Ikigai Sources & Ikigai-Kan

What are your ikigai sources? What feelings and emotions do they generate?

In her seminal book Ikigai ni Tsuite , Mieko Kamiya provides a two-part definition of ikigai – her most recognised contribution to ikigai literature:

‘There are two ways of using the word ikigai. When someone says “this child is my ikigai,” it refers to the source or target of ikigai, and when one feels ikigai as a state of mind. The latter of these is close to what Frankl calls “sense of meaning”. Here I will tentatively call it “ikigai-kan” to distinguish it from the former “ikigai”.

The word ikigai, in other words, indicates the sources of meaning in your life: experiences, people, relationships, dreams, hobbies, and even memories that make your life worth living.

Ikigai-kan, on the other hand, represents the emotions and feelings that these sources provide you that make you feel that life is worth living.

Taking the example Kamiya uses in her book, as a father, I can identify that my son is a source of ikigai, giving me ikigai-kan feelings of love, joy, pride, hope and connection, as well as a sense of purpose in my role as a father. According to Kamiya, the power of ikigai lies in the positive and satisfying emotions that result from being able to identify your sources of ikigai and, subsequently, experience a deep and genuine sense of meaning associated with your existence.

As journalist Yoko Inoue shared with me on episode 31 of the Ikigai Podcast, ikigai-kan is more than just a feeling of happiness:

‘Kamiya says that this ikigai-kan is similar to the meaning of life by Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning. So in her book, About Ikigai, she actually discussed what ikigai-kan is. Kamiya wrote that this sense of ikigai, compared to a sense of happiness, has a clearer sense of attitude towards the future. Also it is closer to the sense of oneself and strongly linked with one’s personal values

It means if there are hopes and goals in the future, no matter what the current situation is, you can feel ikigai on the way to getting there. If you’re pursuing something only you can do, then this sense of fulfilment becomes even stronger.’

The Seven Ikigai Needs

From extensive and in her work with Japanese lepers, Kamiya found that the experience of ikigai-kan depended on seven conditions – or, to use her word, seven ‘needs’. 

Need is expressed in Japanese as yokkyu, and in kanji it is written as 欲求. The first character, 欲 (yoku), represents ‘desire’, ‘craving’, and ‘want’; and the second character, 求 (kyu), comes from the verb 求める (motomeru), meaning ‘to request’, ‘to demand’, or ‘to ask for’.

Psychologist Ronald Miller articulates how we could understand what the combination of these two kanji characters represents:

‘A need is the lack of something experienced as essential to the purpose of life, it expresses itself as suffering, if the person is aware of the existence of a way to stop suffering, the need expresses itself as a desire.’

The seven needs identified by Kamiya are: life satisfaction, change and growth, a bright future, resonance, freedom, self-actualization, and meaning and value. 

Another key contributor to ikigai-kan is something that Kamiya refers to as shimei-kan. Shimei means ‘purpose’ and, as you already know, kan means ‘feeling or sense’, so shimei-kan could be understood as ‘a sense of purpose’ or ‘ a sense of mission’. This wording again emphasises the importance of the experiential – not just what we do, but how we feel

Kamiya believed that all human beings are supported by a more or less vague sense of purpose: a sense of responsibility for what you’re living for, related to what you have to do in life. These are things that people must discover for themselves – and Kamiya felt that those who fail to do so will suffer an unfulfilling existence, while those who are successful will experience a strong ikigai awareness.

In fact, Kamiya believed that there is a positive correlation between our sense of purpose and our sense of ikigai-kan. People who experience the most intense ikigai-kan are often those with a unique personal mission – especially one that can be accomplished by them alone. 

I consider a sense of purpose as an eighth need. While Kamiya didn’t explicitly state it was, she believed a sense of purpose went beyond the sphere of a need, because it involved taking on a responsibility for the reason why you were allowed to be alive.

In today’s world, I believe this sense of purpose has become a need. Many people need to experience and feel this deep sense of purpose that comes with pursuing a personal mission to feel that their life is worth living. It may be with changing roles, the abundance of opportunities and the fact that life has become easier through technology that we are looking to express ourselves through the pursuit of a challenge. For many, the expression of self has become the purpose of the self, and if not expressed life feels unfulfilling.

The Kamiya Flower

Below is a graphic, The Kamiya Flower, I created to represent Kamiya’s 7 ikigai needs along with  sense of purpose.


The 8 ikigai needs

Kamiya’s research suggested that ikigai-kan results from satisfying some combination of these seven needs – and, in some cases, some additional needs that may interact with this core group to bring fulfilment.

I make it a practice to think about which of these seven needs am I lacking. I find it helpful to start by focusing on one and then move on to another rather than trying to satisfy all seven at once.

To learn more about the life of Mieko Kamiya and her work on ikigai, listen to episode 34 of the Ikigai Podcast.