Finding meaning: Ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that basically means a reason for being. It’s described as the thing that gives your life meaning, or a reason to get up in the morning.

This beautiful and simple idea is usually represented visually with overlapping circles representing Ikigai as the intersection of:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can get paid for

While this concept is often applied to career, it’s not exclusive to career, we can also use this framework to explore life in general. If we are aware of what’s missing, or out of balance, we can mindfully work to bring that into our lives. On the other hand, we can examine situations in the past where we’ve felt like we were in the sweet spot to understand what we personally need to feel the happiness of ikigai.

The formula for Ikigai

While Ikigai is about having all four elements (Love + Skill + Service + Pay), there are several other combinations along worth noting. Often, these are good for a short period of time, but for longer, stable happiness, seek all four.

Love + Skill

In this scenario, you are doing what you love and something you’re good at — this is a place of passion. This is usually a place of contentment, but if it doesn’t feel like it’s something the world needs and you can’t support yourself doing it, you will likely struggle over the long term.

Love + Need

When you are living in your mission, you are doing something you love that the world needs. Perhaps the pay is non-existent and you might not be very good at it. For example, think of people who go on mission trips to another country and build houses. What may be great for a week, probably won’t lead to long-term happiness and stability if they don’t have sufficient skills to do a great job or sufficient income to support their financial needs.

Skill + Pay

The combination of being good at something and being able to earn a good living is profession.  This is the classic way we pick careers. In my own case, because I was naturally good at techy stuff and those jobs paid well, but felt empty working in those jobs because they weren’t filling my need to do something I loved and something the world needs.

Service + Pay

Doing something the world needs that you can get paid for is vocation. Overall, this combination lacks passion and can leave you feeling incomplete.

Having three of the four elements

When you combine more elements, you’re closer to your Ikigai, but you still face significant limitations to your ability to be complete.

  • Love + Skill + Pay = Satisfaction, but a feeling of uselessness
  • Skill + Pay + Service = Comfortable, but feeling of emptiness
  • Pay + Service + Love = Excitement and complacency, but sense of uncertainty
  • Service + Love + Skill = Delight and fullness, but no wealth

Ikigai in action

The Ikigai concept can be extraordinarily helpful in actively seeking our own mental health and happiness. Each person will have their own individual version that fits them and no one can have a vision of Ikigai forced upon them.

If you are interested in further exploring Ikigai, there is a good bit of information written on the subject, including exploration of the longevity of residents of the Japanese community of Okinawa. You may also enjoy reviewing our Pinterest board on Ikigai. Of course, exploration of your own happiness is a great topic to bring into therapy, too.



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