A common preoccupation nowadays is that of finding one’s life purpose, something that gives meaning to our life. One particular country seems to have cracked the code around that. So much so, that it is the only country with an astonishing great number of centenarians.

This is the Japanese island of Okinawa, where many studies were done to discover the secret of the population’s longevity.

Besides karate, another word that hails from Okinawa is ikigai where ‘iki’ means life and ‘gai’ means purpose; it is pronounced as ee-kee-guy.

Ikigai is the sustainable philosophy behind the longevity of the Okinawa population. Their Japanese medical tradition believes that our mental and emotional health, plus a sense of purpose, is what contributes to physical well-being.

Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano (2017) said that ikigai is a state of well-being that arises from devotion to activities one enjoys, which also brings a sense of fulfilment.

Ikigai is a treasure map by which one can measure up his life for filling it with the best value possible through nourishing its quality all throughout one’s lifespan.

The <em>ikigai </em>diagramThe ikigai diagram

It is understood that money, good looks or status in life do not in themselves matter in the happiness or well-being of a person. What basically matters through ikigai is kindness, quiet reflective time, what one does with his time (time affluence) and spending time with friends and family.

Ikigai is action − a verb – standing for: to serve, create, delight, nourish, provide, teach, heal, connect and build, all of which are aimed at contributing value to others and thus give meaning to one’s life and that of others.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, author Viktor Frankl says: “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

As a map, basically, ikigai entails that through doing what we love, and discovering what the world needs, we get rewarded according to what we are good at. It is also related to the concept of flow, which occurs when you are in your ‘zone’, as is known in high-performing athletes or creatives.

Through ikigai, flow occurs when we are consistently doing something we love and we are good at, with the possible added benefit of bringing value to others’ lives. In the end, ikigai brings meaning, purpose and fulfilment to one’s life, while also contributing to the good of others.

Everyone has an ikigai – with particular intersection of passion, talent and potential to benefit others. It is only a matter of finding it. The journey to ikigai might require reflection and effort  but it is achievable.

The concept behind ikigai as a purpose in life, with both personal and social dimensions, is captured by the well-known ikigai diagram. The diagram includes overlapping areas covering:

• What you love;

• What you are good at;

• What the world needs;

• What you can get paid for;

To determine your own personal ikigai with the help of such a diagram, you would fill in each sphere with its appropriate content based on your own experiences, self-knowledge and understanding of the world. Filling in such a diagram can help clarify where you stand in your search for your ikigai and how to make any needed adjustments to attain this sometimes-elusive way of being.

When we discover what we love and what we are good at, we get passion. Marrying what you love with what the world needs will become your mission. Getting paid for that which you are good at becomes your profession, and when you are paid for what the world needs it becomes your vocation.

In this way, you will have created your ikigai.

A good example of ikigai in practice is that of the world-famous primatologist (someone who studies primates) Jane Goodall, who pursued her passion, became skilled in this field, filled the world’s need for knowledge/protection of primates, and earned a living through publishing books on ape behaviour, and earning speaking fees.

But money is not the only value that can emerge from our ikigai. Other than work, ikigai can be family, a dream or simply the spiritual feeling that life is worth living.

After interviewing 100 centenarians and supercentenarians in Ogimi, Okinawa, to try to understand their life philosophy and longevity secrets, Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, the authors of the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, developed their 10 rules of ikigai:

1. Stay active; don’t retire;

2. Take it slow;

3. Don’t fill your stomach;

4. Surround yourself with good friends;

5. Get in shape for your next birthday;

6. Smile;

7. Reconnect with nature;

8. Give thanks;

9. Live in the moment;

10. Follow your ikigai.

Ken Mogi, a neuroscientist and author of Awakening Your Ikigai (2018, p. 3), says that ikigai is an ancient and familiar concept for the Japanese, which can be translated simply as “a reason to get up in the morning” or, more lyrically, “waking up to joy”.

Have you found your ikigai?


Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us