Ikigai: Finding Purpose and Fulfillment in Everyday Life

Nov 1, 2023 | Workforce

By Carlos Barboza

“Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.”

–Japanese Proverb

I’ll start with this question: Why do you want what you want? The Japanese philosophy of ikigai describes a person’s reason for being and purpose in life. Stemming from the words iki, meaning “alive,” and gai, meaning “worth,” it’s the belief that aligning your passion and vocation with your mission and profession is the secret to a long and happy life or, more poetically, “a reason to get up in the morning.”

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Neuroscientists, journalists, and ikigai adherents have pointed to the longevity of the Japanese people to establish that defining and following your life purpose in this way leads to a longer life span. For example, Okinawa is a Japanese island south of the mainland. The island has the highest proportion of people over 100 years old in the world and ikigai plays a major role in Okinawan culture.

Thus, ikigai is more than a temporary motivation, it’s a reason to live that brings you meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to your life, while also contributing to the good of others.

Therefore, ikigai symbolizes the connection of four key elements:

  1. Passion (What You Love): This represents the activities and pursuits that bring you joy and a sense of fulfillment. It involves your hobbies, interests, and the things that make you feel alive.
  2. Mission (What the World Needs): This element refers to your sense of purpose and the meaningful contributions you can make to the world. It’s the way in which you serve others, your community, or even the greater global community.
  3. Vocation (What You Can Be Paid For): This part covers the activities, talents, strengths or skills that you are good at and can potentially provide a source of livelihood. Keep in mind that a “recognition” could be part of this element, which means that even though you don’t get paid, the recognition validates our existence and tells us that we matter.
  4. Profession (What You Are Good At): This element involves recognizing the things that you can do well and feel competent in.

Once you create your own ikigai map and converge these four elements; then you’ll find your “sweet spot” (this covers something you are passionate about, that you are also good at, that the world needs now, and for which someone will pay you). For example, I am passionate about playing guitar, am also skilled at it, there is a need for it in my world (I do volunteer in a church and play concerts with my musical group), and I do get several offers to do musical performances. I might say I’ve found my ikigai sweet spot in my hobby lifestyle. I’m still finding my ikigai in my working lifestyle and retirement. That’s right, you can have as many ikigai as you want, just make sure to accomplish each one of them. When you miss one of the elements, that’s what you need to work on.

Another example, I love to write articles for ARA’s Automotive Recycling and ToolBox publications. My mission is to share my life experiences with the recycling community and this contribution inspire me to help others to fuel their human soul and motivate them too.

When you find this harmony and sustainability, you experience a profound sense of purpose and satisfaction, so it’s important to evaluate if your ikigai purpose can be maintained in the long term in order to reach a more fulfilling and balanced life.

Finding purpose in life is one of our most fundamental human needs. But, (and of course there is a “but”), we all know the struggle of trying to unlock what we really want in life such as feeling overwhelmed, like you don’t have time, fear-based thinking, and so forth. The good news is that it’s malleable. With some creativity, you can stretch and organize it to fit your needs.

So, how to find your ikigai? Spend some time visualizing your ideal day from start to finish. Believe it or not, this is going to help you determine your ikigai and your true meaning. What do you really want? What would you do if money were no object? Pay attention to how you feel.

When you’re finished visualizing, make sure to write it down (or write it down as you’re visualizing). Along the journey, spend some time brainstorming and writing down small changes you can make to align your mission. Align this with what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.

If you go through this process and find that your vision meets your real-life expectations – congrats, you’re on the right path to find your ikigai. Move on to the next section to see how to put it in place. If the opposite is true, don’t worry, it can take time to find your ikigai.

The journey to ikigai might require time, deep reflection, effort, a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone.

Here are some steps that can help you on your journey:

  1. Know yourself reflection: Look at your inner self and have an honest conversation with yourself and look for those things that bring you joy or make you feel most alive.
  2. Release your old beliefs: Don’t be afraid to try new things or pursue different interests. Sometimes, your ikigai may lie in uncharted territories, waiting for you to discover it.
  3. Be in the ‘here and now’: Simple, be present and live in the moment.
  4. Consider your legacy: How do you want to be remembered? What positive contributions do you want to make to the world?
  5. Create small goals: Once you’ve written down your annual goals, create small monthly goals to help you reach them. Remember, your goals must need a meaning in order to enjoy the journey.
  6. Plan it out: Now that you’ve got a list of long-term goals and short-term goals, organize them using a chart, calendar, or notebook. People tend to hang goals in the closet, kitchen or any area that you usually visit every day.
  7. Create a support system: Share your goals and passions with your family, friends, reach out to mentors, coaches, teachers, and other professionals who have reached similar goals. Cultivate relationships, network, and learn as much as you can from your support system.
  8. Check your progress. Are you achieving your short- and long-term goals? Is there anything bothering you? What’s going on?

So, finding your ikigai is knowing yourself. Live the moment, be grateful and good luck finding your ikigai. The best time to get started was yesterday. The next best time is now. Allan W. Watts said: “It’s better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.” Remember, once you have found your purpose in life, it is meaningless unless you act on it. Blessings.

Carlos Barboza is the owner of Eco Green Auto Parts, Orlando, FL. Their website is https://ecogautoparts.com and they can be found on Facebook @ecogreenautoparts.

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