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The Japanese Concept of Ikigai

On the island of Okinawa, Japan, there is a rural town on the northern end called Ogimi. This town boasts the highest life expectancy in the entire world, garnering it the nickname the “Village of Longevity.” What’s their secret?

While Ogimis believe in living a healthy lifestyle which includes daily moderate exercise, eating lots of vegetables, getting plenty of rest, and cultivating and maintaining strong friendships, they also believe in Ikigai.

What is Ikigai?

The Okinawans say it’s your reason for getting up in the morning, your purpose in life. The Japanese believe that everyone has an Ikigai, but that it’s up to the individual to find it. 

Interestingly, the Japanese language doesn’t have a word for “retire” as we do in the English language. They believe in living their purpose for their whole lives.

Why is living your life with a direct purpose in mind so important?

Having a sense of purpose gives your life the grounding it needs, especially during hard times. It helps guide the decisions you make, the goals you create and gives your moral compass the direction it needs.

Viktor Frankl once said,

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

When I was extremely ill 4 years ago, I was rushed to the hospital. I was in and out of consciousness and told my body had begun to shut down. During my stay at the hospital, it was my purpose that kept me going. When you are so sick to the point of constant suffering with no end in sight, it is hard to see that there is any light. It’s hard to find meaning in life. And I know that if I hadn’t deeply grounded myself in my purpose I would have found it difficult to fight for my life.

How do you find your Ikigai?

For some, finding your Ikigai is easy, you knew it since you were a small child. For others, it’s harder to pinpoint, which is okay. It doesn’t make your purpose any less important, meaningful, or worth pursuing.

The Japanese say that if you can align yourself with your Ikigai it leads to a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. So, let’s find your Ikigai.


Grab 4 different coloured sticky notes. For the sake of this exercise, I’ll label them blue, orange, purple, and pink.

  1. On the blue sticky note, write down the things that you love or love to do. Everything from dogs, cats, hiking, chocolate, whatever brings you a great deal of happiness.
  2. On the orange, write down the things you are good at. Now’s not the time to worry about looking arrogant or conceited. Let yourself shine and be honest about your skills. If you’re a great baker, write it down. If you’re excellent at problem-solving, add it to the list.
  3. Next is purple. On this one, list the things that you can be paid for. Some of these things are also going to be the things that you are good at so there will be some overlapping. If you’re a bad dancer and in your forties, you can probably leave professional dancer off the list here.
  4. Last is pink, which is where you’ll write down the things the world needs. These things should be related to things you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about making your own beauty products to reduce the number of chemicals you’re putting into your body, jot that down. If you’re passionate about creating fundraisers to raise money for mental health, then write that down. These should be things that you are passionate about that will help the world in some way no matter how small.

Now we analyze the lists. Chances are there are overlapping areas in the things you love and are good at, or the things that you can get paid for and something that the world needs. Where your Ikigai lies is where those 4 overlap altogether. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be the thing that pays your bills. But coming back to this exercise time and again can realign your sense of self and reground you in your purpose.

The Japanese concept of Ikigai is about living your life with purpose. Living your life with purpose makes it easier to get up in the morning and motivate yourself. It could just be the secret to a long and happy life.

Garcia, Héctor, and Fransesc Miralles. 2016. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Translated by Heather Cleary. New York: Penguin Books.
Mogi, Ken. 2017. The Little Book of Ikigai: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life. London: Quercus.

Written by Lindsay Robb

Gasparotto Group helps organizations create cultures that develop highly effective leaders and build strong, resilient teams. 

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