Deep Thoughts

The search for purpose: Let’s find our Ikigai 生き甲斐

Before we begin:

If you’ve read any of my stuff before, particularly my work on Steal These Thoughts!, then you’ll know I have a somewhat obsession with human development and the exploration of meaning.

I’m of the opinion that having meaning in life is more important than happiness. Mainly because happiness is an emotional state, one that is fleeting and cannot be sustained. Whereas meaning is something that drives us, gives us a sense of being and will more likely provide the moments of happiness we seek.

More of us want to feel fulfilled, we want to have a purpose you could say and I think this can be found in understanding what our reason for being is or our meaning.

This of course, is not an easy thing to just find. In some ways it’s a lifelong pursuit full of trial and error. This is why I’ve dedicated my time to sharing my personal exploration, experiences and insights for what they are worth to the world so other people reading this like you can benefit.

I often explore the different cultures of our world to understand how people are approaching human development, wellbeing and learning. The eastern area of our little planet has been an incredible source of this kind of knowledge throughout our history. So, it’s no surprise that my latest piece has led me to one of my favourite areas of the world in Japan.

My affinity with Japan runs deep, from when I was just a young little rebel. Shaped through video game culture and my all time favourite film: Lost in Translation (a masterpiece about people finding each other and themselves in a strange land. A beautiful story of human connection). I’ve often found more belonging and understanding in the eastern world than that of my corner of the planet.

So, let’s get this started shall we?

As always, these views, opinions and interpretations are all of my own. I’m not saying they are right for you, but I hope you find some value from them to guide you through this crazy thing we call life.

Why do you rise in the morning?

It’s not a trick question, think about it for a moment…

And don’t just say “because I need to earn money to stay alive” – we all need that, but that’s not why we get up.

Struggling to find the answer? Don’t worry most of us do!

Meaning is an important thing right? It’s not something many of us probably tend to reflect on often. We are so wrapped up in our own world that it can be difficult to see what we are doing it all for. Of course, reflecting on thoughts like this can be scary as shit so I understand why so many divert from doing this.

But nonetheless, we all want meaning, we all want to feel like we are doing something or working towards something at least.

This is more reflective in our society than ever before. We often see stories about people ditching the 9-5 to pursue passion projects, whilst others try to bring more balance to their life with smarter working practices.

Which is a topic I cover extensively in the How To Win In The Careerverse playbook too.

What we are seeing is a movement to be more, to do more. We want to do things that not only give us purpose, but give something back to others too.

We are all looking for meaning.

So, the question is – how do we find this?

Enter Ikigai 生き甲斐: The map to meaning

Ok, so we know that we are all looking for meaning. But how do we find it? Do we embark on a meditation spree to wait for the mind to have a eureka moment? Or is it like catching a wild Pokemon, where we run around urban areas with our phones out shouting “it’s over there!”?

Sadly the answer to both of those is no.

What we need is a framework, a guide, a blueprint that will help us discover what it is that gives us meaning.

And it’s this that I might just have for you.

Let me introduce you to a beautiful Japanese concept called Ikigai.

Essentially Ikigai translates to ‘a reason for being’ in English. It’s not a new concept, it has long existed in Japan and is more recently getting exposure in the western world as more of us seek meaning in our lives.

Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) is made of two Japanese words: iki, which means “life” and Kai, which has a number of meanings but for the purpose of this word it translates to, “meaning the realisation of hopes and expectations.” Put together “a reason for living”.

In the culture of Okinawa, (a small Japanese island where Ikigai is believed to have its origins) ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning” – a reason to enjoy life.

My discovery of Ikigai has been one that has changed the way I view life and the understanding of one’s purpose.

Ikigai = meaning

It’s key to note that everyone’s individual Ikigai is personal to them and specific to our lives, values and beliefs. 

To know our Ikigai is to have meaning, with meaning we can find our place, we could even find those fleeting moments of happiness too.

So, this all sounds great, I know, but how do we start to find our own Ikigai?

Me, You & Ikigai

Now we have a loose overview of the wonderful concept of Ikigai, it’s time to explore how we can apply this to our own lives.

Behold the mighty map of Ikigai:

Colourful right? But oh so important!

