself away from your snug and cosy sheets?

Written by Sunita Sylvia

Oct 14, 2022
ikigai cover image

When you wake up every morning, do you do it with fervour, or is it a struggle to leave the warm comfort of your bed? Do you find yourself jumping up, ready to tackle the day with renewed enthusiasm every morning, or is it a constant battle to pry yourself away from your snug and cosy sheets? If you belong to the former category, then it’s easy to assume that you just might have found your Ikigai, and if you’re the latter, that means you haven’t found it… yet!

Ikigai (pronounced “eye-ka-guy”) is essentially a Japanese philosophy that seeks to balance the spiritual and the practical within the sphere of our lives, by discovering ourselves and what makes us tick, to go through life with meaning and passion derived from meaning. The word Ikigai roughly translates to “reason for being”, referring to direction or purpose in life. It’s derived from the Japanese word Iki, which means life, and gai, which translates to reason or purpose. When we have a purpose in life, which is usually subjective to the individual, all our actions are ultimately aimed at this purpose, with its subsequent drive for fulfilment providing us with a deep sense of meaning, satisfaction and contentment. Action driven by purpose is always spontaneous and never forced upon us by any external source. We actively strive towards its fulfilment, in our long and arduous search for meaning.

pencil erasor ikighai

But once this meaning is identified, it acts as a constant source of drive, as well as replenishment, not just for the body, but for the mind and soul as well. It becomes an infinite reservoir that always provides us with the warm satisfaction of meaning and fulfilment, which is extremely important in our lives. Without meaning in our lives, there can be no drive, and without drive and its fulfilment, we end up trudging along, wasting away our lives with no sense of purpose or achievement, which can have a drastic effect on our mental health and leads to depression. Ikigai constitutes all of this and seeks to provide a route towards the achievement of meaning and fulfilment.

The origin of Ikigai goes as far back as the 8th century, during the Heian period of Japanese history. Clinical psychologist of Ikigai evolution, Akihiro Hasegawa has stated that the word gai comes from the Japanese word kai, which translates to a shell. During the Heian period, shells were valuable artefacts, just like the valued virtues enshrined within Ikigai, thus deriving its name from it.

Ikigai is also usually associated with a Venn diagram with four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.

lady study table

Finding your Ikigai

If you still haven’t found your Ikigai or your purpose in life, there are many ways to refocus your mind to find your purpose. Ken Mogi, who is a neuroscientist from Tokyo, in his book The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life, has stated that it doesn’t matter whether “you are a cleaner of the famous Shinkansen bullet train, the mother of a newborn child or a Michelin-starred sushi chef’ – if you can find pleasure and satisfaction in what you do and you’re good at it, congratulations you have found your ikigai”.

Having a hobby, raising a family, or being able to work and make steps towards diving deep into that passion project you’ve always fantasized about, are all Ikigai.

If you still find it hard to refocus and connect to something as an object to focus your passion, do not worry! Research has stated that just like fashion, or music taste and opinions, a person’s Ikigai changes throughout their lives. So chances are, if you still haven’t uncovered an object or purpose in life, you just haven’t looked under all the rocks yet! Try new things, see what puts your brain frequency in flow, and lose yourself to the wave. It’s a matter of self-discovery within our passion.

passion leads us

In September 2017, popular Japanese TV show Takeshi no Katei no Igaku, partnered with Japanese scientists to research the small town of Kyotango, Kyoto, a place which boasts itself in having three times more residents over the age of 100, compared to the average of the rest of the country. The program sought to identify the secret of their longevity, and followed individuals over the age of 90, engrossed in their daily lives, conducting tests and other health checkups.

They discovered that all the individuals had a high concentration of DHEA, a steroid hormone naturally secreted by the adrenal glands, that many scientists believe to be the “longevity hormone”.

In the course of their studies, the scientists discovered that they all had one thing in common: a hobby which they practised every day, something that they were passionate about and devoted their utmost time, attention and patience to. Thus, the program concluded that having this one thing that keeps us interested, focused and devoted to, provides us with an immense sense of satisfaction and may also boost the production of the DHEA hormone, leading to a much longer, happier and fulfilled life.

At the intersection of feelings, passion, contentment and dedication, we find our meaning. This sense of meaning replenishes our body, mind and soul, and harbours and sustains us throughout our lives. Ikigai thus offers us a lifeline, a new chapter, one of profound importance to ignite the fire within us, letting the light lead our way through the darkness.



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