Finding Flow: Cultivating Your Ikigai to Move Forward

How can you discover the sources of your ikigai? Although ikigai may not directly equate to happiness, having a sense of ikigai can provide a feeling that life is moving forward, even in the face of challenging moments.

In this video, Nick engages in a discussion with a diverse group of professionals, highlighting the significance of cultivating and discovering sources of ikigai to navigate the challenges of daily life.

Realistic view of ikigai

Nick: I think we'll start with you, Clark, because you're the one who sort of mentioned this verb, cultivate with ikigai. So how would you like to start?

Clark: So I think if people don't like the word cultivate, or that word does not resonate with them, I think we use the word develop, I think that works as well. And now I'm gonna say something slightly controversial.

I'm concerned if someone tries to make their ikigai ‘happiness’, if they define happiness as feeling good, if they define happiness as positive effect. If they define happiness as feeling good, and that becomes their ikigai to have happiness, which they understand is feeling good.

My concern is, there's going to be loads of times in life where we just don't feel good. And so we are not going to have ikigai at those moments. So if we want to live in a sense of ikigai, it would be better to ground the meaning of our lives in something more stable than our feelings.

Nick: I like this. I often say ikigai not about happiness, perhaps life-satisfaction is maybe a better way to think of it. And I think you can have some life-satisfaction getting through resilience. The emotional part, that's interesting, because obviously, I've just written a book about ikigai with Ikigai-kan, and emphasizing that it is something you feel.

So would you like to touch on that a bit more? I mean, I guess in a way, we're not always in control of our emotions. Is that sort of what you're touching on?

Clark: This is not a perfect analogy, but it is the best I can come up with off the top of my head right now. So if one takes care of themselves, then they're going to feel relatively healthy, or at least more healthy than they would if they didn't take care of themselves.

So that feeling is not completely stable, but it is more stable than the feeling would be if we're just trying to obtain good feelings by living a hedonistic driven life. I forget who said this, but somebody said hedonism is no fun. And the reason why that is because if we're pursuing good feelings, we're certain we're going to find misery pretty quickly.

And so in that way, I think having a feeling of ikigai is somewhat analogous to having a feeling of being in good health, which is somewhat fortunate, but also somewhat within someone's lifestyle, the way that they live their life.

Nick: I think Michiko Kumano describes ikigai as a type of well-being, it's not happiness. And I agree what you're saying. And what Trudy mentioned before, perhaps Eudaimonia is far closer to ikigai than hedonistic lifestyle. So yeah, Trudy would you like to touch on that?

Trudy: So when I'm talking about ikigai to people now, in my sliver of the world, with people living with illness, I talk about it from the idea of purpose, about small purposes, purposes for today. What is the reason? What are some things that are important for you to do? And then do them.

Not big life purposes at all. Because when you're ill, you've just been put on notice, right? You're reminded that you're mortal. You don't have a date, but you're reminded that there is an expiry date, we all have one.

And so with that, it's really important that you do the things that you consider to be important to do now, but not things that you have to wait ‘till you're better. Not until you're finished treatment. What are very specific, small purposes, that you can do right now with things as they are, and then you do those every single day.

And then the joy is only ever talked about as the joyful moments, right in the midst of the treatment, and midst of the pain, and midst of that hassles that go on. It's moments that we can all, nobody's going to be joyful all the time, I've never met anybody like that, like awful things can happen.

But we can have joyful, meaningful, purposeful moments, every single day, in spite of what else is happening. So that's kind of my approach.

Nick: That actually reminds me of something that Ken Mogi talked about. He says, you could see each day as an opportunity to have a series of dopamine-releasing activities, and that could be your ikigai. You wake up, you stretch your arms out, and get some sunlight, you have a cold shower and have the endorphins flying around.

Then you have your favorite cup of tea or coffee, and then you put on your favorite song and who knows, dance around in your own way. And just you can have these small things that release dopamine in that moment. Yeah, it's joyful, but doesn't guarantee you'll be happy all the time. And that is a crucial distinction.

Trudy: And we don't need to be happy all the time.

Nick: Yeah, that's a valid point, we can't be happy all the time. And that's why I don't like people saying, ‘Oh ikigai is your bliss.’ So Shin, let’s come back to you, because, again, you're the most qualified for this.

Shin: Oh, no. I think this conversation has been brilliant. And it gave me some ideas that I want to explore more, so thank you. Just wanted to echo Trudy’s point about, I also agree that ikigai is actually not this grandiose idea of what some people call ‘meaning of life’ or ‘purpose of life.’

As in life, as in the metaphysical idea of like, either your entire lifespan or the humanity. Like if you started to talk about that you get depressed, seriously, I tried, not recommended. And many other people try it and they get depressed, too.

But it's a meaning in life that everyday life, that you wake up today, got excited about teaching class, got excited to attend this ikigai summit, and just had a good time, good conversations stimulated, have fun, challenge, and go to sleep.

And you know what, that was a good day. And I think continuation of that, and accumulation of that is just simply sometimes ikigai. So having that realistic view of ikigai to me is very important. Another thing that I keep talking about coming back to is the diversity or repertoire of associative ikigai.

Some people are like, especially people in extreme careers, or occupations, or life where it's like, athletes, like their entire life revolves around let's say, golf, or basketball, or whatever. And that is their ikigai, too, which is amazing. I have talked to some of those people, too.

But I also worry, because all the eggs are in one bucket, what's going to happen if you get injured, the pandemic happen, whatnot? So in terms of cultivating ikigai, I typically advice to have some different things.

And that's where, I think, work can be… for many of the many some of us who can work, which is a privilege, I think it's a strong source of ikigai, potentially. But for many of us, leisure, that's where leisure can come in, that you can have an extra supplementary sources of ikigai. And leisure can be one of that.

Other type of life domains, other aspects of life domain can be that, too, so that you have something else just in case. And that goes back to the idea of resilience, and just that leisure piece coming into that conversation. And then final piece of advice if I have to give and like where do we find source of ikigai, really? I don't feel like I have anything.

Well, what I typically do in my interview with people sometimes is that: think about the life without this or that? And do that mental, what we call in psychology, mental subtraction or something that, okay, how does it feel like to have a life, everyday life, without this hobby, or that part of work, or something or that person, this relationship, or whatever.

And really imagine it. And it may make you sad for the time being, but that's a hint, you step onto something that may be that actually is something that you're thinking about. That maybe is a big super important source of effort, or enjoyment, or whatever, or ibasho, their authentic relationship, whatever that may be.

The tricky thing about ikigai is that when you have it, it goes kind of unrecognized, because we take it for granted so easily. And we just regret when we lose those things. And that's really missed opportunity. So doing such mental exercise sometimes and just recognizing that, oh, those are the things that I have maybe as a source of ikigai, and they invest on that. So I think that can be a step forward.