006 – Rock Star Neuroscientist, Ken Mogi’s 5 Pillars of Ikigai

Why are you chasing a sweet spot when you can have a spectrum?

Attaining ikigai doesn't have to be complicated. There are simple actions we can take in our daily lives to experience a sense of ikigai.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, join Nick and Ken Mogi as they discuss how people can find ikigai using the five pillars of ikigai.

Podcast highlights:

  • Definition of ikigai. At 1:26, Ken defines ikigai.
  • The Little Book of Ikigai. At  8:17, Ken talks about his book The Little Book of Ikigai.
  • 5 pillars of ikigai. At 9:45, the two discuss Ken’s five pillars of ikigai.
  • Ikigai in Japan. At  22:13, Ken shares how Japanese people find their ikigai.
  • Self-acceptance. At 40:16, Ken gives advice on how people can accept themselves.
  • Kodawari. At 44:12, Ken discusses the concept of kodawari (pursuit of perfection).

Ken Mogi

Ken Mogi Ikigai

Ken Mogi is a neuroscientist and has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Tokyo. Ken works at the Sony Research Laboratory, teaches at several universities, and travels abroad to give lectures on concepts such as ikigai and the brain. He has also authored over 100 books, including The Little Book of Ikigai.

Definition of ikigai

Ken describes ikigai as the spectrum that reflects the complexity of life. It is important to understand that oftentimes, the simple things are what make people happy, and ikigai starts from very small things. He thinks that ikigai is the umbrella term to describe everything that gives people joy.

The Japanese approach to ikigai is different from that in the West; in particular, Japanese people don’t have a formal definition for the word, and it is an embedded practice in their daily lives.

The Little Book of Ikigai

Ken’s book has two titles: The Little Book of Ikigai and Awakening Your Ikigai. He shares that it is a typically British practice to put little in the title; in the American market, however, people don’t like the idea of the little book because they prefer a more grand vision -- hence the alternative title, Awakening Your Ikigai.

Starting small

Ken mentions in his book the five pillars of ikigai: starting small, releasing yourself, harmony and sustainability, the joy of little things, and being in the here and now.

The first pillar is “starting small'', and Ken associates it with the concept of kodawari, an approach where craftspeople take extraordinary care of the fine details of their work -- people can achieve their goals by taking small steps.

Japanese people do understand that there is no way to attain perfection, but they still appreciate the effort that one nevertheless puts in to always striving to be better. The important thing is the process -- trying to attain their goal and learning from their attempts to do so.

No Perfection

Releasing yourself

The second pillar is “releasing 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 can do for yourself. A low budget maintenance-free formula for being happy."

Releasing yourself is about finding happiness through acceptance. Ken shares that he, himself, found it hard to accept himself since he used to be the “nerd”. However, at the end of the day, he realized that he wouldn’t want to be anybody else, and wouldn't trade places with others -- which is what others can achieve as well; each person has his/her discrete views about life and what they want to be in the future.

He explains that people were born with unique traits, and while they might be perfect, they can grow through experience, accept their individuality, and stop comparing themselves to others. Everyone can be comfortable pursuing their own way of engaging with life.

Harmony and sustainability

The third pillar is “harmony and sustainability.”

"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."

Create Harmony

If people could think beyond their selfish needs, it would create harmony and sustainability. Ken believes that harmony and sustainability are one of the best-kept principles of Japanese society: Japanese people are known for not speaking out and not taking any different positions.

However, although they don’t speak out, people do often have different opinions -- they just don’t feel that being outspoken solves any social issues or makes progress.

The joy of the little things

The fourth pillar is “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 actions getting up prior to the receipt of the reward."

Ken proposes starting the day with some ikigai and getting into the habit of using the little things to create pleasurable, rewarding experiences that facilitate contentment. With these embedded in one’s routine, it doesn’t matter if people get recognized for their performance; no matter what, they have still experienced moments of happiness.

Being in the here and now

The fifth pillar is “being in the here and now”. According to Ken, children value the present because they have no definite idea of the past or future, so to be present helps people to bring out their inner child. Bringing out people’s inner child in the era of information technology is a successful attitude that people can take in; it’s a key attribute when they want to bring happiness to their lives and those of their loved ones. 

Inner Child

Being childlike gives people infinite possibilities. Their existence is not defined by any social roles or status; it’s an important technique to remain creative, free, and have continuous learning.

Ikigai in Japan

When asked if there would be many people who don’t have ikigai in Japan, Ken states that Japanese people have a great knack for finding small joys in the most mundane moments; their idea of a meaningful life is more modest and more down-to-earth than that typically found in the West. He thinks that the ikigai concept is something that would touch many people’s lives and change them for the better, since it leads people to have a creative and enjoyable life.


Ikigai doesn’t have to be something extravagant; we can find it even in the simplest things -- anything that gives us joy. It helps us to understand that we don’t have to make our lives complicated, but, rather, that we can simply focus on accepting and being grateful for the things that we have and making the most out of things rather than searching for something that we don’t possess.