The Japanese Concept 'Ikigai' Can Be Your Guiding Force This Year. Here's How

If you've ever felt unfulfilled by your job, rest assured that you're not alone: A shocking 53% of Americans report being unhappy at work. But rather than resign yourself to a fate of Sunday Scaries and Monday blues, we challenge you to do something else this year—find your Ikigai. 

At its core, the Japanese concept of Ikigai is very simple. Ikigai is your reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Ikigai originates from the Japanese island of Okinawa, and it's all about finding the intersection of what you're good at and what you love. While it can be translated to career, you can apply the concept of Ikigai to every area of your life. 

“Just as humans have lusted after objects and money since the dawn of time, other humans have felt dissatisfaction at the relentless pursuit of money and fame and have instead focused on something bigger than their own material wealth," says Hector Garcia, co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. "This has over the years been described using many different words and practices, but always hearkening back to the central core of meaningfulness in life.”

If you need a little help finding your Ikigai, never fear: That's what we're here for! Here's your guide to finding your Ikigai in 2020. 

Journal on it.

Your pen and paper will never fail you when it comes to getting to the bottom of big life questions, so crack open your journal (or just grab a pen and piece of loose leaf paper) and try free-writing on what you think your Ikigai might be. Then, take it to the next level by specifically addressing these questions: 
  • What did you like to do when you were little? What kind of career might that translate to?
  • What are some aspects of your current job that you like? What about dislikes?
  • What activities bring you into a "flow state," meaning everything else falls away and you're just focused on whatever task you're doing?

These three questions will help bring you closer to your Ikigai.

Make it visual.

Take out those sharpies and that poster board, or maybe just open your Pinterest or Instagram accounts and get started on the visual representation of your Ikigai. If you've ever made a vision board, you understand the basic idea: Cobble together images that represent something that will bring your closer to your Ikigai.

For example, if you loved painting as a child and still find that it puts you into a flow state, gather images of people painting, paintings you love, and famous people who have made a lucrative career out of painting, like Vincent Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo.

Test it out.

At this point, you probably have an idea of what your Ikigai is, so the next step is to see how it feels. This is easier said than done, of course, especially if you don't have a career that centers around your Ikigai just yet. The best way to test out what you believe may be your Ikigai in the early days is to wake up and call it to mind first thing in the morning.

Close your eyes and visualize what your day would truly look like if you were living your Ikigai: In the painting example, maybe you would get up, make a nourishing breakfast, meditate for 15 minutes and then start painting in a beautiful garden you've planted. How does this make you feel? If it fills you with purpose and joy, you've probably found what you're looking for. 

Find your people.

Just as crucial to finding you Ikigai is finding your people. Finding your Ikigai is only the beginning of the journey—there are bound to be setbacks and moments of doubt along the way. So make an effort to find the people who share your interests and passions, and make sure to stay close to them and ask them to hold you accountable when you start to slip. 

Do your best not to question it. 

Now that you have your backup system in place, your next course of action is to try not to question your Ikigai and fall back into old patterns where you're spending your time doing things that don't fill you with purpose.

Of course, it's not realistic for all of us to immediately quit our jobs to pursue our Ikigai, but you can start working on it in the form of a side hustle or even hobby if the career aspect isn't as important to you. So if you block off an hour to work toward your Ikigai, please don't spend it mindlessly scrolling through social media—that won't bring you any closer to finding and realizing your true purpose! 

Although it may take some time to get there, having a strong reason for getting up in the morning will be well worth the journey.

Do you believe you've already found your Ikigai, or are you still looking? Let us know in the comments. And in the meantime, stock up on the personal growth books we're loving this year and subscribe to Silk + Sonder here

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