Do you feel a pang of envy when you scroll your social media feeds seeing your friends living grand? Do you feel small and average when you compare yourself to others’ lives. Not everything on SNS is real–people only post the things they want other people to see. So don’t lose your ikigai over such trivial matters.
Ikigai is an incredibly beautiful concept which literally means something “worth living”, or simply put, one’s reason for being. Ikigai is similar to terms like “raison d’etre” and “joie de vivre”.
Ken Mogi, a neuroscientist and author of “Awakening Your Ikigai,” says that ikigai is a familiar concept to Japanese simply known as waking up joyfully. It is something that brings you joy and inspires you to get out of bed every day.
Ikigai is also associated with the concept of “flow” or the state that occurs when you are “in the zone”. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity. While in this mental state, people are completely focused on what they are doing. During the state of flow, time flies and no action is wasted and you are stretching yourself to the limit.
A misconceived notion of Ikigai
A popular depiction of ikigai is the Venn diagram with overlapping spheres of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for. See figure on the right.
You fill each sphere with appropriate content based on your own knowledge, experiences and understanding. Some will come to you naturally, while others may need more time and self-reflection. At the heart of the diagram is one’s ikigai or the “sweet spot.” That means you must cover all four spheres, or else it’s not your Ikigai.
However, there is an ongoing debate whether this complex Venn diagram best represents how the Japanese understands the concept of ikigai or just a misconceived adaptation in the west. Of course this is a misconception and we already discussed this last time.
This Venn diagram actually alienates people who are unable to fulfil every aspect of this convoluted illustration. What’s worse, this marketing ploy might seem instructive but it actually misleads people into thinking that they can never find their ikigai in their current “low” situation.
All people can have their own Ikigai
What about the painter or artist who can hardly sell his works but keeps on doing it. Can we say what he’s doing is his ikigai? How about the wife and mother who does her best everyday managing the household, enjoying cooking meals for the family? Can you think of housework an one’s Ikigai?
The answer is YES. Everyone can have ikigai, even average people like you and me.
Some people equate success and happiness with their career. Our society sells the idea that the higher we climb up the corporate ladder, the more successful we are. Like the Venn diagram above, this is simply gaslighting ploy to confuse you even further. Although work can be a source of ikigai, your social status, your fame or how much you earn is completely unrelated to ikigai.
Ikigai is never vain–it’s natural, and it comes from within. In fact for many Japanese, ikigai is simply about enjoying the little things that you like. Thinking this way, ikigai is a very democratic concept and something that everyone can achieve.
If you feel lost and has very little will to live right now, how can you find your ikigai or your reason to live?
Work on your three life tasks
First, you’ll have to go back to basics and really start to deal with your three life tasks–improving your self, building meaningful relations, and engaging in meaningful work. As it happens, these three tasks are also the sources of our ikigai. For Self, just try to improve something about yourself. It doesn’t need to be grand like writing a novel, or climbing the highest mountain, or to travel the world. Start small like write a paragraph of your thought each day.
For Relations, just try to reconnect. For example, sending a letter or an email to an old friend, or just being friendly to anyone who crosses your path. Humans are social beings and our family and friends become our anchors to life. It’s easy to give up on life when we’re not connected to someone. Thus, reach out to someone and make that connection.
Lastly, for Work, we all have the desire to contribute to make the world a better place. Whatever we chose to do, if it helps other people or the world at large it’s worth doing. So again, there’s no need for grand design. Just show up for work and do the best you can, it should be enough.
Start small and work on yourself first
Bear in mind that everything starts with the Self. You cannot work on other life tasks without improving your Self first as it is the first source of ikigai. Improving yourself will give you a sense of achievement. Visualize how you want to be in the not-so-distant future and work on it little by little.
When working on your goals, it is best to start small. Starting small takes away the pressure of succeeding and accomplishing big things. Wanting big results right away will only lead to failure. Want to write the next great novel? Start with a single paragraph. Want to change the world? Start with yourself.
If you think that you have no reason to live, try changing your perspective. There will always be better and lesser people than yourself and comparing yourself with others will just make you vain and bitter. We walk on different roads and lead different lives. After all, we are all heroes of our own stories.