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Ikigai - Japanese happiness for everyone

In search of a recipe for happiness, Russians are studying examples of a harmonious way of life in other countries: Danish “hygge”, Swedish “lagom”, Norwegian “freeluft”, etc. Each concept reveals the meaning of life and the secret of happiness in its own way, but they all imply a conscious attitude to life and to the world around us.

The Japanese ikigai philosophy of life may offer some help to those looking to find more meaning and joy in life. This word sounds in the speech of the Japanese every day. However, the concept has attracted worldwide attention, expressed in a rapidly growing number of studies abroad, in the last sixty years, starting in the 1960s. To this day, experts from different countries strive to open the “ikigai” to the reader, to propose a transposition of the concept into their reality.

Ikigai - Japanese happiness for everyone
Photo Shoot: Gerd Altmann from the website Pixabay

On the beneficial effects of ikigai on health and life expectancy

Presumably, the origin of the ikigai idea goes back to the Heian period (794-1185). The etymology of the word "ikigai" is presented as follows: "Iki" comes from the verb "ikiru", which means "to live, to be alive." Regarding the second part - "gai" - we can see the translation of "gai" as both "reason" and "value". There are two versions of the origin of "gai": from "kai" in translation "effect, benefit, result, sense" or from "kai" in the meaning of "shell". In ancient Japan, shells were hand-decorated by artists and used in an aristocratic game called "kai-awase", so over time they became synonymous with value. That is, “ikigai” can be translated as “the value of being alive”, “the benefit of being alive” or, less literally, “worth living”, “reason to live”, “meaning of life”. The Japanese dictionary interprets "ikigai" as "the strength needed to live in this world, happiness to be alive, benefit, efficiency."

Interestingly, many scientific studies point out the connection between the presence of "ikigai" in a person's life and the level of his mental, physical health and longevity.

Significant in this respect is the book of the American writer, National Geographic reporter Dan Buettner - “Blue Zones. 9 rules of longevity from people who live the longest. " The "blue zones" are the territories on the planet Earth, where the largest percentage of centenarians among the population is recorded. Buettner's team studied and described the lifestyle of these unique people: what they eat, what life principles they follow, how they relate to work, what importance they attach to family and community. One of the four study areas was the Japanese island of Okinawa. This small island is home to several hundred people, whose age exceeds a hundred years, and their health is maintained for most of a long life. One of the main secrets of the longevity of the Okinawans, as the researchers suggest, is their ikigai. For example, a 102-year-old resident of Okinawa feels ikigai when she holds her great-great-granddaughter, and for a 102-year-old karate master, ikigai is a transfer of the art of wrestling.

In the works of Richiro Ishida, a Japanese scientist, it is argued that the presence of "ikigai" significantly reduces a person's stress level, not only in everyday life, but also in emergency situations. In particular, Ishida describes the stories of people who, after the catastrophic earthquakes and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, were able to find ikigai for themselves and, thanks to this, helped to better cope with a difficult situation not only for themselves, but also for those around them. Even in difficult times and after negative events in life, ikigai can guide us in a positive new direction. Also, Richiro Ishida provides a theoretical basis for the positive effect of ikigai on stress levels. The absence of ikigai leads to an “existential vacuum”: a person cannot give himself an answer as to why and for whom he lives. In addition, people without ikigai are more likely to expect approval from society and experience stress when they do not receive it. At the same time, the happiness and satisfaction with the life of people with ikigai does not depend on the reaction of society, but is produced directly by the person himself. At the same time, it cannot be said that a person is selfish and does not need others at all. On the contrary, the vital interests of such a person are not himself, but the world around him. Another characteristic of ikigai is manifested here - the desire for something that excites us, with a strong connection in service to others, be it family, friends, animals, students, employers or others.

One of the leading ikigai researchers, clinical psychologist Akihiro Hasegawa, while working with people with dementia, noticed that patients with strong ikigai feelings wanted to live and could slow down the progression of the condition in a negative direction.

What is and what is not ikigai?

It is important to emphasize that the ikigai feeling does not mean the global meaning of life, but the meaning of every day. In this regard, it is interesting to note the specifics of the Japanese language, which Professor A. Hasegawa points out in an interview for the platform

"In Japan, there is jinsei, which means human life in general, and seikatsu, which means everyday life ... The concept of ikigai is more in line with seikatsu, so this word refers to the search for meaning in everyday life ..."

