How to Improve Your Life Through Ikigai

A guide to unlocking the best within yourself

To perform at our best making the most of our abilities, talents, and time it’s vital to focus on the areas in which we are most qualified to contribute. This is the core of ikigai.

What is the concept of Ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese expression 生き甲斐. 生き (iki) means life and 甲斐 (gai) means reason. Roughly translated then, ikigai is the reason for living or your life purpose. Living with ikigai equates to doing what best suits your skills, interest, and abilities for the betterment of society and also yourself.

What are the benefits of ikigai?

Living with ikigai is being at ease with your surroundings. Being grateful for life and the potential to make a difference. Connecting to your universe also requires embracing your ikigai: the people in your life, the work you do, and your interactions with the environment. 

Living ikigai for me is being grateful every morning. Once I’m up, I’m going to reflect and broaden my thoughts. Making contributions throughout the day that positively impact the world around me, and celebrating that day as I lay down to sleep. This kind of existence is a gift, and it instills a sense of contentment that lasts no matter how terrible circumstances get.

What are the 4 components of ikigai?

Your ikigai, or reason for living, can be found at the intersection of your personal evaluation of four key questions: What are you good at? What do you love? What can you be paid for? And what does the world need? 

What are you good at?

Consider all the things you are good at now or have ever done well. It doesn’t matter if you like them or not. Hobbies, professional skills, technical abilities, chores, for example; make a list of everything that comes to mind.

What do you love?

What are the activities or things that you love? This question asks for your interests, so you do not necessarily have to be good at these things. For example, I love playing basketball, but I am not very good at it. In this area, also reflect on things. Do you have a spiritual connection, a love of music, or something else that makes you happy? 

As with every one of these questions- document everything.

What can you be paid for?

Here, consider everything you could do to make a living. I know people with PhDs that are janitors. Anything and everything you could personally do to earn money goes here. 

One caveat: these income sources need to align with your values and sensibilities. If you don’t like small children, you probably wouldn’t be able to make a living working at a nursery school.

What does the world need?

Apart from the other questions, this one focuses on your perception of areas that need attention in your community and the broader world at large. Consider the benefits of service in this section and the gaps you perceive in the types and quality of products and services.

OK, you’ve done the evaluation. What comes next?

Now that you have your lists, examine how the four areas intersect with one another. What are the parallels between what you love and what you enjoy doing? Those are your passions. Make an passion list that includes those. Your potential professions are the things you are good at and can get paid for. Choosing work in one of these areas will provide stimulation as you continue to enhance your professional skills. Your mission equates the combination of what you love and your perception of what the world needs. Finally, your vocation, the kind of contribution you believe you are destined to make, is at the intersection of what the world needs and what you can be paid for. The kind of contribution you believe you are destined to make. 

You will now begin to see areas where your passion, mission, vocation and professions come together. This is your ikigai.

What is an example of ikigai?

My life mission is to leave people in a better state than when I first met them (I love educating, and the world needs that). As a teacher, trainer, and coach, this is my compass. It’s a job that I enjoy. I’ve developed into an accomplished trainer over the years, and I’ve been able to make a living doing it. I transitioned from teaching English as a foreign language to coaching and am now building an education-based organisation with courses that help people achieve their goals. However, I couldn’t live within my ikigai unless I took the time to reflect on each day and celebrate the ability to live another, while also improving the lives of others. The opportunity to impact lives is my reason to wake up every morning and get out of bed. Even when it’s cold or I don’t feel so great, I wake up excited to serve the world.

A butcher who can talk about the difference in cuts of meat all day long and slices of the most beautiful steaks every time you visit him is also living his ikigai. Similarly, the salesperson who finds joy in providing solutions to their customers’ problems and aiding their success has found where the elements of ikigai merge for her.

What do you get lost in and get a sense of contribution from? These are elements of what comprises your ikigai.

How can you apply ikigai to your daily life?

These six tips will help you live your ikigai not just in the work you do, but also in your everyday life.

Smile

Your life will definitely be better if you choose to smile.

Live in the moment

The past is behind you. The future is unwritten. All we have is this moment, so do your best with it.

Take it slow

When you rush, you create two problems: 

First, you can not fully embrace the moment. If you eat your meal too quickly, you may not even remember the taste, for example. If you spend an evening out with friends and are constantly checking your phone, you are not giving your friends the pleasure of your company.

Secondly, rushing through an activity inevitably means you are not giving your best effort. You will miss details, and the sense of pride you feel from a job accomplished expertly will never materialize.

Surround yourself with good people

You will be more optimistic and create a sense of accomplishment when you choose to be around people who lift you up rather than finding faults. These people generally value life a great deal and want to be part of the solution rather than the cause of the problems. 

Have gratitude

Being thankful for what you have in life, no matter how insignificant, will make your life fuller and more noteworthy. You do not need to have the biggest house or the nicest car to feel gratitude. It’s better to celebrate your health, the people in your life, and your opportunity to serve.

Connect with nature

We are all animals and part of the larger environment that surrounds us. Working in an office building all day and then commuting home creates a disconnect from the natural world. However, we can regain that sense of connection by taking a walk in the park or a hike in the woods. Even listening to the sounds of the sea or a mountain stream on YouTube will take you closer to nature and help to recalibrate your connection to the world around you.

Embrace imperfection

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese expression that means embracing imperfection.  What this suggests is that in everyday life we should be content with our efforts.  Things will never be perfectly the way you want them to be. Celebrate that  you’ve done your best with what was available.  

You may be making a meal for your family, and the vegetables come out overcooked while the meat got cold because it was finished too early. While your family will be perfectly happy with the meal, you find many reasons to complain about it. Instead, you can choose to feel joy by looking at their smiles, appreciating the conversation, and knowing that you are providing energy for their minds and bodies.

Summing up

Applying ikigai to your life will give you a heightened sense of purpose. You will meet each morning with joy and go through your day with a feeling of accomplishment, knowing that you have made a difference in the world and to yourself.

Want to discover your ikigai, and live in balance with your environment? Join my discovering Your Ikigai workshop here.

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