Ikigai: Meaning and Significance

In this video, researcher Natasha Randall shares how she incorporated the concept of ikigai into her study on human-robot interaction, and provides valuable insights into her deep understanding of the concept.

Ikigai is what makes your life significant and worthwhile

Nick: And so this brings up brings us to the theme of the episode, you frame your study for your paper around the concept of ikigai. So when did you stumble across the word ikigai?

Natasha: So this research that we did here was funded by Toyota Research Institute. And the person on that side who submitted the grant actually proposed this word and this concept. So there was a certain synergy to it because a lot of my work has been in the well-being space from a Western perspective.

So there seem to synergy to looking at how these two things connect. How these can really feed each other? And then how do we look at using robots to then support ikigai?

Nick: Well, I think it's important we understand the word. And as you know, it's greatly misunderstood outside of Japan. So how would you define it? If someone said, "Hey, Natasha, what is ikigai?" What would be your short answer?

Natasha: Oh, you want a short answer?

Nick: Oh, long answer is fine.

Natasha: So this is one thing that I looked at, sort of in this paper, but also in a paper that will hopefully be released in a few months here. So what does ikigai mean when we're translating it to a Western word or concept. And there is a paper by Frank Martela, it's called "The three meanings of meaning in life."

And in it, he talks about how meaning in life can really be translated in three ways. So even that concept doesn't have one one solid meaning. So we can think of it as purpose; your meaning as what motivates you to do something.

We can think of it as coherence; how do we actually make sense of the experiences that we've lived and kind of form a narrative around those that makes sense. Or we can think of it as significant; so what actually makes your life significant, worthwhile, worth living?

And it seems from our research that ikigai translates best to that meaning of meaning, so meaning and significance. So what makes your life significant or worthwhile. And that is an evaluative process.

So that actually takes somebody having an experience, so whether that is having these close relationships with family and friends, or helping somebody, or just doing kind of a fun activity, it takes them doing that activity, having that experience, and then making an evaluative judgment that's meaningful to them.

Nick: Fantastic. So you're really touching on, I think, Kamiya Mieko's definition as well. She noted that for people who lacked ikigai, in her research with lepers in the 1960s, that insignificance was this one thing that seemed to result in a lack of ikigai.

And that seemed very much tied to social world. So yeah, it's always interesting to ask my guests, how would you define ikigai. And I think you just did a wonderful job. So that's probably the best definition actually, because you brought in all these other contexts.