Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ikigai - Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life

Ikigai by Dominique Allmon ©2017

People can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization. - Kobayashi Tsukasa

We seldom meet people who do not wish for a happy life. For many, the struggle is hard, but it shouldn't be. One has to simply love what one does. That's all. 

Nothing easier said than done. Unfortunately, most people end up in jobs they hate and vegetate unhappily till their retirement. Life is postponed for that later moment in time, when there is more money, more freedom, more time, more leisure, to do what we please and love. Unfortunately, that moment seldom comes, but if it does, it does not last long and does not bring the effect that we had hoped for. Happiness seems to be a habit that must be cultivated all life long. One does not simply retire from a tedious job and become happy the next day, but one can certainly change the direction of one's life early enough not to end up frustrated at an older age.

Have you heard of Ikigai? 

Ikigai is a Japanese concept of our reason for existence, very similar to the French raison d'être, or the ultimate purpose of one's life. The Japanese believe that everybody has ikigai. Ikigai is the force, the motivation, the passion that makes our life worth living. In other words, ikigai is what makes us tick. Those who find their ikigai can enjoy long and happy life.

The Germans say that you are a happy man if you know how combine the "nützlich" or the useful, with the "angenehm" or pleasant and enjoyable. Many of us have heard stories of successful Wall Street bankers leaving everything behind only to grow organic food or raise chickens on a farm. Such dramatic decisions are not necessarily motivated by money alone and there is always more to their story.

If your job doesn't make you really happy, but it pays for your lifestyle and allows you to keep up with the Joneses, you might not find your ikigai; but if you have moved to an English countryside to restore and sell antique furniture because antiques are your passion since your early discovery and exploration of your grandma's attic, you are meant to find your ikigai, even if the money you earn isn't buying you an English manor right away.

Ikigai is to live to your own expectations, not to the expectations of others. If you are a lawyer because everybody in your family is, and this is your passion, you are the lucky one. However, if you were "coerced" in this direction by your relatives, but would rather be a concert violinist, you may end up unhappy sooner or later. Emphasis on "might" because a lifelong practice of law may help you discover aspects of your profession that are deeply satisfying.

Ikigai is to lose yourself in your passion or, in other words, find passion in everything you are doing, and carry it all life long. Ikigai is what makes the difference between lethargic, tired retiree who isn't needed anymore, and a happy, energetic, active octogenarian who is traveling the world, painting landscapes on a seaside, learning Chinese calligraphy, or preparing for a marathon run.

Discovery of one's own ikigai requires deep introspection, courage, maturity, and a very honest assessment of one's current place in the world. The compromise one is willing to make in early twenties, may not hold up to the litmus test of a later years.

Finding your ikigai early enough can make an incredible difference in your life. The choice between deep frustration and genuine happiness looks like a no-brainer, but this choice can only be made if one is brave enough to leave the assumed comfort zone.

If you can balance your chosen profession with your mission in life, your vocation, and that which you are truly passionate about, you are meant to experience ikigai.

How to find ikigai?

To find your ikigai you will have to honestly answer four questions:
  • What do you love doing? - Ask yourself what is it that gives you greatest joy and makes your heart beat faster.
  • What are truly good at? - Name your natural talents and skills that you have mastered.
  • What is your vocation? - Do you have a cause you want to fight for? Is there anything you would do to make the world a better place?
  • What do you get paid for? - What skills and services can you offer in exchange for money without compromising your values? 

Take a moment to look into your heart before you answer these questions. Take a piece of paper and write down your answers. You may want to use an ikigai diagram of overlapping circles to better illustrate common aspects of your existence. Reflect on your current situation and visualize where would you rather want to be. At the end of this exercise, ask yourself a question what needs to be changed or done to bring you closer to your ikigai and follow this direction.

As I wrote above, certain maturity and a high dose of honesty is required to make big changes in one's life. If you are not truly happy, if you feel that something is missing in your life, you might have to take a close look at yourself. What you could find, might surprise you.

Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2017

Image created on paper with Japanese green tea and digitalized by Dominique Allmon©2017