030 – Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living

How do certain experiences bring about a sense of ikigai?

Contrary to the Western belief that ikigai is a grand goal to achieve, it is more about what people feel. It is found in the daily experiences that bring joy and motivation to individuals.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast join Nick and Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera as they discuss the experiential aspects of ikigai.

Understanding different cultures

"I often explore this difference in culture, and I've been fascinated with it. I can see the potential in ikigai research as well, that kind of difference. Exploring those differences, for me, helps to understand people's different thinking." - Yasuhiro Kotera

Podcast Highlights

Yasuhiro Kotera

Yasuhiro Kotera

Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera is academic lead for counselling, psychotherapy, and psychology at the University of Derby. His teaching primarily focuses on mental health, with interests in self-compassion, intrinsic motivation, and cross-cultural psychology. He co-authored the book Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living. 

How Yasuhiro developed his book

Yasuhiro noted that although ikigai has been receiving a great deal of attention in popular culture, most books were subjective personal accounts rather than more objective, research-based explorations of the concept. He was keen to combat this through a more scientifically rigorous examination of empirical findings.

This prompted Yasuhiro and his friend Dean to initiate a collaborative project about ikigai. Ultimately, their book ‘Ikigai: Towards a psychological understanding of a life worth living’ involved 10 authors who were identified through social media and research networks as having relevant and related interests.

Health benefits of ikigai

Chapter 1 of the book is about the health benefits of ikigai, which are discussed in episode 28 of this podcast. It reviews scientific findings about the physical and mental health benefits of ikigai. Yasuhiro shares that ikigai is an experiential sense of well-being, and that it’s important, when studying ikigai, to pay attention to details like dates, feelings, and specific qualities of people’s experiences of ikigai.

Ikigai in Children

An example of ikigai being an experiential sense is the differences in ikigai between children and older people: Children seem to be good at practicing ikigai because they’re not worried about the future or the past, but ikigai can be more challenging for older people despite the fact that they have fuller schedules and more duties.

However, it is important to note that the struggles that many adults experience can give them a sense of purpose or meaning, and sometimes what they can do is to let go of the ego and embrace their inner child; go back to the true nature of just doing things that feel good, regardless of how they appear to others.

We need to let go of the ego and embrace the inner child. Go back to that true nature of just doing things that feel good, regardless of how we appear or look to others. - Nicholas Kemp

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Ikigai Embrace Inner Child

The links between ikigai and executive leadership coaching

Chapter 2 of Yasuhiro’s book addresses how ikigai can be used in an executive leadership context. Specifically, the chapter links ikigai, leadership coaching, and existentialism, which is about recognising the individual as a free person who can make their own decisions and, through these, experience development and growth.

Yasuhiro shares that, as a psychotherapist, he sometimes uses ikigai as a tool for helping clients to explore their own thoughts and feelings in order to better understand what they want out of life, and how to pursue this and ultimately gain more satisfaction.

Ikigai as a resource in transformative processes in adult education

Yasuhiro's book also relates ikigai to adult education.

“Both ikigai and transformative education follow a holistic approach, that is looking at individuals as a whole person with their needs, abilities, desires, and resources. Both consider the human being to be a being in development, and being capable of learning that can continuously develop, locate, realign, deconstruct, and reconstruct itself.” - Yasuhiro Kotera

Ikigai and Adult Education

The relationship between ikigai and adult education is that they both give people the opportunity to explore and learn more. Yasuhiro thinks that ikigai gives a path through life experience; people are in touch with their ikigai, and they're doing something right for themselves rather than measuring themselves by external rulers.

Ikigai in creative pursuits

Chapter 4 of the book explores the benefits of one’s experiences of ikigai using creative and artistic methods such as metaphors, photographs, and images. Yasuhiro explains that there are important parallels between ikigai and art because both are strongly experiential rather than simply conceptual or theoretical.

He likens ikigai to traveling to another country, where visitors might speak a different language but can still appreciate the scenery, art, and music. This feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction despite not necessarily grasping specific meanings or reasons for the feeling is the same as we have with ikigai.


Yasuhiro believes that everyone’s ikigai is unique; people just need to get in touch first with a sense of ikigai, then engage in the behaviors that are inspired by this.

Everyone's ikigai is unique. Just copying behaviors alone doesn't  create ikigai. You need to first get in touch with a sense of ikigai, then behaviors will happen. - Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera

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Everyone's Ikigai is Unique

Ikigai in penal settings

Yasuhiro also believes that ikigai can be a useful tool in helping offenders back into society once they have been released from prison, by teaching them how to find a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. Although there is currently a lack of empirical research bridging ikigai and forensic psychology (a field that combines the practice of psychology and the law), Yasuhiro and his coauthors propose that ikigai could be helpful in building positive support mechanisms.


Future research on ikigai

Ikigai is a complex concept that is hard to define, which is one of the reasons it is so interesting to Yasuhiro. He expresses his interest to explore ikigai further, including better identifying what it is and exploring cultural and individual differences in understanding and finding ikigai.



Ikigai is experiential; the best way to learn it is to feel it -- do things that will make your life worth living. You have to experience it to know what it really means; each person may have their definition of ikigai, and each interpretation will depend on what we value in our lives. All of us have unique experiences, hence we possess different ikigai in our lives.