Approach Ikigai Casually

With the Ikigai Venn Diagram circulating on the web, some people believed that ikigai is a secret for success; to achieve it, they must excel in life. However, if you would ask Japanese people about this concept, they wouldn't associate ikigai with a grand goal. For them, ikigai is a term they grew up with, and they approach it casually, and this is something that Nick Kemp discussed in his book, IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living.

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Ikigai is used casually in conversations in Japan

Ikigai is NOT a special word. And I wrote about this in my book IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living. So I’d like to quote from the book:

While the etymology of the word is rich and fascinating, for Japanese, ikigai is not something grandiose or flamboyant like the shells it references. Although it may seem like a word with so much importance in meaning and should be considered special, it is actually used casually in conversation.”

The shell reference goes back to the Heian period, to a game called kai-awase; the shells were handcrafted and used in a shell-matching game. And it is believed that the kai from kai-awase was the original gai for ikigai and other words that use gai.

Obviously gai means worth or value, and because these shells were hand painted, they were considered as valuable. But what we’re really focusing on is how for Japanese, ikigai is not a special word, it’s used casually. And the Japanese people don’t really use the word that much.

But we can learn something important from this:

The Japanese language has many words for which this is true. Terms like yutori, ibasho, and omoiyari, that are intriguing to the outsider, yet are considered normal by Japanese themselves. We will take a look at these words later in this book, but for now, suffice it to say, that you will maximise your experience and enjoyment if you approach the idea of ikigai casually as Japanese do.”

So that’s the key takeaway, we want to approach ikigai casually, so the things in life that make life worth living – our relationships, hobbies, things that give us a sense of purpose, our small joys, if we approach them casually without a sense of pressure, we’re likely to feel ikigai.

So don’t make your ikigai some entrepreneurial sweet spot or dream job, or a blissful state to achieve. Approach it casually like Japanese do and you’ll feel more ikigai in your life.


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