In Okinawa, Japan the word Ikigai (生き甲斐) is used to describe your reason for getting up in the morning.
Do you know your Ikigai?
What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
Or would you rather roll over and make the world go away for a while?
Do you find yourself slapping the alarm six times or do you wake with excitement like you did as a child on Christmas day?
I know you think those days are gone, but if you know your Ikigai, getting out of bed in the morning doesn't have to be something you dread.
Ikigai and Longevity
I was first introduced to the term Ikigai a few weeks ago when I watched the TED talk titled "How to live to be 100+" by Dan Buettner.
His longevity research took him to the northern island of Okinawa, Japan where five times as many people pass the hundred year mark as do in the United States.
Buettner asked the Okinawan centenarians why they woke up in the morning. Each one knew instantly.
Would you know instantly?
If you ask an American this question, I doubt you would get a direct answer. Or maybe a bit of sarcasm. "I wish I didn't have to get up in the morning." Or a non-committal response like this: "Well, today, I had to get up to feed my kids."
In America we seem to feel the burdens of life more than the joys, even though we have more stuff than most cultures around the globe.
At any rate, Buettner's research concluded that knowing your Ikigai plays a profound role in longevity. There is something about rising each day with clarity that does a body good.
Six Things Ikigai is NOT!
Alright, so what is Ikigai, really? It's fine to say it's your reason for getting up in the morning, but let's see if we can be a bit more specific.
We will gain some clarity by backing into the problem today. Sometimes you just have to look at things in a different way, right!?
Let's discover the true meaning of Ikigai by exploring the six things Ikigai is not.
Ikigai is not a goal with an end date. It's not one of those things you work hard for and finally succeed at or give up on. It's something you can do every day with what you have on hand. Buettner mentions that the Ikigai of one Okinawan centenarian was to catch fish to help feed his grandchildren every day.
Ikigai is not your dream or your passion. It's not so grandiose as a dream or passion or mission. It's not something that is always out there. It's close, here, now. It's intimate and personal and needs no recognition but your own. Holding doors for strangers could be your Ikigai. That might seem a funny reason to get up in the morning, but as the recipient of one door holder's generosity, I was once deeply effected. One particularly bad day in my life, someone showed me that small act of kindness and it meant everything to me. Even door holding can be your Ikigai.
Ikigai is not something that drains you. Ikigai fills you up in some way, every day. It is enjoyable. That doesn't mean it's easy. But it feeds you. Painting houses is hard work, but you see progress every hour and you know that you are creating something beautiful for others.
Ikigai is not invisible. Art appreciation alone is not Ikigai. However, writing about art could be your Ikigai. Daydreams of owning your own restaurant is not your Ikigai. Cooking every day could be. Ikigai is an action or activity with an effect that others can see.
Ikigai is not complicated. Ikigai can always be stated in a single sentence. If not, then it's probably not your Ikigai. For example, "I fish every day to provide sustenance for my granddaughters." Or perhaps, "I dance to share beauty with people." Or "I create laughter so that I can lighten the burdens of myself and my family." The first half of the sentence is the action or activity while the last half is the benefit.
Finally, Ikigai is not something you do only for yourself. However much we want to kid ourselves, our joy and our existence is inexorably intermingled with others. As much as others have the capacity to harm us, there is no greater joy or fulfillment than from knowing we make a difference for others.
We vary greatly in how our connections to others manifest through our Ikigai. The writer, for example, spends a great deal of solitary time creating, as does her reader reading. But sometimes this connection is deep and profound. She writes for her own pleasure, yes, but it is magnified by knowing that her words make a difference for others. Even scientists who are obsessed with inanimate things, crave the approval of the Nobel committee or love to see the look of wonder in the eyes of a child.
Ikigai is, in some way, about connecting with others and sharing a gift with them.
When looking for your Ikigai, do not over complicate your search. It is probably something you do every day. You simply haven't identified it as having special meaning for you.
Look back at your day, what you did, the kinds of things you talked about in conversation. What patterns do you see across multiple days? What activities give you joy?
Don't get caught up in thinking you must have one unique Ikigai. Maybe you have a few and maybe they change over time.
That's fine. Who cares. This isn't particle physics.
Whatever your Ikigai, it will bring a knowing smile to your lips when you open your eyes in the morning and it will never suffer from the six characteristics above.
You may have read my post about why I started PieceWorx. If so, then you know my mission with PieceWorx, but a mission is not necessarily the same as Ikigai. While it's true that I want to help people see the world in different ways to promote personal growth and change, it is creativity--birthing something that didn't exist before--which brings me the greatest joy.
I create software and stories to help people experience the world differently.
Now only one question remains...
What's your Ikigai?