Ikigai – What is your Ikigai?

Ikigai is a term I came across about two years ago.  It may be familiar for many that have understood the word, you simply cannot forget it – and let us face it, it just sounds cool.

So what does Ikigai mean to those of you who have not come across it before?

Well, simply put, Ikigai means to live your life purpose, which implies you know what your purpose is?

Ikigai is a Japanese word that consists of two different words to create a single unified concept – “Iki” means “to live” and “Gai” means “reason.”  Thus “to live with reason” or “life’s purpose.”

The second and for me as critical is the hypothesis proposed by Francis Galton suggests that any culture or race personality or trait once embedded within the culture is reduced to a single term – in this case, Ikigai.  An example that comes to mind is the term “Now Now” (yes, not a single word, but a South African who uses the term referring to time will understand its meaning.  A none South African will not (If interested, the term described when someone would do something. “I will be at the house Now Now.” should be understood as possibly 5 minutes to 5 hours or even later.  Be warned if you hear this term, request specifics immediately.)

The inference I draw is that because many cultures do not have a single term for your own life’s purpose, is it no wonder we struggle to articulate and identify it in the first instance?  No wonder we spend a lifetime trying to determine our purpose is; very few of us discover this and live happily ever after?

When I think of master craftspeople, irrespective of their country of origin, the artists they are living their Ikigai, for them, this does not work.  I recall watching a video on braaing or for others BBQ’ing. The video has a segment where this individual speaks like a philosopher, describing the link between nature and people, his reverence for the trees, and forest.  Initially, I could not work out what the individual did, and then they finally share it – he makes charcoal.  I was stunned; there was an individual who treated charcoal – something I buy at the supermarket or local fuel station and think very little of, except for will it stay hot enough for me to cook my dinner.  This individual saw creating the best charcoal as his sole purpose. He was an artist, and the film goes on to show how his charcoal is used in the top restaurants and globally sought after – wow (if someone can tell me how to get a copy of the film, I would greatly appreciate it).

Imagine you can discover this for yourself?  Imagine that you are working every day to execute this, and the result is you live a longer, happier life?


Yes, it is now scientifically accepted that individuals who live the longest and healthiest lives, with little to no stress, have discovered their Ikigai.  A 2008 Osaki Public Health Study and on the Island of Okinawa, Ikigai is attributed to the individuals’ quality of life and longevity.

Food for thought.

I use the Father Christmas principle; you can apply this to the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. If you don’t believe in either of these characters, you are 100% guaranteed not to benefit from the experience. If you do believe and support or play along, you do get presents and easter eggs. If you lose teeth, possibly some cash reward depending on the current market rate of used teeth.

I apply the same to Ikigai – I can dismiss it and then possibly not benefit, or I can actively pursue my Ikigai and perhaps benefit while being happy and content – sounds perfect.

But how?

Fortunately, others have distilled some key questions – do a quick google or youtube search or even TEDx talk, and you will find 100’s, so this is not new, yet we don’t?  Does this sound like the comments made earlier on?

Venn Diagram representing Ikigai and the associated 4 questions one can use to discover this.

The above diagram is a summary, and as an example, here is my very own Ikigai – which has taken me a few years to discover.

I am a coach; I love coaching individuals and teams, which results in a better world.  The world needs people who can coach and develop others; I am very good at coaching, with clients reminding me and seeking my coaching services.  I also get paid by these individuals to coach, and I have the flexibility for creativity, like writing, leatherwork, family time, and many other pursuits.

I have purposefully followed a format, as this allows you to discern the questions, and I would encourage you to answer these for yourself.

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at doing?
  3. What does the world need more of to benefit from?
  4. What will others pay to get?

These four questions allow you to discover your Ikigai, your life’s purpose.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Pino Murgia

    Makes perfect sense David…i have seen an experienced the ikigai way of living on the island of Sardinia (i am a first generation Sardinian, my parents emigrated to SA in the early sixties), they may not use the exact term /word but the same concepts exists among the people living there- one of 5 Blue Zone countries in the world.
    The world would be a far better place by simply following the 4 elements of ikigai…..great post, thank you.

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