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Awakening My Ikigai:The Japanese Secret to Happiness

What’s your reason for getting out of bed in the morning?

I had been finding it increasingly difficult to start my day. All my “first thing in the morning” intentions of journaling, exercising, and meditating forgotten. Instead, there was a sense of dread and uncertainty. What latest news of civil unrest, political dysfunction, brutality, or other doom would be waiting for me?  I needed to reset my reason for getting out of the bed. I needed to find my ikigai.

Ikigai (pronounced ee-kee-guy) means “your life purpose”. The Japanese word when translated is Iki (生き) which means “life” and gai (甲斐) which describes worth. It is a centuries old Japanese concept; what gets you up in the morning gives your life meaning. Essentially, ikigai is what keeps you alive. It has been described as the answer to longevity.

Researchers have discovered pockets of communities, not only in Japan, whose citizens live beyond their 90s. They found people were spending a few hours every day doing something they loved. In fact, in the Japanese language there isn't a word for retirement. Being focused on the things that interest you, makes you happy. Happiness leads to living longer.

So just how do you awaken your ikigai? There are four key questions to ask yourself: what do you love, what are you good at, what can you be paid for, and what does the world need. Somewhere in the middle of your hobbies and interests, your altruism or values and beliefs, your profession, and your talents is what will get you out of bed each morning.

The Ikigai Diagram of Life Purpose

I realized I had lost the balance between what I am good at, and what I love. I was seeking a new profession after being in youth ministry for years, and I was mourning the sudden loss of that mission. I had pushed away the “world’s” needs and put all my focus on figuring out what I could be paid to do. My once evenly balanced life had been thrown off-kilter. I was struggling and finding it difficult to be truly happy.

I asked myself the four ikigai questions, and I discovered I only needed to cultivate the gifts I already had. The aha moment in this self-discovery lesson, I don’t need to find a job that incorporates all the things. I can get paid for doing some of what I love and continue to do the other activities as a hobby. Now that I have awakened my ikigai, it is easier to develop the areas where I can make a difference in the world.

Discovering what makes life worthwhile makes me feel that my life has value. Isn’t it what we all want to feel? Valued.

What can you do right now to awaken your ikigai?


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