Cultura Japonesa

What is the Meaning of Ikigai?

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. March 14, 2022
What is the Meaning of Ikigai?

Are you someone who regularly questions the meaning of life? The search for some specific purpose for our existence is what separates us form the animals, but its unanswerable nature means a concrete answer is practically impossible. Every culture and society has come to certain conclusions which pervade in their rituals, traditions and celebrations. In Japan, one concept with origins in philosophy has been helping some people to ease concerns they have over the meaning of their lives. This is ikigai.

At oneHOWTO, we ask what is the meaning of ikigai? We look at its origins and applications, as well as how anyone can achieve ikigai for themselves.

You may also be interested in: Shikata Ga Nai Meaning, Origin and Philosophy

What does ikigai mean?

Japanese philosophy considers the meaning of ikigai as the main reason for existence. This is practically applicable as the reason one is to get up every day. It is represented in the actions which bring fulfilment to the individual, but this has its own positive repercussions on a society as a whole. In short, ikigai is the word for the main purpose you have chosen to follow throughout your life.

The search for this purpose doesn't need to be complicated, but each individual may find it difficult to find. Some are guided by their passions, others are more driven by work, money and social status. It is possible for a profession not to satisfy the individual on a personal level, even if they gain social or economical benefit. When one cannot find a purpose, it often manifests in a sense of emptiness.

As with all words, ikigai is merely a representation. The concept itself can be difficult to define to an exact degree, but when it is achieved, the person will be rewarded by acknowledgment of their own sense of purpose. As a symbol of the true path we all must follow, it is implied that ikigai is something which exists from within, not derived from external sources. If you want to achieve a sense of purpose, you need to look within and discover your true self as a person.

Fortunately, there is a method to ikigai. This consists of putting the pieces of a puzzle together from the following four components:

  • Your virtues
  • The things you like to do
  • The activities for which you can get financial remuneration
  • The needs of the world

When you are able to define the areas revealed above, the process of achieving ikigai will involve aligning them with each other. Doing so will reveal the path you must travel. Ikigai will serve as a compass to decide your present and future.

Origins of ikigai

Ikigai is a term of Japanese origin. In a research paper on this concept, Akihiro Hasegawa, a professor at Toyo Ewia University and a clinical psychologist, used the term ikigai as part of everyday Japanese language. However, its origin is found in the Heian period, i.e. the last classical era in the history of the Japanese country (794-1185).

The term ikigai is made up of two words: iki, which means life, and gai, which refers to merit or worth. Going deeper into the concept, gai comes from the word kai, which means shells in Japanese. Shells are highly valued in Japanese society. This term derived in ikigai means whatever ikigai is to us, it is something of value which needs to be treasured.

To learn more about Japanese philosophical traditions and how they can be applied to your life, take a look at our related article on what is kintsugi philosophy in pottery.

How to achieve ikigai

After clarifying the meaning of ikigai and what it represents to the individual, we want to help you find your own purpose. This search is a process of trial and error, but also requires self-analysis. This process is a path that you must travel to know yourself and discover your true inner-self.

The reflections you make will help you to know your values, virtues and strengths. In this way, you will be closer to finding the meaning of your life. Discover the symbolism of ikigai and how to discover your own by following these steps:

  1. Allow ikigai to function as a compass for your life. It will be the best guide to find the path and align all the actions that guide you towards the north, in this case a euphemism for your life's purpose.
  2. Do not try to feel happiness or be spirited 24 hours a day. Life is not always easy and there will be obstacles, but by knowing your ikigai and having a purpose you will be much more prepared to find solutions to problems that arise.
  3. Clear beliefs and judgments are very important. Focus on your path, both at work and in other areas of your life. Your family environment and friends will always be important, but everything must fit together to find a complete balance. Don't sacrifice your purpose for other people, but don't disregard the desires of others either.
  4. Ikigai is a path, not a destination. Enjoy every moment, every step you take in life. Everything must flow without impositions. You are the owner of your life.
  5. Ikigai is not necessarily a constant. You can have more than one, since life change as we develop. The purpose is subject to evolutions and movements. You just have to enjoy the process and recompose the goal, when necessary. Nothing is written because ikigai can be as flowing and variable as a river.

Now that you know what ikigai means, you may be interested in learning about other cultural curiosities, such as:

If you want to read similar articles to What is the Meaning of Ikigai?, we recommend you visit our Culture & Society category.

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