Finding your Ikigai

Ikigai is the Japanese idea of finding your purpose in life and is not dissimilar to the French phrase ‘raison d’etre’, which literally translates as ‘reason to be’.

By discovering your ikigai, you will find balance and contentment in life. So, what does it mean and how can you find your ikigai?

The word ikigai is made up of two Japanese words: iki meaing life, and kai, which roughly translates as “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”.

In a nutshell, it means bringing together and finding harmony between these four key areas of your life:

  • What you love (your passion)
  • What you can give to the world (your mission)
  • What you’re good at (your vocation)
  • What you can earn money for (your profession)

Integrative medical doctor, Oscar Serrallach, when asked to give the single most powerful contribution to a person’s mental and physical health, immediately responded by “having a sense of purpose”.

Dr. Oscar Serrallach


Serrallach used the example of his patients, many of whom followed healthy diets, exercised regularly and did everything they could to maintain a balanced lifestyle, yet without a clear sense of purpose they still experienced health issues. Those patients who seemed to be physically at their peak were not always those who adhered to traditional healthy living rules, but had a strong sense of who they are and what their life was all about.

In Japan’s Okinawa, ikigai is perceived as “a reason to get up in the morning”. It’s one of the reasons the people who live in this region are thought to live longer.

Whilst being financially stable is a part of ikigai, it’s not the be all and end all – perhaps the statement – happy people focus on what they have, unhappy people focus on what is missing.

Ikigai believes that, even if you’re going through a difficult time in your life, as long as you realise that it’s a passing phase and you maintain a sense of purpose, you can still hang on to the positive forces ikigai brings you. We’re more likely to experience ikigai if we feel a spiritual connection to the world around us and also a part of it.

Discover your ikigai?

Set aside some time to create your own diagram feturing the overlapping circles of the ikigai symbol and ask yourself the following:

  • What is it you love?What are the things you enjoy that make your heart sing?
  • What are you good at?What natural or learnt talents do you have at which you excel without having to try?
  • What do you believe in?What would you like to see change in the world to make it a better place? What would you fight for?
  • What can you be paid to do? What skills do you offer that people need and are happy to pay for or share some value in exchange?

Don’t overthink things – just write whatever words or ideas come to mind for each circle, then look at the areas of natural overlap. Focus on the overall picture and how all of your answers relate to each other. Reflect on your diagram over the coming days and you’ll find ideas start coming to you when you least expect them. Even if you make a single, simple change to your life that reflects your ikigai, you’re on the right path.