A Japanese way of happy life and work – how to achieve your Ikigai?

Krista Krumina 27.09.2017

It won’t come as a surprise that more and more people these days struggle to find the motivation to wake up in the morning. A large amount drive themselves to work, then sit in the car procrastinating and not wanting to get out and walk into the office.

Usually, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the job they’re doing. They’re just not happy.

Now, imagine yourself waking up every single morning with a sense of excitement and happiness, ready for whatever the day has prepared for you. That’s what Japanese people call “Ikigai” or the “reason for being” – and they’ve found the secret formula for it.

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What is Ikigai?

Ikigai is the reason you get up in the morning. Or more specifically, it’s the reason you’re looking forward to getting up in the morning. For some, it may be their family and kids, for some, it’s their career, and for others, it’s the work they do for their community.

While Ikigai may be something different for each person, what stays true for everyone is that it comes alive through natural and spontaneous actions. That is, it must be something you truly love doing.

Here’s the problem, though:

Many decisions we make about our life are reactionary outcomes directing us into educational and professional paths. These are very rarely based on a deep inner calling, but rather imposed on you by social systems, our parents and peers. In other words, instead of following our inner gut and true calling, they follow directions set by society.

Many decisions we make about our life are imposed on us by social expectations.

Now, to find your Ikigai you must shut out what society expects, and focus on doing things which would make you feel truly happy. What’s important, though – these things that you enjoy doing, must also do good to others. Because Japanese people believe that you can only be truly happy if your life’s purpose is not just pleasurable and enriching to you, but also improves the lives of other people. That’s when you’ve found your Ikigai.

Your Ikigai is something that you are good at, you love to do and is sustainable at the same time.

How to find and achieve your Ikigai

Finding your Ikigai may be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do. However, it’s well worth it. 

Here’s how you do it: you start with finding answers to four main questions.

1 – What is that you love to do that makes you happy?

Think about a thing you can NOT NOT do – something that you must do or else it will have a negative impact on your life.

2 – What are your skills? What are you really, really good at?

It’s your talent, your special powers. Think of things that people say you are great at, or better – things people come to ask your advice about.

3 – What the world needs that you can help with?

Look for small, local things to start with. Can you join your company’s Social Responsibility team to make an impact? Organize team building events to help your new colleagues fit in faster?

4 – What you can get paid for?

For it to be Ikigai you should be able to make a living out of it. If you do something for free, it’s a hobby or a volunteer job. Think how you can get paid for the things you love to do.

In search of my Ikigai.

While thinking about these questions, try sketching the same circles on your notepad as I did. Write down whatever pops up in your mind, then look for the areas that overlap automatically and think about how these elements may relate to each other.

Once you’ve answered the questions, leave your notes and take some time to think your answers over. Japanese believe that you must clear your mind, then your Ikigai will emerge naturally in the next few days.

To find your Ikigai, you should stop searching for what you could become. Instead, focus on who you are now – what are your strengths and what’s important to you right at this moment?

The good news? You don’t need to turn your life upside down to achieve your Ikigai


We spend roughly 90,000 hours at work over our lifetime. That’s a LOT of time to spend doing something that doesn’t make us happy and fulfilled. Meanwhile, the stats are depressing – just 13% of employees worldwide like their jobs and feel engaged at work.

The most interesting part? The majority of Japanese people – 93% – aren’t really in love with their jobs either. And yet Japan is one of the happiest and long-lived nations in the world. This clearly shows that Ikigai doesn’t have to do anything with your work. In fact, only 31% of Japanese say they’ve found their Ikigai at work, which means 69% of people find it elsewhere.

Japanese people are one of happiest and long-lived in the world. What’s their secret?

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

How come that 93% of Japanese aren’t crazy about their jobs, and yet 31% still find their Ikigai in their career?

The answer is: these people have found that one thing in their work they like doing and that makes them feel they can affect other people’s lives.

And you can do it, too.

What you’ve got to do is challenge yourself to find things in your work that allows you feel useful and contribute for the society. Can’t find anything that lets you feel that way in your existing duties? Sign up for new tasks if you have to. Because finding Ikigai, you know, is work too.

Once you’ve found what matters to you and lets you improve life for others, focus on this task of yours and do more of it. And you’ll feel happy(er) to wake up every morning.

That’s how Ikigai works.

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