How the Japanese define ikigai

There is this misconception that ikigai is a framework for doing something that you love, that you're good at, that the world needs, and that you can get paid for. But for the Japanese, ikigai is more than that -- it is not all about having grand goals.

Dr. Shintaro Kono, a researcher of ikigai, shares how Japanese define ikigai: a feeling of a life worth living and the contributors that make people feel their life is worth living.

Nick: Ikigai is greatly misunderstood outside of Japan with people believing it to be a framework of doing something that you love, that you’re good at, that the world needs and that you can get paid for.

That’s obviously an incorrect interpretation. So how would you define ikigai?

Shin: Well that's a difficult question and I'm still thinking about it, the definition of ikigai. The way I see for now is that ikigai in Japanese means two things: one is the feeling that you have a life worth living; the other aspect is that contributors, something that makes you feel that way.

Those are things that tend to be more tangible in a way. They are activities, and that could be work too. It can be work, it can be a hobby still, it can be a relationship. It can be your community, organization, relationship with an organization. Things like that too.

There are two aspects: one is the feeling of it; the other one is what I call sources of ikigai. In terms of feeling, I would say the very, very central to ikigai is what I call life affirmation, the feeling that you have a life that’s worth living.

You wake up in the morning and you're energetic, you just get going with your life -- daily life. What I want to emphasize here is that it’s not about… Life here is not about this metaphoric idea, metaphysical idea of life as a philosophy.

It’s not how many dozens of years. It’s about daily life. That life you have now today or maybe this week or this month. It tends to be very short term.

I ask in a survey: is this worth living? You get up, you want to get going with it, or you feel like, “Oh no, today I woke up, I have to do this.” You’re hesitant and you’re not motivated, sort of thing. That’s the center part of ikigai feeling.


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