The Japanese Formula For Finding Purpose – Ikigai

The Japanese Formula For Finding Purpose - Ikigai

Have you ever asked yourself this question: what is my purpose? 

With so many opportunities that life has to offer, and all these different jobs and careers, it’s quite difficult to decide what we want to do with our lives. 

Society demands us to make decisions at a very young age, about what path we’re going to take. 

Most of the time, children have no clue about what life’s like in adulthood, and what they want to do when they’re grown-up. 

In fact, many adults don’t even have a clue. Now, the Japanese invented a philosophy named Ikigai, which stands for ‘reason for being’, Ikigai can help us to determine what it is, that we want to wake up for in the morning. 

You know, that very thing that we can pour our heart and soul into. When we’re totally immersed in our activities, so much so that nothing else matters, we’re in a state of flow. 

Ikigai helps us to identify the necessary ingredients to get into this flow state and make our pursuit sustainable, and useful for the world. 

Many people work in these jobs they hate. When we do this, the misery that we associate with these activities often creeps up on us on Sunday evenings, when we start to think about this dreadful Monday morning, on which we have to drag ourselves out of bed, knowing that we’ll spend the next week in hell. 

When we arrive, we still experience this nostalgia for the weekend, and as soon as we begin with our tasks, we count down to the first break and then the next and then the next, until we can finally go home again, and repeat the process.

Now, this isn’t a very enjoyable way to live. Think about it. Doing something we hate, is a disservice to ourselves, and also to our surroundings. 

Especially when we see other colleagues that actually enjoy what they’re doing. And on top that, they’re doing a great job. 

Again, many people get miserable because of their jobs, which in turn can lead to serious health problems, like depression. 

Some even go as far as killing themselves, because they cannot cope with the feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, and this nagging idea that they’re failures in life. 

But we have a certain degree of control over our circumstances. We can try to change our position towards the situation, and make our current job more enjoyable. 

Or we can reassess our own nature and the nature of our surroundings and likely come to the conclusion that it’s better to find something different to do. 

Thus, the change we need to make is twofold: on the one hand, we need to change our mindset. On the other hand, we need to change our circumstances

Because when we do the right things with the right mindset, we’re able to enter a state of flow. 

Ikigai helps to identify what’s the right thing to do for a certain individual, so this person is able to get out of bed in the morning with a sense of purpose and, therefore, is able to work with almost no effort. 

Now, Ikigai consists of four dimensions. Firstly, we need to pick something that we’re good at. 

Secondly, it must be a thing that we love to do. Thirdly, the world should need it. 

And lastly, we have to get paid. Let’s talk about each dimension separately. 

(1) Doing what we’re good at. 

Everyone has a different skill set. Some things are based on nurture, and some things are based on nature. For a great part, we can learn skills. 

Also, read 16 Skills That Are Hard To Learn But Will Pay Off Forever

But we also have inborn characteristics that make different people suitable for different things. 

For example, we see differences in IQ, motor skills, empathy, physical strength, et cetera. 

Oftentimes, people focus on improving the things they’re bad at. They spend their whole lives repairing themselves while rejecting the things they’re naturally good at. 

So, we might want to focus on the latter and improve those skills so we become masters at it. Because why put so much energy into becoming mediocre at best when we have the opportunity to become great? 

Not to mention how the world benefits from us manifesting our true potential. However, according to the Ikigai philosophy, this should be something that the world needs, which I’ll address in a minute. 

(2) Doing what we love to do. 

This is very obvious, but it’s also a tricky one. While a level of skill can be measured, this dimension is kind of subjective and a bit complicated. 

For example, you might love to be a fulltime Blog content creator. But there might be some aspects of the process that you don’t like at all. 

You might love editing videos, writing scripts, but hate filming. In this case, filming becomes a bottleneck. Now, we can try to make filming more enjoyable. 

Perhaps, we can change our workflow or go to different locations, so we can still be immersed in this task and experience a flow-state. Mindset is key, here. 

And with the right focus, we’re able to effortlessly do the tasks that are necessary but that we don’t like that much. Of course, outsourcing is an option as well. 

But when our activities as a whole make us dreadful, and we don’t see any way to develop a certain enjoyment while doing them, it might be a better idea to find something else to do. 

Perhaps we’re just not interested in this field, or our skills are lacking which frustrates us. At the end of the day, there’s no accounting for taste. So, it’s probably much easier to just listen to our guts, and let intuition decide where to go. 

Also, read 6 Gut Feelings You Should Not Ignore

(3) Doing what the world needs. 

It’s all great when we’ve determined what we’re good at and what we love to do. But that isn’t enough to call it Ikigai. 

Because our activities should, in one way or another, benefit the world. If they don’t, it’s simply a passion. Luckily, the needs of the world come in many different flavors. 

Jobs that are looked down upon by some people are often highly important. Someone has the pick up the trash, someone has to fix our sink, and we wouldn’t be able to thrive as a society without people cleaning up the mess. 

If we find enjoyment in these kinds of jobs, that’s absolutely terrific. To discover what the world needs, we can simply do some market research, to find out the current demands. 

Or can we look at the world from a wider perspective, asking ourselves how we, with our skill sets, can make it a better place? 

(4) Doing what generates money. 

Some argue that money isn’t important, or shouldn’t be a factor. But when we look at reality, we see that money makes the world go round. 

And without money, we can’t pay the bills. So, to make our efforts sustainable, and truly a ‘reason for being’, they must generate income. 

If not, our activities become more of a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with a hobby of course. However, this also means that we need a job we might not like to pay the bills, and, therefore, sacrifice the majority of our time and energy for something we’re not passionate about, and don’t see as our life’s mission. 

So, we could see money as a form of energy, that fuels us in our pursuits. 


Now we’ve addressed the four dimensions of Ikigai, it’s essential to explore how these dimensions relate to each other, and how a combination of them form an Ikigai. 

When we do what we love, and what we’re good at, we have a passion. But this passion isn’t sufficient to be an Ikigai. 

Because it could very well be something that the world doesn’t need, or is even destructive to our environment. Also, it may not generate money or even cost us money. 

Yet, being passionate about something is part of an Ikigai. Doing what we love, and what the world needs, we call a mission. But a mission alone isn’t an Ikigai. Because we might not be good at it, and not earning a dime doing it. 

Yet, seeing our activities as a mission is an ingredient for a reason for being. When we do something that the world needs, and what we get paid for, we’ve found a vocation. 

But does that mean that we like what we do and that we’re good at it? Not necessarily. And that’s why a vocation may be something that the world demands, and that we do out of a sense of duty, but we may absolutely hate doing it. 

So, a vacation alone isn’t an Ikigai. Lastly, doing what we’re good at and what we’re paid for, is called a profession. 

Does that mean that the world needs it and that we love what we do? Again, not necessarily. Some people hate their profession. And some professions are even destructive to the world. So, a profession alone isn’t an Ikigai. 

What makes an Ikigai, is the combination of all four dimensions. This means that a ‘reason for being’ includes a passion, a mission, a vocation, and a profession. These are all the ingredients that facilitate us to engage in a worthwhile pursuit that we love to get up for in the morning. 

And when we love what we do, it’s so easy to immerse ourselves in it and get in a state of flow. The secret lies in aligning our own nature with the nature of our environment, to establish an optimal interplay between ourselves and our surroundings so that our pursuit becomes effortless.  

Many factors play a role in deciding what our Ikigai is. In a constantly changing world, remaining in that flow state means that we continually need to adapt and finetune our position within the whole. Ikigai, therefore, isn’t static. It’s an active entity, that changes with the flow of time. Thank you for reading.  


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