Now the middle spot is obviously where we want to be, these points intersect to land in our Ikigai aka the sweet spot.

Your Ikigai is the space where what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for meet. Now you can make tweaks to this blueprint to suit your own approach, but the fundamentals stay the same. If you can align these 4 areas then you will have found your Ikigai, your sense of meaning, your reason for being.

Let’s be clear – finding your Ikigai is not easy. But if it was, it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Finding it requires a deep and some say, an often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important in Japanese culture, since it is believed that the discovery of one’s Ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.

What I love about Ikigai is that it’s not fixed, it’s ever changing, it flows with you. It’s not about you finding happiness, as that’s quite an elusive pursuit. We could say it’s more like we are creating our own opportunity for happiness.

You don’t have to be doing the exact thing you want to be doing right now, but you can still have your Ikigai. Because if you know what you want and where you want to be, then you have meaning, and meaning = Ikigai (your reason for being).

So the pursuit of Ikigai is not a straight path, but honestly, what is in life?

What’s important is that we find some sort of meaning that drives our reason for being. The thing (or things) that makes life worthwhile.

Ikigai I choose you!

Now we know that Ikagi is the point where what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs and what we can be paid for meet. We can start to ask ourselves some simple questions, some which will seem glaringly obvious.

  1. What do I love?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What does the world need?
  4. What can I be paid for?

As I said before, this is no easy task. It’s one which will require deep thought and self reflection.

It’s not necessarily about aligning all of this right now either. Not all of these need to be aligned to have your Ikigai in my opinion. In my view, you can be working towards all of these and still have your Ikigai as you’ll have that meaning, the reason for why you get up every morning.

Do remember that your Ikigai will change as time goes on. Few things ever give us the same feeling as time passes, so don’t fixate on this being a permanent thing. Your Ikigai will evolve with you.

Although we all have a different Ikigai, it’s all related to the search for meaning. It allows us to experience that state of “flow” where we are truly immersed in something that brings us meaning, value and joy.

The essence of it all is to be led by your curiosity. Look to do the things that fill you with meaning and happiness. This is personal to you and doesn’t have to be big or something determined by society’s standards. It could be as simple as being a good person for your community.

Ikigai + The balance (aka the bigger picture)

I look at our Ikigai (your meaning) as an element which connects into something larger, something for the want of a better term, I have named the balance.

The balance is something I often refer to when talking about overall wellbeing. It is made up of the 3 elements of work, health and relationships. My belief is that you need to align all 3 of these to maintain your wellbeing or your balance.

Ikigai connects into the overall balance of work, health and relationships with it’s pursuit of understanding one’s meaning.

If you align or can balance all three elements of work, health and relationships, then you can generally create a good life for yourself. However if one of these is flagging or not in sync, then your whole balance will be off.

It’s like a tripod, take one leg out and the whole thing breaks. But when all 3 are aligned it is sturdy and able to persevere.

Let’s say you might have a great work life and relationship, but if your health is not good then you are out of balance. This then leads to feelings of unfulfillment even though you have two areas which are going great. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult and a lot of work to keep everything in balance. Yet it’s entirely possible to bring these together to find your own balance. 

Just like your Ikigai, finding your perfect balance will go a long way in helping you excel in all these areas of life.

Discovering your Ikigai will support in helping you create this balance I speak of.

I could write a whole other piece on my philosophy of balance, but let’s reconnect with our journey to find our meaning.

Now it’s your turn – Find your meaning

So, what do you rise every morning for?

This is the question I asked you at the start of this piece.

Now you know about the beauty of Ikigai, it’s time for you to go and explore your own. Find your meaning, let it flow and like a plant, help nurture it every day.

The path to our reason for being is waiting for us all.

“Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by people who love you”

Extract from Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life

Some more resources on Ikigai:

Ikigai in 60 seconds

How to Ikigai | Tim Tamashiro

Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life

You might also like

Why the search for happiness won’t bring you happiness

We are not defined by our parents blueprint

Before you go… 👋

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

You can join me every Tuesday morning for more tools, templates and insights for the modern L&D pro in my weekly newsletter.

12 replies on “The search for purpose: Let’s find our Ikigai 生き甲斐”

Leave a Reply