Happy ikigai to you!

Ikigai is a traditional Japanese concept that basically means “a reason for being.”

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

What gets you up in the morning?

I’m sure I have not used the Japanese word “ikigai” correctly, but the concept is promising and appealing.

Ikigai is a powerful, yet simple principle; we, our communities and our environment all prosper together. When we have it, we feel fulfilled, leave a legacy and blaze a trail for others to follow.

So what is Ikigai? Ikigai is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

What you love (your passion)

What the world needs (your mission)

What you are good at (your vocation)

What you can get paid for (your profession)

Ikigai is a traditional Japanese concept that basically means “a reason for being.” It refers to having a meaningful direction or purpose in life, constituting the sense of one’s life being made worthwhile, with actions (spontaneous and willing) taken towards achieving one’s ikigai resulting in satisfaction and a sense of meaning, accomplishment and direction in life.

If you want to find your Ikigai, ask yourself the following four questions:

1. What do I love?

2. What am I good at?

3. What can I be paid for now — or something that could transform into my future hustle?

4. What does the world need?

In their book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles break down the ten rules that can help anyone find their own ikigai.

1. Stay active and don’t retire

2. Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life

3. Only eat until you are 80 per cent full

4. Surround yourself with good friends

5. Get in shape through daily, gentle exercise

6. Smile and acknowledge people around you

7. Reconnect with nature

8. Give thanks to anything that brightens our day and makes us feel alive.

9. Live in the moment

10. Follow your ikigai

What would you do if you didn’t have to work? What would you do just for the enjoyment of it?

What are some things you are good at? What are some things that only you are good at?

The answers to those questions will guide you to a far more fulfilling life than any income or stock options.

The end of the year is a conducive time to reassess our careers and place in our communities.

<strong>Venn-Ikigai made on Canva.com by Danielle Nease</strong>

Venn-Ikigai made on Canva.com by Danielle Nease

It’s no secret that the higher our level of engagement in our work and communities, the higher the quality of our contribution will be.

In the “normal” busy schedules most of us had before 2020, we barely had time to listen to the deepest, most powerful currents running through us.

2020 has given many of us the opportunity, if not necessity, to reorient our career track.

We don’t need expensive seminars or special training to find, or at least get closer, to this semi-elusive goal.

“Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai,” Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles write.

When we don’t listen to these inner “compasses” we drift along, following friends or family members, going to schools or into career fields that worked for them, but may not be best for us.

A friend of mine who was a career counselor once told me that ultimately, we are all self-employed, we all make our choices, respond to set-backs and seize (or miss) opportunities only we will see – or be able to respond to.

Ask yourself what philosopher and civil rights leader Howard Thurman suggests, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

There are many “jobs” that need to be “filled” as if work, and workers were interchangeable, and perhaps many are. Those jobs pay the bills and keep our economy moving – they keep food on the table – and grow it and transport it to the table. And maybe even prepare it.

And many find inspiration there. I certainly hope, for them and for myself, that they do. But most, in every vocational area, do not.

To re-state the obvious, 2020 has been a year like no other. Entire industries are unrecognizable, career tracks and education have been thrown into chaos.

Some of us scramble for a few extra dollars to stave off eviction. Food banks are flooded with requests for food. Many of us take jobs we would not have considered a year or two ago.

For many of us, millions of us in fact, sheer survival, either economic or literal, is itself an accomplishment.

As this most tumultuous year comes to a close, and a vaccine is within reach, it might be time to listen to that quiet inner voice and follow that simple compass that leads us to the field that suits us best.

What is it that the world needs that only we can give?

What are those things we would do just for the love of it?

What are you good at?

And, maybe most important, or maybe least important, what can we get paid for?

As to the last question of those four, I think of so many artists or writers who excelled and left a legacy but barely saw any financial reward.

From Vincent Van Gogh to Jimi Hendrix to Freddie Mercury, the world is dense with those of us who had two or even three of these questions answered.

Ikigai is a moving target. We have different priorities and possibilities at different stages in our lives, but our movement should be in a direction that emphasizes the match between our unique skills and interests and the needs of those around us.

The one thing we know for certain is that the economic landscape and career options of 2021 and beyond will look little like those we last saw in 2019.

Recessions, pandemics, side-hustles and technological innovations might roil our economies and our career trajectory, but the one thing that will remain is our hard-wired human need to find our ikigai.



Ikigai basically means finding or creating your unique place in the economy.

We find it in the overlap between setting and opportunity.

We can find or make our place.

Finding literally means uncovering something that was already there.

Making means creating something – you might use materials, ideas or inspiration, but what you make is distinctly your own.

It could be in a loaf of bread, a bracelet, a career or your life.

What will be the result of the peculiar recipe that is your skill, your passions your setting, your time and your opportunities.