Ikigai and finding purpose

Ikigai: The Japanese Art of Finding Purpose in Life

In today’s fast-paced world, where the pursuit of happiness often leads to transient joy, the Japanese concept of Ikigai offers a refreshing paradigm shift. Ikigai translates to “a reason for being” and is a philosophy that helps individuals find joy, fulfillment, and balance in their daily routines by aligning their passions, talents, and societal contributions….

In today’s fast-paced world, where the pursuit of happiness often leads to transient joy, the Japanese concept of Ikigai offers a refreshing paradigm shift. Ikigai translates to “a reason for being” and is a philosophy that helps individuals find joy, fulfillment, and balance in their daily routines by aligning their passions, talents, and societal contributions.

Ikigai in Action: Real People, Real Stories

In the digital age, the concept of Ikigai has sparked a global conversation about finding life’s purpose. A popular YouTube video by @mylifeasmako brought this discussion into the public eye, revealing how people from various backgrounds interpret Ikigai in unique ways.

One viewer shared that their Ikigai is as simple as enjoying Meiji chocolate, highlighting how Ikigai can be found in everyday pleasures. Another expressed frustration with the commercialization of Ikigai in the West, preferring its more traditional interpretation focused on community and simplicity.

Rediscovering Ikigai: More Than Just a Venn Diagram

In the West, Ikigai is often depicted as a complex interplay of one’s passion, profession, vocation, and mission, visualized through a widely recognized Venn diagram. However, this interpretation can sometimes obscure the concept’s true essence as understood in its Japanese cultural context.

The Simplicity of Ikigai

Ikigai in Japan is traditionally viewed through a simpler lens, often related to daily joys and personal satisfaction. It could be something as simple as savoring a favorite chocolate, the contentment in daily routines, or the pleasure of a hobby. This perspective highlights that Ikigai doesn’t need to be an overarching or elusive goal but is accessible in everyday moments of happiness and fulfillment.

The Cultural Misinterpretation

The commercial adaptation of Ikigai has led to a significant shift from its original meaning. Instead of encouraging a chase for a complex life purpose, the authentic Japanese approach to Ikigai invites individuals to find beauty and purpose in the ordinary—emphasizing that life’s worth can be found in simple, often overlooked experiences.

Incorporating True Ikigai

To truly embrace Ikigai, one might consider focusing less on finding a perfect intersection of the Venn diagram and more on appreciating life’s small pleasures. Whether it’s enjoying a meal, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in a leisurely pastime, these elements can constitute one’s Ikigai, enhancing daily life with a sense of purpose and joy.

Finding Ikigai: The Path to Meaningful Living

Seiiti Arata’s YouTube video presents an enlightening perspective on Ikigai, traditionally understood in Japan as the reason to get out of bed each morning. Contrasting with the often complex Western interpretation involving a Venn diagram, Arata simplifies Ikigai to its core essence—finding joy and motivation in everyday activities.

The Real Meaning of Ikigai

According to Arata, Ikigai does not have to be an ambitious, life-altering pursuit. Instead, it’s about recognizing and appreciating the smaller, everyday activities that bring personal satisfaction and happiness.

Five Steps to Discovering Your Ikigai

Arata outlines a five-step process to uncover one’s Ikigai:

  1. Start Small: Focus on simple pleasures and immediate goals rather than grand ambitions.
  2. Free Yourself: Let go of societal expectations and external pressures to understand what truly matters to you.
  3. Seek Harmony and Sustainability: Ensure that your activities contribute to a balanced and sustainable life.
  4. Find Joy in Little Things: Appreciate the small successes and daily achievements.
  5. Live in the Present: Embrace the current moment and find contentment in the here and now.

This approach encourages viewers to reassess their life’s priorities and align them more closely with their personal values, ultimately leading to a deeper sense of fulfillment and happiness.

Arata’s insights challenge the conventional understanding of Ikigai, offering a more accessible and personally relevant interpretation that encourages individuals to find joy in simplicity and daily living.

Understanding the Kanji of Ikigai

Ikigai is represented in Japanese by the kanji 生きがい. This compound combines the verb 生きる (ikiru), which means “to live,” with がい (gai), a suffix implying “worth” or “value.” The kanji 生 is particularly rich in meanings, predominantly associated with life or living things. It encapsulates the essence of Ikigai as a concept deeply connected to life’s purpose, emphasizing a life worth living. This linguistic structure highlights how integral the notion of actively living is to the philosophy of Ikigai, pointing towards a life lived with intention and fulfillment.

By understanding and adopting this more nuanced appreciation of Ikigai, individuals can foster a deeper connection to their actions and choices, enriching their lives with simplicity and authenticity. This realignment with the original spirit of Ikigai can lead to a more fulfilled and contented existence, free from the pressures of finding a grandiose purpose.

This reoriented approach not only clarifies the concept but also makes it accessible and achievable, emphasizing that sometimes, true contentment lies in life’s simple moments.

The Four Pillars of Ikigai According to the Western World

Ikigai resides at the intersection of four fundamental questions:

  1. What do you love? (Passion)
  2. What are you good at? (Vocation)
  3. What can you be paid for? (Profession)
  4. What does the world need? (Mission)

These questions guide individuals towards discovering their personal Ikigai, encouraging them to lead lives driven by passion and purpose, balanced by the practicalities of daily living.

Ikigai in Everyday Life

Implementing Ikigai doesn’t require monumental changes. It starts with small, deliberate actions integrated into daily life, such as choosing careers that not only provide financially but also bring personal satisfaction, engaging in hobbies that enrich the soul, and contributing to community efforts that resonate with personal values.

The Societal Impact of Ikigai

On a larger scale, if more people embrace Ikigai, societies can transform. Workplaces could become more human-centric, focusing on creating roles that maximize employees’ strengths and passions rather than just their skills. Education systems could shift to emphasize helping students discover their Ikigai, preparing them for fulfilling lives rather than just careers.


Ikigai is more than just a philosophy; it’s a lifestyle choice that can lead to profound personal and societal change. By finding your Ikigai, you’re not only fulfilling your own potential—you’re also contributing to a world where everyone can find joy and satisfaction in their lives. In embracing Ikigai, we find the balance that so many seek but rarely achieve.

The problem is that perhaps the west has made it too much a side hustle and a job.

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