The Japanese language is something I will never master. I've been studying Japanese for over 25 years and still have so much to learn.
When I take extended periods off speaking the language or memorising kanji, my abilities suffer; when I pick up my study again, I learn new words and I experience a range of positive emotions that make me feel like I am progressing: The first thing I’ll do is excitedly tell my wife, almost like I’m a child talking to his parent.
It is the joy of learning – of feeling that I am advancing in my knowledge, and in life in general. It is the feeling of ikigai-kan.
I feel even more ikigai-kan when I share my ikigai research with Ikigai Tribe members. Just in the last few years, I've learned many new words, through reading academic papers and interviewing ikigai researchers, that have not only informed and inspired me but also put me in the position to write my book and share ikigai with readers around the world.
I am also blessed to have learned so much from my community. Every member has offered me something valuable – a learning experience, a different perspective, an insight or thoughtful knowledge I would have never have discovered through reading or research. These invigorating experiences give me a sense that my life is moving forward, that I am advancing along the right path where I feel I am growing and experiencing self-development.
Feeling that your life is moving forward is where Mieko Kamiya’s ikigai needs of ‘life satisfaction’ and ‘a bright future’ overlap. If you experience this sensation, you are better able to anticipate a bright future; feeling that your life is moving forward means you're living your life with zest, giving you a sense that life is satisfying and worth living.
You can achieve this feeling of life moving forward by pursuing activities and hobbies that both enable you to experience small joys in the moment, but also set goals and work towards improvement over time so that you can experience the longer-term satisfaction of making progress.
Doing things for the first time
Doing things for the first time can also provide you with a sense of life satisfaction, as these activities open you up to a larger world. They are not key milestones, but your first attempt to try something unfamiliar or foreign to you – in some cases, activities you didn’t even know existed.
I remember the first time I practised writing out hiragana characters, the basic Japanese syllabary, in preparation for my traineeship to Japan. Trying to copy these unusual cursive, alien-looking characters was challenging, but once I had several characters that looked legible, I had the sense of having achieved something. I felt what I was doing was worthwhile, and experienced ikigai.
Doing things for the first time, no matter how small, often results in self-development. You learn something new about yourself, that you are capable of doing something you had never considered as a possibility. Then you can be driven by a sense of purpose to learn or do more. The experience of doing something for the first time can become a moment of ikigai-kan. This is something I discussed with Yohei Nakajima, who shared:
‘I think actually sometimes you get the most sense of fulfilment in life when you do something for the first time, which is counter-intuitive to purpose because you assume that purpose is something that you do over and over but I think to live a full life is not just to do the same thing over and over again, but to experience different parts of life.
Then I caveat that again, it does depend on the person. I think anybody can feel ikigai from anything. There are no set rules on if it's something that has to be done often, or if it's something that you do once, but it is something that gives you an appreciation for being in this world. That feeling wherever it comes from, I think is what we strive for and what I think of when I think of feeling ikigai.’
These two different experiences of ‘life moving forward’ are also captured in the psychometric tool the Ikigai-9 with the two items ‘I would like to develop myself’ and ‘I would like to learn something new or start something.’
If you are looking for a new ikigai, it would make sense to pursue a new beginning – for example, learning something new (e.g., how to play a musical instrument) or starting a new activity (e.g., joining a band in which you explore different genres of music).
Whatever it is, if it gives you a sense that you are moving forward, then you are on the right track.