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Ikigai: a Japanese concept about the meaning of life

Ikigai: a Japanese concept about the meaning of life

January 24, 2023

If we talk about human needs, the pyramid of Maslow, whose theory is the best known among those dealing with positive psychology and the pursuit of happiness and personal satisfaction, probably comes to mind. But it is not the only one.

In addition to this there are multiple perspectives, even philosophical, that deal with the subject. Some of them come from the East, specifically from popular wisdom and Japanese culture. For them, one of the main needs and at the same time one of the main keys to achieve happiness (although it does not imply or is necessarily synonymous with it) is to find our ikigai or reason to be .

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What is the ikigai?

Within Japanese popular culture, ikigai is understood as that element that is our reason for being in the world, the motivation that drives us to act and to live. It is about looking for and recognizing one's place in the world, which makes our life worthwhile.


It is important to keep in mind that the ikigai does not identify with happiness, although knowing it facilitates it. And it is that the ikigai allows to look to the future with hope with the certainty that we are doing what we believe we have come to do to the world . The ikigai is linked to self-realization and is something intrinsic and spontaneous, which makes our acts are not lived as imposed by society or the world but carried out with pleasure and that cause satisfaction for themselves.

This vital sense is also something related to the workplace, our occupation, and how our interests interact with the world. In this way, the meaning of our life is also linked not only to our being but also to what happens in the world in which we move. It is not only intrinsic but also extrinsic.


Now, it is important to bear in mind that it is not enough to identify our purpose or vital purposes, but it is also necessary that we start up in order to achieve it. It is about seeking and exercising that purpose in order to have a full life. In addition, we must bear in mind that this purpose does not have to be stable. It can be an element that varies throughout life. You also have to keep in mind that it includes and it requires both a component of self-fulfillment and one of commitment with the role or the people who are part of it.

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How to identify it?

The ikigai can be found at the confluence between what we love, those things we are good at, what they can pay us for and what the world needs. These aspects may be related in different ways, but the perception that we are before our reason of existing is difficult if there is no balance.


The interaction between the beloved and what we are good at is our passion, which in turn merges with our profession (which arises from the confluence between what we are good at and what we are paid for). it gives us great satisfaction . However, we perceive it as useless unless it is connected to what the world needs.

The interaction between what the world needs and what they can pay us for allows us to find our vocation, which in turn is related to our profession generates comfort but the feeling of existential emptiness if it is not linked to our interests and what we love .

On the other hand, what the world needs and what we love comes together in what we understand by our mission. If our mission and our passion coincide, we will feel fulfilled and enjoy ourselves, but we can not reach a position and maintain ourselves if we do not join with what we can be paid for. If mission and vocation are in relationship, we will be facing something that will excite us and it will make us feel that we are doing a useful task, but if we are not facing something that we are good at, we will be insecure and uncertain about our actions.

In conclusion, a perfect balance between the different elements mentioned is needed to reach and identify our ikigai. It is about seeking that our vocation, profession, mission and passion coincide in one or several themes or aspects, in such a way that it becomes a central element in our life. This allows us to be in tune with what we come to do to the world and be more authentic, natural and connected with ourselves.

That said, it may seem that it is very difficult to identify.However, the truth is that many times and for a large number of people, it is a knowledge they already possess to some degree and that they can find in the most obvious and natural. The problem is that it is often mutilated, sublimated or distorted by elements such as social desirability, the search for stability and security and the lack of reflection on what we truly consider important.

A philosophy of Japanese life with many advantages

Taking into account the ikigai or vital sense can have great repercussions at the level of lifestyle or even reduce the risk of different diseases. Not in vain, some of the regions with greater longevity of the planet are of Japan, being this type of concepts to be one of the possible facilitators of it.

In this sense, in areas like Okinawa it has been observed for example that the number of cardiovascular problems and even cancer are less frequent, and their evolution. We must bear in mind that it has been observed that aspects such as hostility and competitiveness (typical of a type A personality) facilitate the former, as well as C-type personalities that inhibit the expression of negative emotions are more predisposed to cancer.

It is also common to experience lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, because an attitude in accordance with what we consider our life goals and our sense in the world facilitates a contemplation of our day to day as something more positive. They can have a more committed life and at the same time more free, something that influences a great diversity of vital areas.

Bibliographic references

  • García, H. and Miralles, F. (2016). Ikigai The secrets of Japan for a long and happy life. Uranus.

How to reboot your life with the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai | Rob Bell (January 2023).


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