75 – Ikigai & Positive Psychology: Bridging Purpose and Well-being

Where does ikigai and positive psychology overlap?

In the West, ikigai is frequently linked with attaining significant goals and advancing in one's career. However, what many fail to recognize is that ikigai holds greater relevance in fostering our overall well-being.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Sue Langley about positive psychology and how it ties into the concept of ikigai.

Finding meaning in adversity

“One of the things that I think is really important about the meaning component is, you can have a really bad day emotionally, and not be particularly happy. But at the end of that day, you know you've done something meaningful. An exercise that I often do is I ask people to share something they're proud of. And the thing that I find time and time again, is, very rarely does the thing that someone has achieved, that they're proud of just include positive emotions, they've usually felt some stress, some anxiety, some pressure.

But they've kept pursuing it, and now they're proud of it. I think for me, this is where meaning comes in. The thing that will give us more fulfilment, I suppose, is that sense of meaning, that sense of being aligned to who I am. I'm sure that all of us have had those moments, where you just feel something is missing. On the surface, it all looks good, but there's something missing. And for me, that's that meaning piece.” - Sue Langley

Podcast Highlights

Sue Langley

Sue Langley

Sue Langley is a keynote speaker, global consultant, and positive leadership expert. She specialises in the practical applications of neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and positive psychology, synthesising science and research into simple, practical tools that anyone can use. Her research–aimed squarely at the sweet spot between emotional intelligence, positive emotions, and brain science–inspires people to get the best from themselves and their peers and teams.

Studying positive psychology

Sue was given a leadership role, which prompted her to learn about psychology and human behaviour. Once a month, she conducted sessions with her team, sharing what she had learned about self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. She witnessed a significant impact, noticing that her team's profits doubled two years in a row.

Upon moving to Australia, she realised her aspiration to establish her own business and educate people about emotions. Consequently, she began delving into the science of emotions and pursued a psychology degree. A few years later, she pursued a Master’s in the neuroscience of leadership.

Her goal is to integrate the science of emotions, the science of the brain, and the nervous system, focusing on positive psychology and well-being. She aims to explore how we can bring out the best in ourselves and others.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing. Sue believes that numerous areas now fall under the umbrella of positive psychology, such as mindfulness, nutrition, neurobiology perspectives, microbial perspectives, and genetics — all encompassing the idea of what contributes to one's flourishing.

The five modules on positive psychology

Sue’s diploma for positive psychology has 5 modules: emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships, and goals.

“The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of your emotions.” - Sue Langley

Quality of Life

Our emotions have a significant impact on the quality of our lives and relationships. Emotions resemble 'information' attempting to convey a message. Understanding our emotions is crucial as it enables us to effectively manage them, ultimately aiding us in navigating our daily lives.

It relates to the idea of ikigai-kan, where ikigai is considered something people feel, highlighting the significance of emotions over pursuing big goals.

Positive psychology interventions

In her diploma course on positive psychology, Sue explores several positive psychology interventions, including physiology, humour, curiosity, savouring, appreciation, and gratitude. All of these practices contribute to mindfulness—being aware of the moment.

We often become so engrossed in the negative events occurring around us that we overlook the small moments of joy. That’s why it's important to take time to reflect and contemplate moments of gratitude—the little things that excite us, making us feel better and helping us realise that there are also positive occurrences happening around us.

Flow in the context of positive psychology

People often assume that flow occurs when time seems to vanish and we're thoroughly enjoying ourselves. However, flow isn't solely about having fun. One of its components involves the intersection of skill and challenge. This is where flow connects with positive psychology. Elevating the level of challenge can enhance our focus and provide meaning to our actions while simultaneously increasing our skills.

“What I also love about flow is you can't make it happen. It's a bit like happiness, you can't chase happiness. Pursuing happiness means you're less likely to achieve it. Flow is like that as well, the more you try and make it happen, it's probably not likely to. But if you look at the particular components and you put things in place that allow flow to happen, you're more likely to have those moments where you're so engaged in what you do.” - Sue Langley


Pursuit of happiness

Pursuing happiness alone is insufficient because happiness is fleeting; it comes and goes. Engaging in something meaningful doesn't always guarantee positive emotions. In moments of anxiety, stress, or other negative feelings, we can still achieve meaningful outcomes and further connect with our values, revealing our true selves.

“You make meaning out of these challenging experiences where you overcome adversity or you break through a perceived barrier. You realise that you’re capable of more, helping you get closer to fully accepting who you are.” - Nicholas Kemp

Overcome Adversity

Other people matter

Psychologist Chris Peterson lives by the mantra that “other people matter”. What we do in our roles—whether we contribute to others and make a difference—determines our significance. Our relationships with others are intricately linked to our sense of meaning and purpose.

Forgiveness within the realm of positive psychology

Since relationships are important to us, being open to the idea of forgiveness is beneficial. At some point in our lives, we all make mistakes and hurt others, and that's where the importance of forgiveness comes into play. Forgiveness isn't about forgetting what happened; instead, it's about releasing the anger and resentment that you feel.

Researcher Fred Luskin suggests that forgiveness is often accompanied by gratitude—being grateful that the experience has taught us and helped us become better.

Goal setting

Goals pursued with positive emotions have a higher likelihood of achievement compared to those driven by negative emotions. Hence, Sue emphasises the importance of infusing our goals with as many positive emotions as possible. We should strategize ways to attract what we desire, rather than merely avoiding what we don’t want.

It's crucial to consider what we stand to gain from the goals we set—are they aligned with our sense of purpose and values?


Positive psychology offers us strategies to thrive in life despite the challenges we encounter. It underscores the importance of our roles and responsibilities, aligning closely with the essence of ikigai — both present pathways that enable us to experience a sense of progress and fulfilment in our lives.