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This week’s article briefly delves into Ikigai, a concept that has gained popularity fairly recently, following the success of Héctor García and Francesc Miralles’s book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.[i]

Ikigai is a Japanese concept which, according to the authors, can be roughly understood as ‘a reason for being’. They write:

Our ikigai is hidden deep inside each of us, and finding it requires a patient search. According to those born on Okinawa, the island with the most centenarians in the world, our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning.

In short, ikigai is at the centre of four overlapping circles, as shown in the Figure below:

·     What you love

·     What you are good at

·     What you can be paid for

·     What the world needs

Let’s look at a few examples.

As a space science graduate who loves space travel you live on a small island that has no space industry. Despite your relevant passion and competence, space science cannot be your ikigai as your country does not need such services (unless, of course, you are willing to migrate to a country where space science is developed).

You are a great harpsicord player and love playing Baroque music, but there is no viable audience to make a living; thus, playing Baroque music cannot be your ikigai, as you cannot get paid enough playing it.

The Ikigai diagram popularised in the west by entrepreneur Marc Winn


You are a competent nurse working in a psychiatric ward, but your job makes you unhappy as it triggers traumatic memories of your mother’s struggle with mental illness. Given that you don’t love your work, this cannot be your ikigai.

As a trained coach, you love helping people rediscover their motivation, plus there’s an established market for coaches. Becoming a life coach can be your ikigai.

Finally, you’re a trained chef who loves tweaking traditional recipes rich in calories into more health-conscious versions for children and people with diabetes. Opening a rotisserie to serve health-conscious meals can be your ikigai.

Finding one’s purpose inevitably involves a combination of one’s natural inclination and passion and serving the world by meeting a certain need.

The world is determined by the law of entropy – all things gradually descend into disorder unless positive work is done to prevent it. A life of purpose then could be one of creative endeavour, positive impact and fertile intervention aiming to counter the impact of entropy; the ultimate aim of such purpose could be to improve the cohesion of our societies and the well-being of our communities.

Therefore, rather than constantly shifting from one goal to the next randomly, having a single overarching purpose and a clear vision of an ideal self as a unifying meta-goal in life, or a ‘why to live’ as per Nietzsche, can help one better withstand life’s challenges and suffering.

What about you?

Have you found your “why” or your life’s purpose?

Have you carved a vision of your ‘ideal self’?

Let me know in the comments below!


PS1: The above text constitutes an extract from my latest book “The MARVEL of Happiness: Principles, Stories and Lessons for Living Fully”. All rights reserved.

PS2: In the 2nd Edition of my aforesaid book I explore the concepts of vision, values and of finding one’s purpose, the law of entropy as well as the idea of pursuing our ‘ideal self’ in detail.

[i] García, Héctor and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Penguin Life, 2017).

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