I’m a sucker for Japanese word-concepts.
My company was, after all, called ‘Kaizen’ for more than 30 years. I even used to name my cats after Japanese continuous improvement methods! (Although I did get some strange looks when I used to call “Ishikawa! Ishikawa!” into the back garden when it was time for her food!)
So, when a friend told me about Ikigai I was intrigued. (Thanks Tracey!)
“In the Okinawan language, there is not even a word for retirement. Instead, there is one word that imbues your entire life, and that word is ikigai.” Dan Buettner
You can watch it here:
Ikigai. Ick-ee-guy. It’s a word you might be hearing quite often from now on. Like “hygge” and “lagom” before it, “ikigai” is an un-British lifestyle concept that has been cannily co-opted by the publishing industry. It’s Japanese, and it means something like “purpose in life”, or “thing that you live for”, or “thing that gets you out of bed in the morning”.
An extended lifespan, according to the long-life expert Dan Buettner, is what awaits havers-of-ikigai. Okinawa is known primarily for its preposterously high number of centenarians. “They live about seven good years longer than the average American,” he said.
They have a “moai”, he said: a small group of friends, six or so, who throughout life support each other as a family would. They live by the dictum of “hara hachi bu”, which entails eating only until you are 80 per cent full, and with a “plant-slant”, i.e. mostly vegetarian.
He talked of a 102-year-old karate master who still practised, a 100-year-old fisherman who loved to bring the catch to his family, and a 102-year-old who, asked what her ikigai was, said that holding her great-great-great-granddaughter, a century her junior, felt like “leaping into heaven.”
Everyone has an ikigai. Sadly, many people never find it as it often requires a deep and lengthy search of self. Or perhaps, the courage to question and challenge the story we have constructed about who we really are. To listen to the inner whisper, rather than the noise of the external world.
Perhaps Thoreau’s famous quote has more than a grain of truth in it: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Examples can include work, hobbies and raising children. Making art, cultivating a garden, writing, building a business, championing a cause, making other people laugh, or seeking a connection with God, whatever that means to them.
Your ikigai is not linked to your economic status or the present state of society.
Even in a dark state of mind, people can still connect to their ikigai. Indeed, it may well be that this is what helps to pull them out of the darkness into the light.
It’s more like a calling – something that lights you up inside. In my own life, I’ve noticed that taking action on this calling is never a chore – it feels completely natural and spontaneous.
I’m reminded of Kyle Cease’s video “The End of Control” where he talks about finding your apple tree.
Apple tree. Ikigai. Same thing.
Since coming across the Principles that I now share in my Heart of Thriving workshops, and in my coaching, I’ve seen that traditional goal-setting and achievement can often take us in an unhelpful direction.
So often, our goals in the world of form are to do with wanting to achieve this so that we can get to feel that. This kind of achievement can flatter our ego, but when we see that we live in an inside-out experience of reality, those old goals can seem a little empty – or even toxic.
I think Ikigai speaks to something else. Our unique gift. We may have nurtured and developed this gift throughout life, but it’s always been ours – right from the beginning, like a golden thread showing up across our life span.
It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we truly want to do – often for its own sake, rather than a means to an end.
The song we were born to sing. What’s yours?
If you don’t know – maybe it’s worth finding out?
And if you do know, sing your song at the top of your voice my friend!
You’ll be doing yourself a favour – and also, through the way that you choose to spend your precious moments in this life, reminding everybody around you that they have a unique Ikigai too!
Or as Howard Thurman puts it: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”
By the way, I’m really appreciating all the people who have left Amazon reviews about my book “The Heart of Thriving: Musings on the Human Experience”. Thank you everybody! Here are a few of the most recent ones:
“Short, sweet and life-changing. Kim has encapsulated a rich career of wisdom and experience in this simple to read and profound book. Read it and enjoy how your life changes!” Jamie Smart
“Beautiful … Kim has an innate ability to help you make sense of where the human experience comes from, in an elegant yet straightforward and practical way that is easily accessible. A must read for anyone who wants to get more from life, to experience more joy and peace” Sarah Lock
“A gem of a book. Such a joy to read this gem of a book! Kimberley masters the art of writing in a way that both puts a smile on my face, helps me reflect, allows me to have insights and is at the same time very practical and down to earth. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of the inside out nature of being human!” Natasha Swerdloff
“The truth that Kim talks about in this book is life changing, but many others have tried over the centuries to share this truth and lost the message in their translation of it… Kim shares in a way that is accessible, simple, wise and mostly, full of love. She is one of our planet’s teachers of the soul, if you buy this book you will feel like she’s talking just to you, and as she reminds you that you are not broken, that you are love… you might just find you awaken to your own truth.. and that, my friends, is an opportunity you can’t afford to miss” Mary Franklin-Smith