The 5 Pillars of Ikigai

In my previous post, neuroscientist Ken Mogi, explains the concept of ikigai, describing it as a spectrum that reflects the complexity of life. Ken is an author of over 100 books and, thankfully, has written a book in English on the subject of ikigai - “The Little Book of Ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life”.

According to Ken, in the Japanese language, ikigai is used in various contexts, and can apply to small every day things as well as to big life goals and achievements - a spectrum that reflects the complexity of life itself.

Ken describes ikigai as "about discovering, defining and appreciating those of life's pleasures that  have meaning for you.",  and that "You can find and cultivate your own ikigai, grow it secretly and slowly, until one day it bears a quite original fruit."

Kan also states  that "..having a sense of ikiagi points to a frame of mine whereby the subjects feel that they can build a happy and active live. Ikigai is, in a sense, a barometer which reflects a person's outlook on life in an integrated and representatives way."

Ken Mogi’s Fiver Pillars of Ikigai

In his book, Ken introduces and goes into detail about what he refers to as the five pillars of ikigai, and explains how they are the foundation that allows ikigai to flourish.

The fiver pillars are a very helpful framework to refer to when thinking about ikigai.

Pillar 1: Starting small
Pillar 2: Releasing yourself
Pillar 3: Harmony and sustainability
Pillar 4: The joy of little things
Pillar 5: Being in the here and now

The Five Pillars of Ikigai

5 pillars of ikigai

Rather than summarise each of the five pillars, I think providing quotes form the book will give you some insight into what they are,  and a taste of Ken's writing style and a reason to purchase and read his book.

Starting Small

"Crucially, starting small is the hallmark of youthful days. When you are young, you cannot start things in a big way. Whatever you do, it does not matter much to the world. You need to start small. And what you have in abundance is open-mindedness and curiosity, the great kick starters devoted to one's cause."

Releasing Yourself

"In a nutshell, in order to be happy, you need to accept yourself. Accepting yourself is one of the most important and difficult tasks we face in our lives. Indeed, accepting oneself is one of the easiest, simplest and most rewarding things you do for yourself  - a low-budget, maintenance-free formula for being happy.

The epiphany here is that, paradoxically, accepting oneself as one is often involves releasing yourself, especially when there is an illusory self, which you hold to be desirable. You need to let go of the illusory self, in order to accept yourself and be happy."

Harmony and Sustainability

"..on an individual level, ikigai is a motivational structure to keep you going, to help you get up in the morning and start doing chores. In Japanese culture, in addition, ikigai has much to do with being in harmony with the environment, with people around you and with society at large, without which sustainability is impossible"

"Sustainability applies not only to man's relation to nature, but also to the modes of individual activities within a social context. You should show adequate consideration for other people, and be mindful of the impact your actions might have on society at large. Ideally, every social activity should be sustainable."

The Joy of Little Things

No matter where you are in the world, if you make a habit of having your favourite things sooner after you get up (for example, chocolate and coffee) dopamine will be released in your brain, reinforcing the actions (getting up) prior to the receipt of your reward (chocolate and coffee).

Make the joy of little things work for you, then you can also start your ikigai in the morning.

Being in the Here and Now

"So make music, even when nobody is listening. Draw a picture, when nobody is watching. Write a short story that no one will read. The inner joys and satisfaction will be more than enough to make you carry on with your life. If you have succeeded in doing so, then you have made yourself a master of being in the here and now."

Following The Five Pillars

Rather than the westernised Ikiagi Venn Diagram, following Ken's five pillars are far more likely to help you understand and find ikigai.  Implementing these 5 pillars will definitely have a positive impact on your life regardless of what life throws at you. 

As ken states; "No matter what happens so long as you have ikigai, you can muddle through difficult periods of your life. You can always go back to your safe haven, from where you can start your life's adventures all over again."


Further Reading

The Little Book of Ikigai

I highly recommend Ken Mogi’s book, The Little Book of IKIGAI: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life. It’s an enjoyable read, providing great insight into ikigai, with fascinating real-life examples of Japanese living their ikigai on a day-to-day basis. Throughout the book, Ken refers to his five pillar framework, offering the reader guidance and the foundation to explore their own ikigai. If you want to understand what ikigai means to the Japanese then I recommend this book.


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