The search for meaning and fulfillment is as universal as anything in life.

What gives our life meaning? What allows us to live out a happy, fulfilling life without regret?

That’s exactly what the Japanese principle of ikigai (pronounced ‘ick-ee-guy’) seeks to help us answer.

woman-walking-bridge-forest
Photo Credit: Aaron Birch on Unsplash

But more than just answering the question in a general sense, ikigai offers a model for discovering exactly the unique endeavor that will give your life meaning and fulfillment, offering an actionable roadmap instead of general wisdom.

Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning.

– Hector Garcia Puigcerver

What is ikigai?

In Japanese, ikigai means “a reason for being” and Okinawans refer to it as “a reason to get up in the morning”. It’s your path to self-realization, unique to you in every way.

Each person’s ikigai is different, based on various beliefs and values, and it’s often found using two primary factors:

  1. What you love to do
  2. What you’re good at

Your ikigai is what makes your life worthwhile, those spontaneous actions and endeavors that pull you as opposed to you having to push to do them. It drives you without the need for typical motivation because you love it and believe in your ability because you’re competent at it.

Why is ikigai important?

In his book, Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, author Dan Buettner sought to answer the question of what makes the world’s longest living people live so long.

In his quest, he studied the people of Okinawa, Japan and the surrounding provinces, which is home to the largest population of the longest living people in the world, with the village of Kitanakagusuku having a life expectancy of 89 years.

What did Buettner find? Millions of people all throughout Okinawa, Japan live by a principle called ikigai. And, as he concludes, he believes it’s one of the primary reasons people in Okinawa live such long, fulfilling lives.

How do you find your ikigai?

So, how do you find your own ikigai?

A more thorough and practical equation for ikigai is in the cross between four principles, represented by the below questions:

  1. What do you love to do?
  2. What are you good at (preferably, great at)?
  3. Does the world need it (does it offer value to other people)?
  4. Can you make money doing it?

By answering the above questions you can find a “sweet spot” that checks off all of these boxes, at least to some degree. By doing so, that will help you find a pursuit that will be wholly fulfilling and meaningful for you.

For example, if you’re an artist who loves to draw, and you’ve worked on your craft, there are many routes you can take. But taking ikigai into consideration, perhaps you could be an illustrator.

Illustrators help our favorite stories come to life in TV and film, stories that inspire us and help us cope with the challenges of daily life. I know I’m not alone in saying that my favorite stories have helped me through difficult times and the characters of those stories continue to inspire me to this day.

Plus, illustrators are paid well, so that would check everything off the list.

Finding your own ikigai might take time, and you need to allow your curiosity to run free, exploring both yourself and the world around you to find what is a perfect fit. However, it’s worth the time and effort.

Live your own ikigai

Years ago I, unknowingly, followed a similar path and explored all the things I’ve ever loved, the things I’m good at, and the values I most appreciated in other people. As a result, I eventually found my calling. For that reason, I can attest to the power of finding your own ikigai and can say, with certainty, that it was worth it.

What is your ikigai? What were you born to do? What do you have a passion for? And what gifts do you have that you can give to the world? Finding the intersection between these things can help you live a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life.