Purpose isn’t enough - Embrace Your Ikigai

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.” Les Brown (motivational speaker, author and US politician)

One of the truths that binds the human race together, regardless of culture, race, gender, age or ethnicity is no-one has all the answers. On a deep and fundamental level we all strive to understand purpose, the meaning for it all. Across our evolution and cultural growth this fact has given rise to popular religion, political ideologies and unique cultural norms/behaviours. Whilst commonality and cohesion is hugely important, what happens if we actually start to given credibility to the idea that there is no ‘one size fits all solution’? There is no common purpose that we all possess. Sure, there are shared responsibilities; ecologically and socially we each have a responsibility to each other and those that come after us to ensure our behaviour is supportive, beneficial and provides for a common longevity. However this is not purpose. It is responsibility.

Purpose is more than this, it is the why behind the what. It is the drive that gets us out of bed in the morning. Whilst many will share what appears to be a common purpose, questioned individually it becomes evident that the individual interpretation of this ‘common purpose’ is very different. In the end we are all products of individual experiences, interpretations, actions and reactions. We all have a different weighting of priority and attribute value in an unique, individualistic manner. Purpose can then only ever be an individual drive, your emotional drive, interpretation, self belief and personal value set is your own. The question is why do the majority of us never recognise our purpose? Why, as Les Brown suggests, do we retire with a raft of unfilled hopes and dreams? These hopes and dreams are the tangible, physical manifestation of that purpose and yet we either never recognise them or pursue avenues that don’t ever quite fulfill them.

In 1999, the British Geriatrics Society published a article by Noriyuki Nakanishi entitled ‘Ikigai on older Japanese People’ (Source: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/28.3.323). This article detailed the plan of the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare to introduce a programme encouraging a healthy lifestyle and sense that life is worth living (ikigai), to their rapidly increasing elderly population (Source: National Health Promotion Active 80 Health Plan). ‘Ikigai’ was suggested to contribute to health in older people, “being linked to creativity and being indispensable to well-being.”

Ikigai (pronounced ‘icky guy’) is used to describe and indicate the source of value within an individual’s life. It essentially is used to refer to, “the mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable.” Ikigai is the individual purpose for the future, a personal reflection of the inner self. Ikigai behaviours are spontaneous, neither forced or actions contrary to the will of the individual. As the article suggests, ikigai is,

“It (ikigai) establishes a unique mental world in which the individual can feel at ease.”

This article further suggested that people may find ikigai in one or more aspects of their life, proposing that there were seven needs associated with ikigai (Source Ikigai-ni-tsuite, Kamiya 1966):

the need for a fulfilling existence

the need for change and growth

the need for future perspectives

the need for self actualisation

the need for receiving responses

the need for freedom

the need for significance and value

These needs are fundamentally reflective of the desires of a human being; physically, socially and spiritually.

The popularity of this term ‘ikigai’ was further supported and driven by Akihiro Hasewaga, a clinical psychologist, in a 2001 research paper (Source: https://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170807-ikigai-a-japanese-concept-to-improve-work-and-life)

Hasegawa, related the term to happiness although also determined that there was a subtle difference between the two. Ikigai has a perspective towards the future, whilst happiness is very much concerned with the present state. Hasegawa through research also linked the concept of ikigai with everyday life, determining that Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys everyday ultimately result in a more fulfilling life as a whole. Ikigai, is then both life’s purpose and everyday life combined.

Across the past few years much has been written and suggested regarding the concept of ikigai, the venn diagram below often being the conceptualisation that most people associate with the idea: