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Ikigai – the Japanese word that could hold the secret to happiness

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Emily Reynolds
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If getting up in the morning is a chore, you dread going to work or you sometimes feel like your life has no direction or meaning, it may be time for you to acquaint yourself with the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’. 

Ikigai (which is pronounced aki-gay-aai) essentially translates as "a reason for being” – a bit like “raison d'être”, but less French. The word comes from two Japanese words – ‘iki’, meaning ‘life’, and ‘kai’, which can translate as ‘worth’. It’s why you’re excited to get up in the morning, basically, or what gives your life meaning and value. It could be your kids, your job or a hobby you have – it could even be a broader concept like ‘making things’ or ‘helping people’. 

When we feel our lives have this value it can make us happier and healthier – and could even help us live longer, according to Dan Buetter’s TED Talk on how to live to 100. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we instinctively know what it is. 

Often, it can take a long, conscious process of self-assessment and self-searching for someone to find their ikigai. But once you have found it, it may help you achieve a fulfilled and satisfying life. 

If you want to find meaning and value in your life, some experts suggest that you should ask yourself four questions:

  • What do you love doing?
  • What are you good at?
  • What can you be paid for?
  • What does the world need?

It is then recommended that you keep busy following this purpose; actively pursue it rather than sit back and hope it will come to you.

The overlap of this venn diagram – of passion, mission, profession and vocation –  could give you a good idea of what your meaning might be. You should also take stock of your achievements, your knowledge and specialism, your practical skills and your personality to help understand what might give your life structure and purpose. 

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Emily Reynolds

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