The Japanese word that could change your life

It’s said to be the secret to a happier, longer life. So what exactly is Ikigai – and how do you find yours?

Ikigai is the Japanese concept of finding your purpose in life.

Roughly translated it means “that which makes life worth living” and is said to be the secret to a happier, longer life.

With Japan boasting the highest number of centenarians per capita in the world, is it time to do as the Japanese do and find your Ikigai?

What is Ikigai?

The common Western definition of Ikigai is where passion, mission, profession and vocation intersect.

Ikigai Psychology Clinic founder Tunteeya Yamaoka says contrary to popular belief, Ikigai is not always about career.

“Ikigai is about doing things that make you feel ‘alive’, practising your values and creating a lifestyle that is worth living for where you can experience your inner joy,” says Tunteeya.

For some this could be at work, but for others it can be found outside of their job, perhaps in an activity or hobby.

“Everyone lives different lives and has different values therefore there is a variety of different ways to express your Ikigai,” she says.

How to find your Ikigai

Finding your Ikigai requires you to tap into your internal value system, says Tunteeya.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What do I truly value in life?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What makes me feel alive?

“Then the question becomes one that is internal, that is unique to each individual and meaningful to you. There are no right or wrong answers,” she says.

Upstairs Coaching founder Alex Kingsmill says it’s important to go at your own pace with the process of finding your purpose and passion.

“Go gently and hold the process lightly. Explore in a way that feels good,” the life coach says.

“For some that might be sitting on the beach taking some notes; others might prefer to do their thinking at night, curled up with a good glass of red. Keep all your answers in a small notebook (to look back on).”

How to live according to your Ikigai

Tunteeya says it’s important to try to base your lifestyle around your Ikigai.

“If you deny yourself from being able to practise what you value, that’s when you begin to encounter mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Think of it as your necessity for life,” she says.

This means giving yourself the chance to do what makes you feel alive, whether it be a creative outlet or a change in your career.

“(Knowing your Ikigai) gives you focus on a way of being – finding joy, fulfilment and balance in the everyday. So focus on the small changes you can make to your everyday rhythms, to bring you into closer alignment with what matters to you,” says Alex.

A guide for life

The important thing to note is that once you have found your ikigai it’s something that you can expect to change and evolve.

When your life changes, whether it’s having a family or progressing in your career, so too will your values, says Tunteeya.

The benefit of finding your Ikigai is that it arms you with a “compass” that will help guide you through life.

“When you know what makes life worth living, you understand your priorities in life,” she says.

Written by Tania Gomez.