Ikigai and Resilience: Unleashing Inner Strength and Purpose

What helps you bounce back from life's struggles?

Nick Kemp, Trudy Boyle, Clark Chilson, and Shintaro Kono engage in a discussion in this video, exploring the benefits of ikigai for individuals navigating challenging situations.

Exploring the connection between ikigai and resilience

Nick: How about we turn things up a bit, and Clark, you touched on resilience, and I'd like to share something from another speaker who joined the summit, Yasuhiro Kotera. And I just want to read this out. Then we can maybe discuss ikigai and resilience. So he writes:

Ikigai fits with existential positive psychology. It is also regarded as the second wave of positive psychology that recognizes meaning in suffering and resilience, as well as being able to overcome challenges. And this is where ikigai and resilience intersect.

Resilience is one's ability to bounce back from difficulties and those who live with ikigai can find meaning in life's difficulties. Good mental health does not mean you’re always happy, rather, it means realizing that life comes with difficulties and being able to overcome them.’

I don't think this is often discussed. Most people have this perception that ikigai is your bliss, and we all know the Venn diagram, and we've talked about small joys, today, and the importance of having things to look forward to and natsukashii, and reflecting on what you have already.

And I guess, this collective, in a way, wisdom, and that's if we were doing things, we should perhaps do them for the enjoyment of them and not have this sense of pressure of, ‘Oh, I've got to do my 10,000 steps today’, rather than just going out for a nice walk. Hopefully, where you'll experience all.

But I think we need to touch on ikigai and resilience. So I think, Trudy, you'd have a lot of experience with this with your work with people who deal with illness, not just people going through cancer, but families who have to support their loved ones. And to get through it all, they must have resilience.

So what are your thoughts on ikigai and resilience?

Trudy: I think ikigai has a lot to offer. So when I think about ikigai and illness, I think ikigai really cultivates or I promote curiosity. So that ikigai, if you cultivate a curious mind, so for instance, ikigai does not create peace of mind, as far as I'm concerned.

But if you can create a curious mind, and a flexible mind, and a mind that will adapt itself to changing circumstances, then you've got something to work with when you're going through really difficult times. And so I love that. Because ikigai and illness is built completely on Morita principles.

And I think that one of the aspects, one of the foundational elements of ikigai and illness is that you challenge yourself mentally and physically. So you do hard things, even when they're hard, even when you're nervous about it, but there's big benefits.

It's why Dr. Itami had people climbing Mount Fuji and Mont Blanc, because he felt that when you challenge yourself, mentally and physically, that you had much more inner resources and strength to fight the cancer. I don't really like the word fight, but to work with the cancer or your illness.

So I think ikigai is just a blessing in the whole area of resilience. It has so much to offer.

Nick: I'm sure you're going to talk about Dr. Itami in your presentation. So I won’t ask questions. But Clark, would you like to now chime in?

Clark: Yeah, I'm reminded of that, the saying: ‘If I have a why, I can deal with any how.’ There was someone who is, and forgive me for not remembering the person's name, but I know someone gave a presentation on logotherapy for the summit.

Nick: Dr. Nina Burklin.

Clark: I think. You know, that really applies when we think about ikigai and resilience, in the sense that those who have a sense of ikigai are going to be much more resilient than those who don't. And so for that reason, learning how to cultivate a sense of ikigai is very important for flourishing.

I mean, I once had an exchange during COVID, I was a little concerned. Personally, I was a little concerned. We were constantly asking students how they were doing. And there was a lot of encouragement to ask students how they were doing.

And I said, I'm not opposed to other people doing that, but I don't want to do that. And the reason why I don't want to do that is because if I keep asking them how they're doing, I'm afraid they're going to start thinking that there's something wrong with that.

They're going to start thinking, like, ‘Why do you keep asking me that? Should I not be doing okay?’ And so the ideas of making people feel resilient, is the idea that, not just that they're okay, but like, together as a community in the classroom, at least together, we have something to do here.

And whatever is going on in the rest of our lives, we can take these moments, and just deal with what life is calling us to do with that moment. And when we respond to what life is calling us to do at any particular moment, then we are living in a sense of purpose and ikigai, because we are responding to the next right thing to do, which is what life is calling us to do.

And to my mind, my point was to my colleague, for me, that's how I prefer to think about making students more resilient — by letting them know that we can be okay. You know, we can just respond to what life is calling us to do, and when we do that, we'll be okay. And knowing that we're okay builds resilience.

Nick: I think from our conversation, the word cultivate came up in our podcast. And I think that's probably the best verb to, or not the best verb, but I really liked that verb for ikigai, to cultivate one's ikigai. Suggesting that you already have it, let's try and make the most of it and maximize it. And I guess that would help build resilience.

So maybe toward the end of this discussion, we'll talk about cultivating our ikigai, and we can offer some advice. But Shin, would you like to now chime in on ikigai and resilience?

Shintaro: Sure, I thought that was brilliant passage. I thought it was beautiful thing. And there's so much really essence of the ikigai captured here that really in relation to that existential positive psychology.

It really to me what ikigai is, that it's neither purely positive nor negative, and then so is the life. And then that recognition and working between that. For example, one of my ikigai theories shows that the perceived value of day-to-day experience really feeds into our ikigai, perception of ikigai, feeling your life is worth living.

And one of the valuable experience that my students, or the student I interviewed kept talking to was the, in Japanese, we say gambaru, that's making efforts and facing challenging experiences and situations.

And from that, you may achieve something, or you may fail, eventually, actually overall, but you grow as a person sometimes. So you take something out of it, there are lessons, too. And that effortful experience is really, it can be uncomfortable in a short term that it can give you stress, it can give you short term setbacks, it can frustrate you.

And just be okay with that for a moment and just stick to it, too, and persist in that situation and, invest in that, and enjoy the growth through it. And that was recognized as one of those beneficiary experience.

So really, if you look at it in a short term, it can be stressful, it can be ‘negative.’ But in the long run, resilience suggests that you can grow, you can bounce back and bounce forward, if you will, and you can come out as a little stronger version of yourself, and that's very important.