Learn whether about Ikigai spirituality, and learn how Ikigai can have a spiritual component and how it can help you lead a more fulfilling life
Posted: December 24th, 2021
Before we look at what Ikigai spirituality is, if it even is a spiritual concept, it’s important to ascertain what in fact Ikigai itself is. According to the BBC, Ikigai has no direct English translation and so we have to look at the concept as a whole rather than trying to put a single word on it.
What Is Ikigai?
Ikigai is a Japanese concept, which in a nutshell means ‘the reason for living’. It is a combination of two Japanese words ‘iki’ meaning life, and kai which means a variety of things but can translate as ‘effect’, ‘result’. ‘fruit’, ‘worth’. It’s therefore, what is the result of your life, or the fruit of your life. In French you might consider it to be similar to the ‘raison d’etre’ – or the reason for existing.
Ikigai can be considered as the reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It’s interesting to note that the Western world appears to have picked up on the term Ikigai and used it to determine how you should live your life in terms of the job you do. The premise is relatively sound, if you follow the Westerners hijacking of the Ikigai Venn diagram you can see that when you realise what you love, it helps influence what you’re good at, and if that lines up with the world needs you can get paid handsomely for doing it. And if you love it and are good at it, then it’s a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
And are you really working if you’re doing what you love anyway?
Is Ikigai About What Your Job Should Be?
The original Japanese meaning of Ikigai isn’t really about work at all. A survey taken in 2010 by Jiji Press surveyed around 2000 Japanese people about the meaning of their life. 76% of the people responded that their life had meaning. But only 30% attributed work as that meaning, although the percentage did vary depending on job type.
By contrast, around 47% of respondents found meaning in their life through their hobbies, 38% was interacting with non-family friends and many also noted study as giving their life meaning.
Ikigai is more about enjoying life’s little pleasures regularly and throughout the day – things such as stopping to smell the roses. Taking the time to enjoy the raindrops. Doing this lends itself to finding your entire life more enjoyable, and perhaps encompasses some of the concepts of mindfulness and gratefulness that other spiritual teachings invite us to do in order to live a more fulfilling life.
Is Ikigai Spiritual?
In the sense that Ikigai is a way of living which embraces the here and now, as opposed to concentrating on the future or the past, then Ikigai could be considered spiritual. It doesn’t involve contacting spirits for advice or help, in the way some of our other techniques might. But learning to look at the world in a different way, the here and now, is definitely a spiritual concept.
Because spirit has no need to dwell in the past or constantly look to the future. We’ve ascertained in other posts, that living in the past, through unforgiveness, takes a toll on us spiritually. Similarly, we’ve looked at how important it is not to constantly live in fear of the future as this leads to worrying and anxiety and hurts our spiritual growth.
Ikigai is a way of life that enhances our spirituality. When we work out what we like and what we’re good at (and it’s rare we’re good at something we don’t like) we can couple that in with our values and what the world needs. When we’re working within this framework, the outcome is spiritual because we will connect better with others and we will provide something that others need.
Ikigai requires action on our part though. It’s all well and good to understand what we love, what we’re good at and what the world needs. But we only to begin to live our Ikigai when we put it into action. It doesn’t have to be in our career, it can be in whatever field motivates us. But the important thing is, even if it’s not in our career, we should still see the small joys that come from that career and look for the ways to help others in whatever we do.
Ikigai is about feeling your work makes a difference in people’s lives. This is one of the major principles that underpin spirituality too. Adam M. Grant of the University of Pennsylvania has written a paper, not specifically about Ikigai, but it notes how when people feel personally involved in the wellbeing of others by doing a good job, they tend to do more to make a good job happen. When we feel part of something bigger we do a better job, whether it’s at work or in our hobbies.
Is Ikigai Real?
Ikigai is a concept. It’s not real in a physical way such as the screen you’re reading this on. But it is a real concept and can be as useful as the concept of Mindfulness to help improve your life. When you’re paying attention to what you’re good at, what you enjoy and what the world needs then you can use that concept to do what you love and be useful to the world too.
Many people are alleged to have issued the often quoted phrase of “When you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life” or it’s similar cousin of “When you choose a job you love, you will never have to work another day in your life”. The quote is attributed to Confucius, Marc Antony and Mark Twain, probably amongst others. Who knows who it was. Abraham Lincoln is also alleged to have said that you should not believe all that you read on the internet.
But the reality is, Ikigai, as a concept can certainly help this phrase become more real. But it is more than that. It needs the 3 spokes of doing what you’re good at, what you love and what helps others in some way. That’s what makes Ikigai real.
Can Ikigai Be A Person?
No, Ikigai can not be a person nor should it. Although we’ve said that Ikigai is what motivates you to get up in the morning, this should never be a person. This is co-dependency and it’s unhealthy. Ikigai is about finding activities that you love, activities that you’re good at and, importantly, what the world needs. Not what one person needs.
That’s not to say that you can’t find joy in the little things with another person. But that person should not be the reason for your joy. It’s a harsh truth but eventually people will let you down, whether through malice or accident, or even death. But they will eventually let you down. And your Ikigai should in fact be what helps sustain you through the rocky times when certain people have let you down.
Ikigai is a Japanese concept which suggests that when you love what you do, you can do it well and if it helps the world then you will use that to help fulfil your life’s goals and purpose. That which you love, are good at and helps people doesn’t necessarily have to be your job/career, it could instead be a hobby or pastime. But doing something and knowing how it helps others directly can improve your outlook on life and the job you’re doing too.
Westerners tend to use the concept of Ikigai to find their ‘perfect’ career but for the Japanese, the origins of Ikigai, it is more than that. It’s a way of life, in everything they do.
1: Yukari Mitsuhashi (2017). Ikigai: A Japanese concept to improve work and life. BBC Worklife. Fetched from Ikigai: A Japanese concept to improve work and life – BBC Worklife on 18th November 2021.
2: Jiji Press (Unknown). Opinion Poll On Purpose Of Life. Fetched from 「生きがい」に関する世論調査 | 中央調査報 | 中央調査社 (crs.or.jp) and translated using Google Translate on 18th November 2021.
3. Adam Grant (2013). Outsource Inspiration. Fetched from Microsoft Word – Grant_OutsourceInspiration (upenn.edu) on 18th November 2021.
4: Beth Gilbert (2020). Do You Have A Codependent Personality? Everyday Health – Emotional Health. Fetched from Do You Have a Codependent Personality? | Everyday Health on 18th November 2021.