Ikigai: A Japanese concept of finding reason to live.

Ikigai. You’ve presumably seen the word. Or, perhaps you’ve seen the four-circle diagram. Pointless to say, it’s topic of the conversation these days. For Japanese workers in metropolises, a usual work day begins with a state called sushi-zume, an expression which draws an analogy between straphanger squeezed into a crowded train car to tightly, and a packed grains of rice in sushi. But, what is ikigai really? Like most of things, there’s a lot of disinformation floating around on the internet.

The locution ikigai is composed of: iki and kai. At the present time, kai is normally written in hiragana (Japanese phonetic syllabery). Iki refers to ‘life‘; kai is a suffix meaning roughly ‘the realization of what one expects and hopes for.’ There are more words that use kai: yarigai or hatarakigai which means the value of doing and the value of working. Ikigai can be thought of as an all-inclusive concept that integrates such values in life. Ikigai is also seen as:

  • reason for being
  • the cause for which you wake up in the morning
  • The candid translation is the ‘happiness of being busy’

The actual meaning of ikigai in Japan is- the motivation to jump out of bed each morning. Japanese people believe that the summation of small joys in everyday life results in more fulfilling life as a whole. Japan has some of the longest-living centenarian citizens in the world – according to the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The secret to longevity of these citizens, is ikigai. Along with a nutritious diet, a little bit of exercise everyday and ikigai, the secret recipe to longevity is prepared.

Ikigai is about feeling your work makes a difference in other people’s lives. How people find significance in their work is a topic of much interest to management experts. One research by Wharton management professor Adam Grant explained that what motivates employees is “doing work that affects the well-being of others” and to “see or meet the people influenced by their work.” In one experiment, cold callers at the University of Michigan who spent time with a receiver of the scholarship they were trying to collect money for brought in 171% more money when compared with those who were merely working the phone. The deed of meeting a student beneficiary provided meaning to the fundraisers and boosted their performance.This applies to life in general. Instead of trying to tackle world hunger, you can start small by helping someone around you, like a local volunteering group.

Retrial can bring a huge sense of loss and emptiness for those who find their ikigai in work. This can be principally true for athletes, who have relatively shorter careers. The interviews with many sports person shows the malleable nature of ikigai and how it can be applied. When retrial comes, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of why you do what you do beyond collecting a payslip.By being mindful of this concept, it might just help you live a more fulfilling life.

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