Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept meaning "a reason for being".
Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one's ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.
The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き?) meaning "life; alive" and kai (甲斐) "(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail" (sequentially voiced as gai) "a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something which] makes life worth living; a raison d'etre".
In a 2009 TED talk, explorer, author, educator, and award-winning cyclist Dan Buettner described his research in the Blue Zones – areas of the world in which people live inordinately long, healthy lives.
The Blue Zone with the longest disability-free life expectancy is the archipelago of Okinawa, Japan. Here, men and women routinely exceed 100 years of age. Still physically capable, fully alert, and involved in the world around them, they work in their gardens, play with their great-great-grandchildren, and when they die, it is generally quickly, and in their sleep, and sometimes after having sex. Their rates of disease are many times lower than throughout much of the world.
Interestingly, Okinawans don’t have a word for retirement. What they do have is ikigai. Roughly translated, this means “passion” or “reason for living.”
Dan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.
There is great power in purpose. For example, we know that people with a strong sense of purpose have boosted immune systems. They also enjoy lower stress hormones, and are better able to deal with the difficulties that life throws their way.
The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It's not necessarily linked to one's economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions which we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.
Many ancient indigenous cultures took time to honour the question of purpose through ceremony, vision quest and rites of passage in order to help reveal the essential role that each member was born to play in the greater tribe and story of life; though the space and reverence for this question does not always seem to exist today. For many, our decisions around life-focus unfold in a more reactionary way, propelling us into educational, professional and life-directional paths based less on deep inner calling or soul-inspired vision, and more on societal expectations, so-called ‘practical reality’ and what is required to survive in the systems we’ve created to live in.
What is your ikigai?
“The Purpose of Life Is to Discover Your Gift. The Meaning of Life Is to Give Your Gift Away.” (or share it!) ~ Attributed to William Shakespeare
Also read: What is Gnosis?