Ikigai is the art of finding calm the Japanese way. Most cultures have some sort of notion about attaining calmness, tranquility, ‘centering’ and a form of satisfied peace, but discovering Ikigai might mean finding the most accessible and effective of all…
The Scandinavian ’Hygge’ has gained a more widespread understanding and appreciation in recent years. A conscious appreciation of the present, or ‘living in the moment’. It is a wonderful state of being and one with universal appeal.
But now there’s a contender for this ‘state of grace’ mantle, and it comes from Japan
Ikigai is also about improving life, extending it even. Also improving health, mental balance, greater happiness and less stress. Its literal translation is ‘reason to live’ but its looser interpretation is ‘your purpose in life’ or ‘your reason to get up in the morning’.
And what it boils down to is finding those things that give you pleasure and purpose and being mindful of them.
Ken Mogi is a Japanese neuroscientist who has written ‘The Little Book of Ikigai’. He points out that in the West we are all too prone to big ambitions, grand goals and setting our sites on a single all-encompassing goal or purpose. However Ikigai can come in the form of pretty much limitless small and maybe even insignificant sounding elements.
He himself lists running, spotting birds and butterflies, writing scientific papers and watching Alan Partridge episodes! The point is, there is no rule about what constitutes ikigai, it is what works for you, however apparently mundane.
No specific rules
Mr Mogi explains, “There is no hierarchical structure. Enjoying the morning sun is as important as writing a book. Everything contributes to the joys and purpose of life”.
This has nothing to do with climbing the social ladder, forging an upward career path or attaining grand recognition. As Ken Mogi points out, the big achievements, as many people perceive them, might only be attainable once a decade – and that does not sustain contentment or happiness. It is the full spectrum of smaller pleasures and privileges that sustain us and are more likely to form an ongoing positive equilibrium.
There are Japanese islands and entire communities where reaching 100 years old and remaining happy and relatively active into such advanced ages is the norm. And ikigai plays a big part in the lifestyle.
On closer examination, it appears that the common threads amongst these ikigai are simple, yet physically active and purposeful thoughts and actions. Fishing for the family, holding grandchildren, karate…
It comes as no surprise that these communities don’t have a word for ‘retirement‘ in their dialect!
“Those who discover their ikigai have everything they need for a long and happy journey through life”, states Hector Garcia, co-author of ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’.
He adds, “When you discover your passion you’ll, then you’ll never run out of motivation and energy”.
It is the powerful forces such as money, attention, promotion, the seeking of praise and adulation – these are what distract and de-stablise on a daily basis. Ikigai is the antidote.
A compelling study by Sendai’s Tohoku University School of Medicine asked 55,000 people aged 40-79 if they had ikigai in their lives.
Those who answered “No” were much more likely to be unemployed, exhibit poor physical and mental health and show signs of cardiovascular disease.
OK, so it cannot be claimed that ikigai is the sole reason behind the differentials and disparities, but it’s an interesting observation nonetheless.
Garcia commented, “If you can find joy in small things, you have the frame of mind to build a happy and active life”.
Also a path to ambitions…
Ironically, although the entire notion about ikigai is to separate out ambition and self-seeking desire, the adoption of it can lead to greater opportunities and more success. A happier and more positive person is going to find themselves more open and responsive to good possibilities and is more likely to find themselves in a place to attract them.
Appreciating smaller things, and taking smaller steps will make more things seem attainable and will also guard against ‘meltdown’ and despair when things don’t perhaps go as wished.
“Labours of love and paying attention to small things”, these are what Ken Mogi believes are paths to general ‘success’. He also believes that ikigai is a path to real perspective and that the ability to keep things in perspective is vital for a happy life.
In the next article I will highlight some specifics about ikigai and show you how you can adopt this yourself!
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