What is Ikigai?

The Japanese word ikigai is often translated to 'your life purpose'. Ikigai can encompass your life purpose, but the word is usually used to indicate the things that make one’s life worthwhile.

On a deeper level ikigai refers to the mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable as they move forward towards their goals. 

Finding Ikigai is the processes of cultivating your inner potential as you actively pursue what you enjoy doing in service of your family, tribe and community via your life roles.

Ikigai Kanji

The word ikigai is formed from two Kanji characters: ‘iki’「生き」meaning life, and ‘gai’ 「甲斐」 meaning worth. The word ‘gai’ is the pronunciation of the compound kanji variation of  ‘kai’ which translates to ‘shell’ in Japanese.

Today,  ikigai is written as 生きがい with hiragana がい  replacing 甲斐.


ikigai meaning

During the Heian period (794-1185), shells were extremely valuable as they were decorated and used for a game called Kaiawase - shell matching. The game of Kaiawase was played by Japanese nobles, so the association of value is still inherently seen in the word shell.

Understadning Ikigai

Below are links to articles I've published, to help you understand ikigai and what it means to Japanese

Defining Ikigai

Simply put, there is no direct translation for ikigai. For the Japanese, ikigai is such a common notion that few would think about what it means. The word is used in daily conversation and often used in jest.  When taking his first sip of beer after a hard day at the office, a salaryman might say "Ahh! This is my ikigai." referring to the beer. 

Ikigai is not a Japanese version of 'self-help' to find the one true purpose of your life. It's a word that represents a multifaceted concept that Japanese understand more intimately as they grow older. The word or concept is not taught at school or university, and Japanese don't use or need any visual frameworks to understand it. Japanese grow up with the word and begin to understand i's meaning early in life.

Author and neuroscientist, Ken Mogi, describes ikigai as a spectrum, and that the complexity of Ikigai actually reflects the complexity of life itself. 

To the Japanese, Ikigai is a comprehensive concept describing subjective well-being. It encompasses life-satisfaction, self-esteem, morale, happiness as well as the evaluation of meaning in one's life.

How Much Ikigai Do You Have in Your Life?

Take this ikigai questionnaire and discover what areas of your life need focus or change.

ikigai venn diagram

There Is No Ikigai Diagram

There is no diagram, chart or framework that the Japanese use to understand or find their ikigai. Japanese learn the word Ikigai when they are young and understand its multifaceted meaning as they grow and experience life.

However if we use the Venn Diagram to visualise what ikigai really means to Japanese then it would look like this:


In this representation, your daily life is at the center, and the overlapping circles represent areas of your life where you can find ikigai. It’s important to understand that Japanese find ikigai in various areas of their lives - from small everyday rituals to the pursuit of meaningful goals.

This illustrates that Ikigai is not a sweet spot of doing something that you love, that you are good at, that the world needs, and that you can be paid for, but a rich spectrum where you can find ikigai in the realm of small things, in the practice of a hobby, in your roles and relationships, and by simply living your values.

We can see that Ikigai is something easily achievable, not a single formidable life goal that might take us years to achieve as represented by the Westernised version.

Where You Can Find Your Ikigai?

Connection & Harmony - in the building of harmonious relationships that align with your values.

Creativity & Flow - when reaching a flow state in your hobbies, interests or work, and by expressing your creative self.

Gratitude & Contribution - by expressing gratitude, and in the helping of others via your life roles.

Rituals & Small Joys - when being present while performing daily rituals, and in appreciating the small joys of life.

Japanese ikigai

When You Have Ikigai

When you have ikigai you are full of life and actively pursue what you enjoy doing. 

You find meaning in your life through interpersonal connections, intimate relationships and in your creative pursuits. When you reflect upon the meaning of your life you are satisfied and find that you have plenty to live for.

In performing your various life roles you have a sense of purpose as you contribute to your family, workplace, and community. You also find that you have a lot to be grateful for and express this to family, friends and the people around you.

Despite the constraints of life, you often experience a true sense of freedom in your hobbies, interests and work. You also find freedom and joy in the little things and in the practice of daily rituals.

When you have ikigai, your life is not stagnant, nor boring. You grow and embrace change as you anticipate a bright future ahead of you. Even during challenging times and after negative life events your ikigai can guide you to a positive new direction.

This is what ikigai is to the Japanese.

Ikigai Worksheets

Purpose Venn Diagram

Purpose Venn Diagram

Ikigai Venn Diagram

Ikigai Diagram Worksheet

Ikigai Concepts