By Bara Stemper Bauerova
Yukari Mitsuhashi, journalist and author of the book Ikigai: giving every day meaning and joy says you can uncover your Ikigai by asking simple questions:
- What brings happiness to my everyday life?
- What puts a smile on my face just thinking about it?
- What would I continue to do even if I had enough money to live happily ever after?
By answering these questions you are already on the way of “creating” your own Ikigai – your “reason for being” which gives you a “reason to live” – and this article offers some basic facts and insights about Ikigai.
At times when young people might feel lost, confused, in search of meaning, the concept of Ikigai can bring more clarity and help them choose an area/direction in life which is important to them, inspiring them and giving them hope.
Being aware of purpose/meaning in life, helps young people become more self-confident and active and responsible members of the community and society, ultimately supporting positive mental health. Also, having a sense of “purpose” acts as kind of compass to follow, definitely improving positive mental Health.
This article explains the concept behind Ikigai – its background and 10 “Rules” – and how to start reflecting about it. It also explains the methodology that allows youth trainers and youth workers to support young people through the process from the very start.
The purpose of Ikigai is not to declare that one needs to have and live one’s Ikigai in order to be happy, but rather to allow for reflection and awareness about one’s “Life purpose”.
The Definition of Ikigai:
There’s no direct equivalent of the Japanese word Ikigai in English. The closest definitions I’ve found are the following (emphasis added in bold):
- The term Ikigai is composed of: iki and kai. At present, kai is generally written in hiragana (Japanese phonetic syllabary)… Iki refers to ‘life‘; kai is a suffix meaning roughly ‘the realization of what one expects and hopes for.'
- Japanese dictionaries define Ikigai in such terms as ikiru hariai, yorokobi, meate (something to live for, the joy and goal of living) and ikite iru dake no neuchi, ikite inu kōfuku, reiki (a life worth living, the happiness and benefit of being alive). 
This is pretty close to how Wikipedia  describes it as well:
- The term Ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki meaning ‘life; alive‘ and kai meaning ‘(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail’ (sequentially voiced as gai) to arrive at ‘a reason for living (being alive); a meaning for (to) life; what (something that) makes life worth living; a raison d’être’.
I’ve also seen Ikigai translated as:
- “reason for being”
- “the reason for which you wake up in the morning”
“The direct translation is the ‘happiness of being busy” (Note: I’ll presume they mean living a “full life versus busy life” .
After rereading the bolded areas above, what if we were to view Ikigai as:
Aha Moment: Your “reason for being” gives you a “reason to live”
As far as descriptions go, here are a couple I resonate with:
- “The process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”
(Note: this is even more powerful if you visualize the Ikigai diagram as a flower blooming).
- “This word [Ikigai] is really like a treasure map. And, this treasure map can help you find your way to finding wonderful things about yourself that you can share with the world, and the world will say ‘thank you’ for it.” — Tim Tamashiro in his TED Talk .
Ikigai isn’t necessarily about “work”.
In a survey of 2,000 Japanese men and women conducted by Central Research Services in 2010, only 31% of participants considered work as their Ikigai. Someone’s value in life can be work – but life is certainly not limited only to that.
There is evidence of the fact that many Japanese people keep pursuing their Ikigai until the end of their lives:
Many Japanese people never really retire, they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows them to.
In Japan, Ikigai is a slower process and often has nothing to do with work or income.
–Laura Oliver. 
Ikigai is not something grand or extraordinary. It’s something pretty matter-of-fact.
– Gordon Mathews, professor of anthropology 
You don’t need huge ambition to be very happy, you just need a bunch of friends to drink green tea and talk with. Get rid of the mess and at the core is your Ikigai – Héctor García 
Other than work, Ikigai can be family, a dream, or simply the spiritual feeling that life is worth living.
After interviewing one hundred centenarians and supercentenarians in Ogimi, Okinawa (Japan), for a research aimed at understanding life philosophy and longevity secrets, conducted by Central Research Services in 2010 , the authors developed ten rules of Ikigai based on their findings:
1. Stay active and don’t retire
2. Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life
3. Eat until you are only 80% full
4. Surround yourself with good friends
5. Get in shape through daily, gentle exercise
6. Smile and acknowledge people around you
7. Reconnect with nature
8. Give thanks to anything that brightens your day and makes you feel alive
9. Live in the moment
10. Follow/live your Ikigai
These rules are in line with the holistic approach outlined in the framework* (Framework for promoting positive mental Health), i.e. the different aspects of well-being and how mental health is determined by multiple factors on many levels.
