Ikigai: The Japanese concept of finding purpose in life

By Lucy Dayman, Savvy Tokyo

Though the “new year, new me” mantra is inspiring, the truth is if all that’s really inspiring us to do better is a different number on the calendar, maybe there’s a better way to fully embrace everything life has in store for us.

Enter ikigai, the age-old Japanese ideology that’s long been associated with the nation’s long life expectancy. A combination of the Japanese words “iki” (生き), which translates to “life,” and “gai” (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, ikigai is all about finding joy in life through purpose.

In other words, your ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going.

So what exactly is ikigai?

The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Clinical psychologist and avid expert of the ikigai evolution, Akihiro Hasegawa released a research paper in 2001 where he wrote that the word “gai” comes from the word “kai” which translates to “shell” in Japanese.

During the Heian period, shells were extremely valuable, so the association of value is still inherently seen in this word. It can also be seen in similar Japanese words like hatarakigai, (働きがい) which means the value of work, or yarigai ~ga aru (やり甲斐がある), meaning “it’s worth doing it.”

Gai is the key to finding your purpose, or value in life. The best way to really encapsulate the overarching ideology of ikigai is by looking at the ikigai Venn diagram which displays the overlapping four main qualities: what you are good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and of course, what you love.

Boiling it down to its most basic theory, it’s within the crossover of these points where ikigai stands.


Why is ikigai important?

Many sociologists, scientists, and journalists have researched and hypothesized the usefulness and truth behind this particular phenomenon, and they’ve come to a number of very interesting conclusions. One particular theory is that ikigai can make you live longer and with more direction.

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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One of the words I was introduced to when I first started studying Japanese, years ago. For some reason it always stuck with me - because the concept interested me, and because I didn't have an 'ikigai'.

I do now, I guess, except that according to that Venn diagram, I ought to be getting paid for it, but in fact it costs me. No matter - the rest fits.

It isn't a concept special to Japan of course, and when I read the whole article I hope they mention the French 'raison d'etre'.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Even Venn Diagrams are overly complicated in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you have not find, yourself by how, you will be lost for the rest of your life

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Bunkaron codswallop (pardon my Japanese).

Ikigai basically means "purposeful life" or "mindful life", not something uniquely Japanese.

One particular theory is that ikigai can make you live longer

You mean mindfulness and wellbeing have health benefits? Never have guessed.

and with more direction.

Dayman herself describes as a way to find "joy in life through purpose". So living with purpose increases the likelihood of living within, err, direction?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Ikigai is sure better than kichigai, but it takes time and perseverance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

“gai” (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, ikigai is all about finding joy in life through purpose.

jin sounds arabic to J

Seen any local pre bubble movies?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Long Life but Not much Happiness

Happy Life but Not really long life

Long and Happy Life (age over 80)

It's one of the above for everyone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love these "Japanese" concepts that can be found pretty much all over the planet.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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