The Japanese enjoy the longest life expectancy on the planet, and some researchers attribute it to their concept of ikigai.
Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) combines the words iki (life) and gai (value or worth) into one idea: your purpose and happiness in life. Ikigai is your reason for being. It’s why you get out of bed in the morning. Your ikigai keeps you hopeful about the future, even if life feels miserable right now.
For some people, their ikigai is nurturing their family or connecting with friends. For others, it’s their career. Other people are motivated by adventure, beauty, creativity, and caring for others. Ikigai is the magic that floats your boat, tickles your fancy, and grills your cheese. It may also be the magic that keeps you healthier and living longer.
Is Ikigai the Secret to Long Life?
In the book "Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life", author Hector Garcia explains that your is ikigai at the intersection of several key factors. Find the sweet spot in the middle of these four elements, and you’ll find your reason for being:
- What you love
- What you are good at doing
- What the world needs most from you
- What you can be paid for
In America, we often associate this sort of thinking with our careers. But this approach drops the ball when retirement arrives. If your ikigai is all about your work – what happens when your work doesn’t exist anymore?
Although some Japanese find their ikigai in their careers, many more find it elsewhere in their hobbies and in their communities, according to a 2010 study reported by the BBC. When Garcia spoke with Japanese residents in their 80s and 90s, they didn’t focus on their past accomplishments or prior decades. They spoke of sharing green tea with friends, growing vegetables, and walking to the beach. Their days were balanced with calm, purposeful activity, which stood in contrast to many people’s modern lifestyles of intense work followed by intense doing nothing.
How to Find Your Ikigai
Knowing your purpose in life isn’t just crucial for longevity, it’s also essential for thriving right now. And your ikigai will often change as life goes on. Can’t pinpoint your ikigai? It’s time to go on a search deep inside yourself with these five questions:
- What are you most likely to be doing when you feel “flow” – that state of being where you lose track of time because you’re intently focused on the task at hand?
- Think about the different ways that you spent your time yesterday. Which of the four factors listed above (if any) did they apply to? Was there anything that checked off all four boxes?
- What would your 8-year-old self say to you about the way you are living your life right now? What would your 80-year-old self say?
- If you knew that you were going to die one year from now, how would you live the next day, the next week, and the next month differently? What is stopping you from making some of those changes right now?
- What action can you take today to help discover your ikigai? Remember, passion is the result of action, not the cause. If you sit around waiting for inspiration to strike – you’ll be waiting for a long time.
“Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of standing still.” ~ Japanese Proverb
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