In my trainings I invite participants to:
Follow their Curiosity
Follow their Passions
Follow their needs and the needs of the World around them
Follow deeply their Love (for themselves, others, Nature….)
Philosopher and civil rights leader Howard W Thurman said, “Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. […] Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Albert Einstein encourages us to pursue our interests. He once said:
“Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.”
So in relation to our project:
Finding your own Ikigai is a great way of helping to manage a mental health condition. A good starting point is to consider what kind of activities you are passionate about and then taking steps towards getting involved.
Another method of embracing Ikigai is to consciously enjoy life’s simple pleasures, like spending time with a friend or eating a favourite meal. This can help improve our mindset and provide the basis for creating a positive outcome for the day.
Finding what you’re good at is a core aspect of Ikigai, which improves self-esteem. It can also be beneficial for anxiety sufferers as it instils feelings of self-worth, reminding them that they are capable of achieving something good and worthwhile. 
At its core, Ikigai is about finding a reason to live, being motivated to follow it and believe in that path – those directions are right for you at that moment.
And once you have that mentality, there is always a reason to keep moving forward.
This is very much associated to the area of Mindset (particular Hope, Optimism), and Self–determination theory (SDT Deci and Ryan) , the macro theory of human motivation and personality that concerns people’s inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs.
In psychology, self-determination is an important concept that refers to each person’s ability to make choices and manage their own life. This ability plays a crucial role in psychological health and well-being. Self-determination allows people to feel that they have control over their choices and lives.
Trying to find and live your Ikigai can help you to develop psychologically, emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially and spiritually.
It actively contributes to the development of the key areas of the Framework*.
How I think (goal setting and decision making): Looking for meaning and looking for one’s own purpose helps us to better function and have a more satisfying life. Young people are also looking for meaning and purpose of life and Ikigai “offers a spiritual feeling that life is worth living”, “live in the moment, take it slow”.
How I feel: Being able to deal with one’s emotions (self-awareness and self-regulation) and have the ability to act with empathy: “Smile and acknowledge people around you”.
Also it relates to having a positive view of oneself: by overcoming the challenge, the initiate gains self-confidence and new self-awareness about their strengths (passions) and reflection. “The process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom.”
How I relate to others: Developing a positive approach to life (worth living) and being a part of the wider community: the joy and benefit of being alive strengthens the feeling of community belonging “surround yourself with good friends; smile and acknowledge people around you”. Also being aware that we are part of something bigger, creating a sense of being one with nature (our ecosystem): “Reconnect with nature” And with “what the world needs”:
Values: Here, it is linked with the desire to perform to one’s highest potential and still valuing and respecting diversity of others: “smile and acknowledge people around you”, follow/live your Ikigai.
Mindset: Optimism, Openness, Gratitude are very present when you are “living” your Ikigai. “Give thanks to anything that brightens our day and makes us feel alive”. Follow your curiosity.
Identity: Self-knowledge, Self-esteem, Self-purpose are the guiding principles of Ikigai, as mentioned in detail above in relation with Self–determination theory (SDT Deci and Ryan). There is also a focus on keeping mind, body and soul in balance and have an active approach to self-care: “eat until you are only 80% full”; “keep yourself fit through daily gentle exercise” and “stay active and do not retire”.
Application in our organisation:
During the Midterm Training of the volunteers who come to our country in the context of the European Solidarity Corps project (Volunteering), we offer a 1,5 hour session to explore Ikigai. This practical session consist of introducing the Ikigai Concept Theory, allowing volunteers to link it to their own personal reality, and end with some personal “reflection and focus” time to identify 1-2 areas of the Ikigai Concept they wish to improve/work on during their last months of volunteering, both in their project and in their personal/future lives. We combine both individual work and sharing in pairs. We present a lot of examples and guiding questions, allowing them the freedom to choose how deep they want to go. If the moment is not right for them, they are sent further information and links to resources they can subsequently use.
- summary and collection taken from https://www.sloww.co/Ikigai/)2
- https://books.google.com/books?id=20kAa87zzUYC&pg=PA3&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false What Makes Life Worth Living?: How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Living: Gordon Mathews
- https://medium.com/@alltopstartups – Thomas Oppong
Suggestions for further reading:
I can recommend 2 top-reviewed books currently available about Ikigai: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles and Ikigai: Giving every day meaning and joy, by Yukari Mitsuhashi.