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Ikigai: 4 questions to begin your practice of the Japanese Philosophy on life fulfilment

By Jessica Bubenheim, on 27 December 2017

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced ) (ee-kee-gah-ee)

According to Japanese culture, we all have an ikigai, a ‘reason for being’.  Japan is is known for the longevity of its people, living an average life of 83.7 years old. Previous studies have shown Japanese longevity to be closely related to diet. New studies have shown ikigai as a key component to longevity. Its seems like there is more to life than just food after all.

Ikigai - Fulfillment


Ikigai ≠ Happiness

Ikigai isn’t just another guide on ‘how to be happy’. The ultimate goal of Ikigai is not happiness - it’s about satisfaction with life. Looking at Japan, it’s ranked merely 51 in the world's happiest countries (UN-sponsored World Happiness Report 2017). Ikigai is finding your purpose, your personal mission and discovering your full potential. The aim is to pinpoint what you can best contribute to the world, the things you’re good at and that give you pleasure while doing. Those who are actively pursuing their ikigai have shown more self-esteem, feeling their presence in the world is justified.

Psychologists explain why identifying our purpose in life can help us in life satisfaction. If we are able to find our purpose, everything will be easier and pleasurable. Easy, because we'll exercise our most tuned capabilities. Pleasurable, because it will seem worth doing.


Do we all have an Ikigai?

There are people who feel that they have no special abilities or goals to fulfill. The Japanese philosophy sees it differently. If you look back, you’ll remember as a child you had a natural inclination towards something. When adulthood comes, our natural orientation is influenced by social-economic factors like; what others are doing, what our parents believe we should be doing, what type of income we believe we need for certain standards of living.


Four questions to rediscover our natural orientation

Immersed in the blurr of our everyday, detecting our strengths is not always easy. There are four questions which can help us find our path. If you write them down somewhere where you come across them regularly, you can use them as a compass bringing you closer to your purpose. Whenever something new surfaces, just take the moment to jot it down. Let’s begin.

  • What is my element? Do you see yourself more as an extrovert or an introvert? Do you find yourself enjoying activities in groups or on your own? Sometimes it’s a mix, but be sure to write down the type of company you enjoy in various situations.
  • With what activities do I experience flow? When does your time fly. What it something you could spend hours actively doing. This is an activity in which you will feel fully engaged, and won’t be thinking about anything else while doing.
  • What do you find easy to do? Is there anything which you personally find easy that others seem to struggle with? Some people find organizing documents in a clear manner easy, others are great at understanding different viewpoints.
  • What did you like doing when you were a kid? This question helps establish the basis of your ikigai. Are your strengths intrapersonal, interpersonal, logical, physical (kinesthetic), linguistic, aural, or maybe visual (spatial)?  


Ikigai in the modern life

Ikigai is the union point of four fundamental components of life: passion, vocation, profession and mission. In other words, where; what you love meets what you are good at, meets what you can be valued and paid for meets that which the world needs. Ikigai is only complete if the goal implies a service to the community. We feel more satisfied giving gifts than receiving. The next step, once you’ve identified these components, would be to start following your compass. Start working on your questions, and see how your answers fit in the Ikigai components.

 Ikigai (1)


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Jessica Bubenheim

Studying International Business at Warwick Business School. Inspired by Social Entrepreneurs.