Ikigai: The Feeling That Makes Life Worthwhile

Nick and Kei Tsuda highlight that having ikigai doesn't mean a life free of struggles, as shown by Mieko Kamiya's experience. Despite writing being her ikigai, Kamiya faced ups and downs while working on her book. Nonetheless, she still felt a deep sense of ikigai through the process of writing.

Ikigai is the powerful emotions that make life worth living

Nick: Let's go back to Kamiya's work, and when she began writing her book, she wrote in her diary on the 14th of February 1960, the following:

I've been writing all day, (Ikigai-ni-Tsuite). Still, I am not making much progress. I've been thinking and writing a lot. Sometimes I am troubled by self-loathing. I am so bored. I wonder if it's worth it… I can't catch a break these days.”

And I was really shocked when I stumbled upon this diary entry. Actually, my wife found it for me. And I was like, is that right? So she struggled with writing at times. So this book must have been a challenge for her, too.

I think this reveals the existential nature of ikigai: that just because something is meaningful, doesn't mean it's going to be easy. In her case, writing a book. So that's another important point. Ikigai might push you, maybe what we've just touched on, to self-actualize at times, to challenge yourself, and it won't always be easy. What are your thoughts on that?

Kei: She does say like, I'm so bored, but at the same time, if I can kind of connect the timeline on this, she had already collected the materials about this book. So I think she's been rereading those materials, and other works are probably hers. And reading those materials that she's already written is probably impacting her morale a bit. It's like, I already wrote this, what am I gonna do with this?

And that's why I really appreciate this book, because you can kind of tell or feel that the number of iterations she may have gone through to come up with each of the sections based on again, a lot of other ideas and materials that she's kept.

And that may be kind of hidden in this diary entry. Because we sometimes get bored when we have to review our own work, like, I know this, I've done it. But then she's trying to create something that she's so used to seeing, but then she has to put it together in a shape that others can appreciate.

Nick: I think writing a book is a real challenge when you get to the editing stage, and you have to decide what to keep. You realize this area and this section needs more work. And the progress can just go slow, and then you begin to doubt and you've spent all this time writing a book, and then you're at this point, where you think is it worth it?

Like, what I've written doesn't even make sense—you have all these doubts. So I can imagine she went through these periods of boredom or frustration. I mean, I kind of have this magical perception of it. But at the end of the day, she was a real human being. So she must have had these moments where she got frustrated, she had her ups and downs.

Kei: And now we know that she may have been thinking in French first tried and tried to translate it in Japanese.

Nick: Yes, so she had all these ups and downs in her diary entries. But despite these struggles, perhaps more than anything in her life, writing gave Kamiya her strongest experience of ikigai-kan. And there's another quote from her diary that kind of backs this up. So this is more than a year longer, like, a year and a half longer, September 11, 1961, she wrote:

I could almost say that I had been living just to write this book. What surprise, joy and awe I felt as I gradually came to discover that. I had never even really imagined the possibility that the meaning of my life would be some day gradually revealed to me in this way.”

So obviously, she's having a really good day here. She's really feeling this incredible sense of life satisfaction, life-meaning from writing this book. So I think her diary entries are a good reminder that ikigai is all about the powerful emotions that make life feel worth living. And, obviously, ikigai-kan is what we want to experience.