“Ikigai”: The Japanese Happiness Formula


“Ikigai” is a Japanese lifestyle concept that means, reason for being or living. Ikigai strives to create a balance between the spiritual and practical aspects of daily life. The key to creating this balance is to find your purpose based on four basic elements: what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and of course, what you are good at.

The term “Ikigai” was coined in the Japanese islands where people have a higher life expectancy. In Japanese,  the word “Iki” means life and “Gai” means value or worth. It’s important for us to know our own Ikigai in order to understand what motivates us every day and how we can live a happy life.

We all have dreams and goals. To have lasting motivation, greater productivity, and satisfaction, understanding the reasons behind our desires is important. Five foundational pillars of Ikigai can help us on the path to self-discovery.

Pillar 1: Start small

In the age of social media, we seem to be surrounded by everything that’s seemingly perfect and larger than life. It has forced us to keep wanting more. While there’s no harm in that, the desire to achieve things overnight causes stress. For instance, New Year resolutions – losing weight, buying a new house, or saving money for a vacation. Let’s revisit that list to see where we stand with it today? Did we try too much, too soon to give it up completely?

Lasting changes come with starting small. Take an honest look at your current situation and then take incremental steps to achieve your bigger goal.

Pillar 2: Releasing yourself

Are your dreams really “yours” or have they been set by others? While setting your life goals, did you succumb to the status quo, as it was easier than examining them to see whether you really wanted them?

Instead of believing in your illusionary “self,” based on other people’s validation, face your fears. Have the courage to accept yourself the way you are in order to decide on your true life goals.

Pillar 3: Harmony and sustainability

A person who has found her/his Ikagai lives in harmony with the environment, people, and society at large. To awaken your Ikigai, you must see that your individual daily life activities bring harmony not just to you but also to the people around you. The activities you choose to undertake should be sustainable in a way that benefits others. This will lead you to become more aware of your surroundings and lead you to be more open to new opportunities.

Pillar 4: The joy of little things

Being “conditionally” happy is a mistake we all make. We set big goals and tell ourselves that we’ll be happy only once we achieve them. This makes the journey less enjoyable. Suffering for months or years to enjoy a few moments of joy is not smart. By the time you achieve your goal, you may be too exhausted to enjoy your success.

Instead, start your day with little things that bring you joy; feel happy for the small successes you’ve had on the path to your goal. This way you’ll have lasting motivation to reach bigger goals.

Pillar 5: Being in the here and now

Living in the present is one of the best ways to enjoy life. It saves us from the anxiety that arises from dwelling on the past or mulling over what lies in the future. A wandering mind that gets easily distracted keeps you from being in the “here and now” and lets the present slip away before we realize it.

Being conscious of what’s going on in and around us helps us focus on the present. The stillness that comes with living mindfully can keep us truly happy from within.

Ikigai is a framework for a happy life based on the fact that there are certain basic human drives such as passion, profession, mission, and money that help us navigate the complexities of life. Asking questions like, What do we love? What are we good at? What does the world need? What can we get paid for? can help us find our Ikigai or reason for being. As we put our Ikigai to test in the real world the framework evolves.

-Rachna Singh


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