How Ikigai Can Help Improve Quality of Life

 In Mental Health, Positivity

There is no direct translation for the Japanese word ikigai, but the term is used to embrace the happiness in living. Roughly, the word derives from iki, meaning life, and gai, which describes value. In a society with such a highly driven and stressful work culture, ikigai is used to help people find the joys in their life. Essentially, it’s the reason you get out of bed in the morning.

So what does it involve?

The concept of ikigai is usually represented as an overlapping pie chart, as demonstrated below:


There are four basic components of life are split into four categories: what you are good at, the things that you love, what the world needs and what is paid for. Understanding these categories and recognising where these elements play into your life is the first step to finding your ikigai.

The purpose of this chart is to indicate that all of these elements are important to achieve ikigai. As the article on World Economic Forum demonstrates, one could have satisfaction from doing something that we’re good at, love and necessary, but have no wealth to support ourselves. Likewise, we could have economic comfort doing what we’re good at, but have little fulfillment in our life. A balance between all aspects of life are important for our mental and emotional health.

Finding the small joys in life

Akihiro Hasegawa, associate professor at the Toyo Eiwa University, conducted a study on ikigai. In his paper, he found that participants rated their health, intellectual activeness and social roles were associated with having ikigai.  In a feature on BBC Capital, Hasegawa notes the importance of ikigai in producing a richer, more satisfying life:

Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in more fulfilling life as a whole.

Of the many books published on ikigai, Mieko Kamiya’s Ikigai-ni-tsuite is one of the most influential. Although it is associated with happiness, Kamiya suggests that the concept of ikigai is so powerful that it allows one to look forward to the future even in moments of sadness.

How do you find your ikigai?

Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation, told The Daily Telegraph about his trick to finding an ikigai. He calls it the Saturday Morning Test: “What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing else to do?” Think of the activities that bring you small joys in your life, the things that you want to do and brings joy to those around you. For some people that may be creating art or music, volunteering in the community, educating the next generation, or cooking for family and friends.

The article’s author, Tom Ough, is advised that ikigai isn’t an abstract way of life but something more immediate. Gordon Matthews, professor of anthology and author of What Makes Life Worth Living?: How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds had another example.

I wrote about a guy who hates his boss, hates his work, and then comes home to his daughter clinging to his leg. That’s why he puts up with this; that’s his ikigai.

So, what gets you out of bed in the morning – what’s your ikigai? Take some time this week, during Mental Health Week, to identify the small joys in your life and appreciate what they mean to you.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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