Ikigai: The Japanese secret to living a happy life

Ikigai is a Japanese concept used to describe ‘why I wake up in the morning”. In its simplest form, Ikigai is composed of two words; iki, which refers to life, and kai, which concerns the insight into one’s hope and expectations. The Japanese are renowned for their diligent lifestyle and culture especially compared to the rather laid-back approach of western life. One of the secrets of the hard-working and purpose-driven Japanese culture is the way adherents take delight in and value their Ikigai. According to the Japanese, every single person on the surface of the earth has an Ikigai – a reason for being or a purpose in your life. So, there you have it, you have an Ikigai and you need to discover it.

Ikigai is a very personal experience. It involves undergoing a self-discovery of some sort in a bid to know your purpose – which could be all-encompassing. The power embedded in coming to terms with your purpose is life-transforming. It has the capacity to make your life a whole lot better in many ways and across its various spheres.

Do you know why you wake up in the morning?

In this day and age where even a kid is burdened with a lot of tasks and has a to-do list that seems infinite from the first minute of the day to the last, do we actually have a direct response to this question: “Why did you wake up this morning?”. An accurate and well-thought-out answer to this question requires a substantial level of investment of your resources, particularly your time and energy.

Finding your Ikigai demands a conscientious and diligent hunt which could take a long time but this varies across individuals. Ikigai has been described by professionals as the sum total (a form of interconnected circles) of your passion, mission, profession and vocation in life. So, in essence if you can combine what you are good at, what you can be paid for, what the world needs and what you absolutely love doing then you have your Ikigai.


One of the most outstanding physical rewards of knowing your Ikigai is the longevity that it stimulates. The older Okinawas (living in a Japanese prefecture comprising islands in the East China Sea) are the chief Ikigai protagonists, known to live a purpose-imbued live which gives them a clear role of responsibility and feeling of being needed well into their 100s. Little wonder they live longer than most if not all other tribes in the world. In fact, it has been said that northern Okinawas live seven years longer than the average American and they have five times as many centenarians. It should be noted that Ikigai is not solely responsible for their longevity, another reason is their diet which is rich in fish, fruits and vegetables.

Discovering your Ikigai is the key to a long and happy life as it brings fulfillment and meaning to everything you do – and that includes everything related to your business and career. As mentioned earlier, Ikigai has been described as the “sum total” of your passion, mission, profession and vocation.

The search for your Ikigai involves making choices and creating opportunities for yourself, especially with regards to your career. If you are someone who jumps from one job to another, it can be safely assumed that you are miles away from knowing your Ikigai. Some cursors to benefiting from your Ikigai career-wise include brooding on your proudest accomplishments in life, possessing an in-depth knowledge of the thing or things you enjoy doing the most.

Ikigai is also known to be a huge psychological-cum-physical plus in the life of anyone who has discovered it or is discovering it. People with a known Ikigai are said to have the benefit of lower stress hormones, boosted immune systems, and are generally more apt at dealing with challenges that come their way whether the challenges are herculean or straightforward.

Finally, it should be noted that Ikigai is achievable, uncomplicated, is not necessarily a lifelong dream or ambition, is not a to-do list that you simply tick after completion, and it is not invisible. The closest synonym for Ikigai is “purpose”. However, it should be said that there is no direct interpretation of the word Ikigai in the English language.

From the foregoing, it can be seen that discovering your Ikigai is essential to living a fulfilled life, so it makes sense that the Japanese culture promotes the belief that finding your Ikigai is one of the most honorable tasks one can do in life.

And what about you, have you found your Ikigai?