Ikigai: The Quest for Meaning

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We’d all like to live meaningful lives. Lives where we feel valued for the things we do as well as making a positive impact on the society around us. It’s not, however, always easy to achieve this. Life is notoriously unbalanced and we all must “bear the whips and scorns of time” (Hamlet). Throughout history, different cultures have tried to find a way to ease the burden of human suffering and in Okinawa, Japan, they created an easy to understand philosophy for giving your life meaning, happiness and comfort. The philosophy is called Ikigai. 

Ikigai tries to answer the question of what should we do for our work so that we can have happier more meaningful lives. Our work takes up a third of our life and so it’s an understatement to say that feeling fulfilled in your work is life-changing.

Under to philosophy of Ikigai, you should choose to work in something that fulfils four criteria. You should do something that you love, something that the world needs, something you can be paid for and something you’re good at. 

If you are feeling unfulfilled at work, under the philosophy of Ikigai you are probably not meeting one of these criteria. Ikigai is most commonly represented as a ven diagram which shows how each of these factors in your life are influencing your fulfilment at work and you can use this ven diagram to diagnose what might be lacking in your life so you can find more meaning through Ikigai. 

If you are doing something that you love and something that the world needs then this work is known as your mission. For example, if you are doing charity work that you really enjoy. This is great work and it’s fantastic that you are doing it but you could be happier if you look at incorporating some of the other elements of Ikigai. If you hone your skills in this field and become more valuable, so valuable that the organisation needs to pay you to keep you there then you will be happier. You will be achieving full Ikigai. 

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe you have a profession, something that you are good at and being paid for but you aren’t feeling fulfilled. The feeling that Each day is a drag, you’re sleepwalking through your life, starts to kick in. Ikigai suggests that you should try looking at how you could be making more of an impact on the world. Try to reorient your work to make a positive difference for others. You should also look inward. Reconnect with your inner child. Find what it is you love and try to incorporate that into your work or take your work and try to find a way of applying that in a field you are more passionate about. 

You have a vocation if you’re doing something that the world needs and you are being paid for it. In this instance, you are helping others and are secure in yourself but you aren’t finding that personal sense of joy that comes from having all of Ikigai. You’re not doing something that you love and you’re not necessarily that good at it. In this case, you either need to shift what you are doing to something that you enjoy more or shift the focus in your work to something you’re more passionate about as well as improve your overall skill set.

Your passion is that which you are good at and that you love. This may seem fulfilling on the surface but without it paying you any money and without it being of service to anyone else you can start to feel alone. Cut off from the world. This often happens to artists who are starting out. In order to get to a happier place, you should find a way to monetise what you are doing more effectively and use your skills to help others. 

When can say about your work that your work is your passion, vocation, profession and mission in life then you have achieved Ikigai. It is the point at which all four disciplines have been mastered and integrated into your work. Once in this state, you only have to maintain it and it will bring prosperity not just to you but to your family, friends and those you work with. It is the state at which we as human beings are most fulfilled and can hold us in the best stead to whether the oncoming inevitable tragedies that befall us. If you strive to attain Ikigai you will find that life starts to open up to you in new and exciting ways that give meaning to your existence. 


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