Ikigai, pronounced ee-key-guy, an unfamiliar word to me, is very familiar to the Japanese, although there’s no direct translation in English. The definition isn’t complex though. Ken Mogi, a neuroscientist and author of Awakening Your Ikigai defines it as “your reason to get up in the morning”.
Some of us are fortunate to love our work and don’t experience that sense of dread that emerges sometime on Sunday afternoon, causing us to try to evade Monday morning by keeping our eyes tight shut, hoping that the alarm isn’t real and calling us from peaceful slumber to the frenetic rat race we call a career.
Ironically, many of the apparently successful people I come across would admit that they haven’t yet found their ikigai, whilst some of the craftsman, teachers and farmers I encounter clearly have. Ikigai challenges the assumption that we should be striving for bigger and better and instead embraces anything that brings joy, no matter how small and mundane.
Ken Mogi has identified five pillars or steps to finding our ikigai:
1. Start small
2. Release yourself
3. Seek harmony and sustainability
4. Appreciate the joy of little things
5. Being in the here and now
Mogi uses the example of Jiro Ono, a three star Michelin sushi chef, who began working in a restaurant while still at school. He went on to serve Barak Obama ‘the best sushi he’d ever tasted’. Along the way he’s innovated new ways to prepare sushi and continually improved the quality of his dishes. Aged 92, he is the oldest Michelin starred chef in the world and he’s still working, ‘making sushi for all customers’.
Despite having had more than its fair share of earthquakes and economic challenges, life expectancy in Japan is amongst the best in the world. Dan Buettner , National Geographic explorer and researcher has travelled the world visiting those communities with the highest life expectancy seeking to understand what behaviours contribute to a long, happy and healthy life. Alongside diet and exercise, a sense of belonging and a clear purpose seem to be the magic ingredients for the recipe to real success.