Finding Joy in the Little Things

What are your small joys?

In a world that often glorifies extraordinary achievements, it's easy to overlook the beauty of the ordinary. In this video, Ken Mogi shares how focusing on life’s small joys can lead to a feeling of ikigai.

Life’s small joys

Ken: Now, the second pillar of ikigai is ‘the joy of little things.’ Japan is very good at perfecting life’s little joys. From sushi to sweets, and origami. And from a neuro-scientific point of view, it is related to the dopamine system.

Dopamine, as you know, is a reward molecule in the brain. When dopamine is released, there is something that goes on in the brain called reinforcement learning. This is very important because artificial intelligence systems, like the large language models, for example, chatgpt, you’ve heard about it, I’m sure.

They are based on this mechanism of reinforcement learning. So they are kind of imitating the brain. And it is very important to have many sources for dopamine release in your life. So you just don’t pursue your life’s big goals. It will be great if you could have many beautiful things that would make your brain tick, so that you can carry on. So this is the ‘portfolio’, if you like, of things that would pleasure you, right?

So in life, there are small things and big things. Small things would be like taking your dog for a walk or have a cup of tea. And big things could be achievements in career or success in business. In Western culture, for example, by authors of self-help books in the United States, the big things tend to be emphasised.

But Japanese philosophy tends to regard everything on equal footing. So everything is important. This is very much related to mindfulness, because mindfulness is about attending to things, whether they are small or big.

And in Japan, there’s this idea of ‘Eight million Gods.’ Of course, in the modern world, many people are atheists. I'm agnostic. Many people don’t believe in traditional God anymore. But the Japanese attitude toward God is very unique. The Japanese theology has been always centred around this idea of ‘Eight million Gods.’

And eight million literally means infinity. So there’s this sense of diversity in life, and this is very much related to the joy of little things, right? So you don’t just pay attention to big goals. Of course, big goals are important, but at the same time, you attend to the eight million goals of life’s small joys.

And that is the second pillar of ikigai.

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