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What is Ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that refers to a reason for being or the sense of purpose that gives life meaning and fulfillment. The word "ikigai" is derived from "iki," which means "life," and "gai," which means "value" or "worth." Being of Japanese descent, learning about ikigai has helped me deepen my understanding of myself and stay connected to my ancestry.

Being multiracial and growing up in so-called Canada, I’ve struggled with finding my place and purpose in life. Feeling lost, I assumed something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I figure out what I wanted to do with my life? Why wasn’t I satisfied with what I was doing? It wasn’t until I noticed that I wasn’t alone that I reflected on the narratives I had about how life is supposed to be lived. Grand goals of being famous, rich, and powerful seemed to be the ideal and yet, part of me wasn’t interested in those things. Logically I could put together a plan for a fulfilling life but I didn’t feel excited about it—something was missing.


One day, I stumbled upon the concept of ikigai and felt the relief of realizing that there is more than one way of living a fulfilling life. Every culture has its own definition for a life well lived and maybe I, and others like me, just needed an updated definition.


An element of ikigai is that everyone has a unique combination of values and characteristics that creates their own personal sense of purpose and fulfillment. When these values and characteristics come together, they create a sense of purpose and fulfillment that gives life meaning. In other words, there is more than one way of finding your purpose.

What ikigai is not:

There is a popular diagram depicting ikigai as the overlapping of 4 different aspects: What you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Although a diagram like this can be helpful for clarifying purposes, it is not the essence of ikigai. Your ikigai:

  • Doesn’t need to make you money

  • Isn’t always something the world needs

  • Isn’t something you need to be exceptionally talented at

  • Isn’t always something you love or enjoy doing

You can learn more about ikigai and how it has been misinterpreted here.

Ikigai doesn’t need to be complicated. Society has a way of convincing us that we need the latest gadget, an attractive partner or loads of money to feel fulfilled but that simply isnt true. Satisfaction can arise from simple acts or beliefs. Noticing the quality of a relationship or having gratitude for something usually overlooked can bring forth a sense of meaning and satisfaction.


It is more about living life in alignment with your values than it is about achieving a specific goal. Ikigai involves a mindset of growth over accomplishment and community care over individual care. It can be concerned with the future and can provide hope when feeling stuck or low.

Ikigai can be useful for folks seeking greater fulfillment and meaning in their lives. By exploring their passions, strengths, values, needs, and culture, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of what gives their life purpose and meaning, and work towards creating a life that is fulfilling and satisfying.


Ikigai can be different for each individual and can change over time. It may involve a hobby, a career, a relationship, or a cause. The important thing is that it gives one's life meaning and purpose, and provides a source of motivation and satisfaction.


With warmth and purpose,

-Emmett


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