Ikigai 生き甲斐 is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.
In the culture of Okinawa, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED Talk, Dan Buettner referenced ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.
The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to the economic status or today state of things. Even if a person feels that today’s dark, but has a goal, he may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make one feel ikigai are not actions which individuals are forced to take – these are natural and spontaneous actions.
The term “ikigai” is composed of two Chinese characters : iki and kai. Iki refers to life and kai is a suffix meaning roughly “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for.”
Kobayashi says that people can feel ikigai only when on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed towards self-realization.
In a small village outside of Osaka, a woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Voice of her ancestors.
“Who are you?” the Voice said to her.
“I am the wife of the mayor,” she replied. “I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.” “I am the mother of four children.” “I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.” “I am a school teacher.” “I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I am a Shinto.” “I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.” “I am the one who wakes up each day to care for my family, and nurture the young minds of the children at my school.”
She passed the examination, and was sent back to earth. The next morning she woke at sunrise, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose. She tended to her children’s lunches, and planned fun lessons for her students that day. The woman had discovered her ikigai.