Ikigai: What Is The Purpose Of Life And How To Find It

by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist

Published in Lifestyle on 16th May, 2019

What Is Ikigai?

Ikigai is a japanese concept that has gained popularity in western culture recently, but few people understand the true meaning and history behind it. In Japan, Ikigai is a common and well known concept that forms an integral part of your life, even if you don't think about it that much.

In layman's terms, a person's ikigai is their "reason for being" or the reason they get out of bed every morning. Many people have several ikigai, such as their family, charitable work or their career.

ikigai meaning

No two people will have the same Ikigai, it is individual to you and according to Japanese tradition, it reflects the true inner self of a person, helping them to express themselves fully and creating a calm mental state.

Although the word Ikigai is an everyday word in modern Japanese language, the concept itself has been around for a long time. According to Akihiro Hasegawa, co-author of a research paper looking into Ikigai, the word itself dates back to the Japanese Heian period (from 794 to 1185).

A key misinterpretation if Ikigai that many people in the western world get wrong (according to author Yukari Mitsuhashi) is the fact that your Ikigai doesn't have to be related to your work. In fact, only 33% of Japanese people state that their career forms a part of their Ikigai.

A common diagram used to explain the concept of ikigai to people unfamiliar with the concept however is a four circle venn diagram featuring the categories "what you are good at" "what the world needs" "what you love" and "what you can be paid for", at the intersection between all those circles of course, is supposed to be your Ikigai.

For some people, their ikigai is found that that intersection, but for most that isn't the case. For many people, their Ikigai lies in only one or two of those categories.

What's The Point In Finding Your Ikigai?

It's estimated that around 1 in 3 people are unhappy with their lives. There is an increasing number of people finding that the path laid out for them through education and work doesn't suit them, and isn't working.


Many people find themselves burnt out, overly stressed and missing out life, feeling like they want something "more" but they don't know what that is.

Finding your Ikigai, according to the Japanese, can help bring meaning and reason to your life. It is the reason you get out of bed in the morning and keeps you happy throughout the work that you do, because it is work that you actually enjoy.

If you feel like you need a change in your life, looking for your Ikigai and finding it can help to put you in the right direction. For many people, they find their ikigai in doing charitable work, producing art, focusing on their family or working with nature.

Finding and chasing your Ikigai can be scary at first, especially if it's different to what you expected, but nonetheless, the refocusing of your life onto what you really want and value can do the world of good not only to yourself, but also to the people around you.

How To Find Your Ikigai

The big question that everyone asks the minute they hear about Ikigai is "how do I find mine?" If you've never thought about concepts like Ikigai before, naturally you wouldn't know where to start.

Don't worry though, over the thousands of years that this concept has been around, humans have found some ways to help you pinpoint your Ikigai.

ikigai diagram

In her book, Ikigai: Giving Every Day Meaning And Joy, author Yukari Mitsuhashi lists a series of questions you can ask yourself to help find your Ikigai.

Looking back on my childhood, what did I enjoy the most? What events or incidents do I remember strongly and does it still affect me today?

What are some of my most memorable moments where my emotions were stirred?

What brings happiness to my everyday life?

When do I feel happiest?

What is the most fulfilling way that I spend my time?

What puts a smile on my face just thinking about it?

When have I experienced strong emotions?

When do I find myself moved, and by what?

Where does my curiosity lie?

ikigai purpose of life

What keeps me from being bored?

What aspects of my life do I seek change in?

What is something I do even though no one asks me to?

What would I still pursue even if the rest of the world didn't understand?

What would i continue to do even if I had enough money to live happily ever after?

What events do I look forward to in my future?

What changes do I wish for in the future?

What can I do about them?

What makes me want to be alive to see tomorrow?

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