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Step aside, Hygge – IKIGAI (pronounced “eye-ka-guy”) is a Japanese life philosophy that’s giving us a whole new reason to wake up in the morning.

“Ikigai is the reason for living … most simply, it is the reason you get up in the morning and start your new day,” says Tokyo-based neuroscientist and author of Little Book of Ikigai, Ken Mogi Ph.D. “Ultimately, it would be your life’s goals, dreams that you keep deep in your heart.”

The concept of Ikigai originates from Japanese culture, and is fast becoming the mainstream outside of Japan as a way to live happier, longer lives. The word itself is derived from ‘iki’, meaning life and ‘kai’, translating roughly to the realisation of hopes and expectations.Think of it as balancing out the spiritual with the practical.

The true meaning of ikigai

Ikigai is commonly used to indicate the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worth living. If you struggle to find a reason to get out of bed, it can come as a particularly refreshing change to have a deeper sense of purpose and direction. Mogi describes ikigaiais a spectrum of things, from the small to the big, from the private to the public. “It is the unique nature of the Japanese culture that the rich diversity of ikigai has traditionally been recognised and treasured,” Mogi explains.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai and anybody can benefit from it. However, Mogi believes it is particularly beneficial for the busy professionals who find it difficult to keep pursuing the various different goals of life. “Precisely because people are living under pressure from new developments such as globalisation and artificial intelligence, it is necessary to recognise the fact that what makes life go on actually consists of small joys, each of which might be trivial in themselves,” he says. “You might have success as a bonus, but well before that, you would be able to find deep joys, without stress, even in an era of great changes.”

A nod to the inner child

We need only look to children to be inspired by the ikigai way of life. “A child knows ikigai intuitively. When you grow up, you sometimes develop the illusion that only certain things like success and money count in life, while others are trivial,” explains Mogi. “Ikigai can fix that kind of misplaced focusing – the trivial things are as important as life’s big goals. The message of ikigai is a reassuring wakeup call to your inner child.”

Life in the blue zones

Ever heard about people living to be over 100 in the world’s blue zones? There’s a reason for that. Various TED talks on the subject matter suggest ikigai as one of the key reasons people in these areas have such long lives. An example is Okinawa, one of the aforementioned blue zones. “Okinawa and mainland Japan share many cultural values and traditions, for which ikigai provides an excellent umbrella term. Ikigai is one of the reasons why life in the blue zones are made possible and sustainable,” says Mogi.

Finding your ikigai

Amidst the pressures of our modern world, how do we peel back the layers and find out our true purpose and what we are supposed to be doing in life? This often requires deep enquiry and self searching. But it’s best to start small and work your way from there. Ask yourself this one question: what gets you out of bed in the morning? Some of you may already know the answer and be living out your ikigai. For those that are not, exploring the following four primary elements of ikigai is a great starting point:

- What you love (passion)
- Your mission (what the world needs)
- What you are good at (vocation)
- What you can get paid for (profession)

In summary, to discover your ikigai, it’s important to find out what you’re most passionate about. From there, you can find a medium through which to express this passion. “One should ask, going back to one’s childhood if necessary, what things would give them inner joys, no matter how private or sentimental they may be,” suggests Mogi. “I recommend to start from really small daily habits like appreciating the first cup of coffee in the morning, the walk you take with your dog, or a small chat with your friends,” says Mogi. It is the aggregate of these small things that makes your ikigai. “Ikigai is not a silver bullet solution… [it’s] a magic carpet solution, supported by life’s small joys which you define, discover, and cultivate for yourself.”