Ikigai is a Japanese concept about our reason and motivation for being — and it might be the key to finding your career calling in 2020
Feeling the pre-work fear? While mornings are a drag for most people, the dread of heading back to work could be a symptom of something deeper. Career anxiety is a rising problem, especially among young workers, as finding motivation, drive and ambition in a demanding job that doesn’t quite suit you is extremely difficult. As levels of workplace stress rise, so too does the popularity of reflection and wellness trends to counteract it. From tarot cards to horoscopes, or the Danish hygge or Swedish lagom ways of life, we’re constantly trying new ways to find direction and inspiration in life. But this new concept from Japan called ikigai might have just cracked it.
Ikigai (pronounced ick-ee-gai) is a Japanese idea that means “a reason for being”, or the thing that makes you get out of bed in the morning. It’s about finding your own personal path to happiness – every person’s ikigai is reflective of their own beliefs, values and interests. It works on a basis of finding where the four major parts of your life’s happiness intersect – What You Love; What You Are Good At; What the World Needs and What You Can Be Paid For. While each of these parts can meet each other individually, true ikigai is when all four find a common ground. When you find it, and keep doing it, you’ll find your happiness.
You might recognise the feelings when two or three areas intersect, but there’s still something missing. Comfortable money-wise, but feeling empty and unfulfilled? Maybe you need to invest in What You Love. Satisfied with your job, but feel a bit useless? Invest in What the World Needs.
While every cultural wellness trend has its merits, the reason that ikigai is getting so much attention is down to its apparently proven track record. The concept originates in Okinawa, a Japanese island which is home to the largest population of centenarians in the world. So, if you follow its teachings, it’s thought that you will not only achieve happiness, but a long life too.
In Okinawa, ikigai isn’t just about your job; it’s a way of life. In his TED Talk about “How to live to be 100+“, Dan Buettner used Okinawa as a prime example of what the Western world could learn to live a long and happy life. According to Buettner, a person’s ikigai could be contributed to be anything that brings them complete fulfilment and joy – for example, by practising karate, by fishing to feed a family, or holding a grandchild, which, according to one woman in Okinawa, felt like “leaping into heaven”.