Following Mieko Kamiya, the “mother of ikigai psychology”, Akihiro Hasegawa shares ikigai objects and feelings. It turns out that not only objects of the present, but also of the past, the future can be our ikigai: memories or dreams, family, friends, work, hobbies, even a cup of coffee or a morning walk. That is, we can find ikigai in a variety of areas of our lives - from small daily rituals to achieving significant goals.

Now let's move on to what is not ikigai in the world outlook of representatives of Japanese culture.


In many sources, the answer to the question of what our ikigai can be is given through the Venn diagram, where ikigai is the intersection of what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs and what we can be paid for. The Japanese are critical of this interpretation, as it assumes that ikigai and true happiness can be achieved only if all four conditions are met. For example, if we do what we love, but it does not bring monetary reward, then, according to the diagram, we cannot feel ikigai. Ikigaitribe founder Nicholas Kemp seeks to debunk ikigai myths and provides detailed criticism of the diagram, which can be summarized in several points:

• While success and wealth accumulation may be byproducts of your ikigai, they should not be the focus.

• “Ikigai” is not what the world needs from us. Ikigai lies in the realm of community, family, friendship, and the roles we play. When we chase our ikigai, we are not trying to save the world. It's more about connecting and helping people who give meaning to our lives - family, friends, colleagues, and the community.

• You don't have to be able to do something to find your own ikigai. Ikigai can be a very simple daily ritual or the practice of a new hobby. Ikigai is more about growth than skill.

• Finally, ikigai can be something we love or are passionate about, but we can also find ikigai in areas of our life that we least expect. Ikigai is more focused on living in accordance with our values ​​and finding meaning, purpose in everyday life, no matter what limitations we may have.

Five Fundamental Principles to Follow to Develop and Strengthen Ikigai

Another answer to the question of how to find your own ikigai comes from a Tokyo neuroscientist, TV presenter and author of the best-selling Ikigai. The Meaning of Life in Japanese "- Ken Mogi invites the reader to follow the five basics of" ikigai ":

1) Start small. For K. Mogi, “starting small” is a distinctive feature of youth, since at this age we cannot start big things right away, the world does not pay attention to them. But at the same time, we have enough curiosity and open-mindedness to take small steps, and these are distinctive qualities for the development of our business. In an interview for Ikigaitribe the author comments on the first basis as follows:

“I suspect that some people set too high goals for themselves from the beginning. It's all or nothing, and if they can't really win big, they don't feel like it's worth trying, but I'm the one who really thinks you can just do the little things even if you don't get anywhere. Social appreciation or the usefulness of what you do is a bonus, not a major reward. The main reward is what you define for yourself ... "

2) Free yourself. The author of the book broadcasts the idea that our liberation and finding happiness directly depends on accepting ourselves as we are. This is one of the most rewarding things we can do for ourselves. Each of us is endowed with unique characteristics and in order to find our ikigai, we must hear ourselves, go beyond social stereotypes and attitudes. With the discovered shortcomings, the researcher proposes to come to terms with the help of laughter.

3) Harmony and stability. This basis implies a respectful attitude of man to nature. Resilience also manifests itself in social relationships: we must correlate our desires and needs with the people around us (take into account the convenience of other people, think about the consequences of our actions for society), which "reduces unnecessary conflicts, in other words ikigai is peace!" We are also talking about resilience in connection with the attitude to our own destiny: we accept the changes taking place in our life, and we can maintain the feeling of ikigai even during stressful periods.

4) Enjoy the little things. The Japanese scientist considers it a big omission that we lose moments of happiness because we are so focused on a big goal or preoccupied. Even mundane activities can be turned into pleasant little experiences, in any business it is important to pay attention to the details. For an extra dose of dopamine, the author suggests starting the day with something we love very much, for example, with a cup of coffee, chocolate, or another morning ritual. Ken Mogi suggests making the joy of the little things work for us.

5) Be here and now. For the author of the book, being here and now is like being in a state of flow. In a situation of performing work, this ikigai basis is manifested in the fact that we do not expect immediate results, material rewards or approval, and we enjoy the process itself.

Thus, the ancient ikigai philosophy of life can help us find joy in every day and deal with anxiety during these difficult times. We can feel motivated to live out of simple things without racing to achieve global goals as soon as possible. And later, starting from small, calmly and harmoniously implement your plans. And it doesn't matter what our social status is now, if we can feel meaning and satisfaction from what we are doing in the present moment.

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