10 Principles of Ikigai: Japanese Philosophy of Happiness

10 Principles of Ikigai: Japanese Philosophy of Happiness

What is the secret of Japanese longevity? Is it a healthy diet, genetics or the island climate? Or maybe the reason is something else? According to most Japanese, the reason for their longevity is the practice of Ikigai.

The practice (philosophy) of Ikigai is about defining your personal mission, purpose and unlocking your full potential. The main purpose of Ikigai is to determine what we are good at, what we like, and what we can bring to the world.

The Ikigai philosophy originated on the island of Okinawa, which is considered home to the largest number of long-livers in the world. The percentage of people over 100 years of age is higher here than anywhere else. And surveys conducted among residents of this island have shown that it is due to the practice of Ikigai that they suffer less from cardiovascular disease and in general have good health.

What is Ikigai?

The word Ikigai is composed of two parts: “iki” meaning “to live” and “gai” meaning “reason”. Loosely translated, ikigai is a reason to live. The Japanese use the word in different contexts, associating it both with the small joys of everyday life and with big plans, significant achievements and successes.

The source of Ikigai can be anything: a breath of fresh sea breeze, a sunrise, delicious coffee, or recognition and success in professional life.

10 Principles of Ikigai: Japanese Philosophy of Happiness

Ikigai has nothing to do with financial standing or success in professional life. Practice can lead to financial success, but that success is not a prerequisite for achieving Ikigai. Rather, it is something that makes us smile when we wake up early in the morning, something that motivates us and gives us joy.

Thus the main mission of the practice of Ikigai is to be able to find the answer to the question: “What is the meaning of my life?”.

Japanese Ikigai philosophy covers several areas:

  • What do you love (passion and mission);
  • What you are good at (passion and profession);
  • What you can get paid to do (profession);
  • What the world needs (mission and calling).

So each person’s Ikigai is different, individual, because we are all different and each of us has our own individual abilities and desires. Schematically, it looks like this:

10 Principles of Ikigai: Japanese Philosophy of Happiness

What do these circles mean? It’s very simple – you need to set your personal priorities in them, and then you will understand what to strive for. Your Ikigai is at the intersection of these areas.

For example, you can do what you love and what the world needs, but it probably won’t bring you money. Conversely, you may choose to do something that pays well and that you are good at, but still feel empty and unsatisfied. True Ikigai is achieved when all areas intersect in the center, this is what will allow you to achieve balance and make you happy.

The Flow or Japanese approach to work

One of the most important pillars of the Japanese philosophy of happiness is to find activities that allow us to fully immerse ourselves in the present moment and invoke in us a creative and all-consuming state of “flow”.

Have you ever noticed that you lose track of time when you are doing something interesting? If your answer is yes, then you have experienced a state of “flow”, which is exactly the area where your Ikigai may be present. The essence of “flow” is to find pleasure and purpose in what we do in the moment, without expecting spectacular results, success, or applause from others. It’s not just the end result that’s important, but the whole process of achieving the goal.

Ikigai Flow is about enjoying the process, not just the result. It is the satisfaction of being active and constantly developing our skills. In this way, our work (from which we already derive not only money but also pleasure) is no longer a boring chore for us.

Given all this, it is not surprising how such a small country has become one of the leading countries in the world. The Japanese people are known in the world over for their hard work and diligence. And the philosophy of Ikigai is largely the reason for this.

10 Principles of Ikigai: Japanese Philosophy of Happiness

Passion for work helps many Japanese living in Okinawa and other small Japanese cities to find happiness. But unfortunately, in big cities (like Tokyo or Yokohama), it sometimes takes inhumane and dangerous forms, causing “karoshi” (a Japanese term meaning death by overworking). This too is worth keeping in mind.

10 Principles of the Ikigai Philosophy

Ikigai is not only the ability to answer the question “What is the meaning of my life?”, It is also following a few principles that will help you live longer and happier:

1. Always stay active

The Japanese lead an active life until old age. They rarely get sick, exercise a lot, and value all-round activity, both physical and intellectual.

That’s why, when practicing Ikigai, you should dedicate yourself to your passion, develop your talents, and try new things (because we never know what will really bring us true happiness).

2. Take life easy

Being in a hurry and too much stress reduces the quality of your life. When we stop being driven by “urgent” matters, time and life take on new meaning.

3. Don’t overeat

One of the factors that make Japanese people live a long life is their diet. To stay healthy, you should not overeat. Food is meant to satisfy hunger. On the contrary, fast food, junk food, and gluttony do not contribute to longevity.

4. Surround yourself with friends

If you dream of a long and happy life, you should surround yourself with people you love and appreciate and those who love and appreciate you. This will make your life better, making it easier for you to cope with the challenges and problems you encounter along the way.

5. Get your body in shape

The movement is life. Physical activity and exercise are an essential part of your health and a way to stay in shape, even in old age. In addition, exercise triggers the secretion of endorphins (the so-called happy hormones).

10 Principles of Ikigai: Japanese Philosophy of Happiness

6. Smile more often

People smile the same way in all languages. Smile for yourself, smile for your family and strangers, say thank you with a smile, say hello and apologize with a smile. Let a smile accompany you in moments of joy and sorrow, laugh in spite of difficulties and problems, and you will see how quickly they pass.

7. Be closer to nature

Many of us live in cities with limited access to nature, greenery and fresh air. However, only regular contact with nature can improve our well-being. A trip to the woods or even a walk in the park can recharge our physical and emotional batteries.

8. Be thankful for destiny

Appreciating what you already have in life and being grateful is one of the factors for a successful and happy life. Everyone wants a lot of money, to fly to the Maldives on vacation, to buy a big house or a view apartment in the downtown, but maybe it’s time to say thank you for a small, but own apartment, a good weekend with your family and bicycle rides with the person you love?

9. Live in the present

Complaints, reliving the past and constant fear for the future will not bring you happiness. Learn to live in the present moment. Absorb and enjoy the present moment. Be in here and now.

10. Follow your Ikigai

Each of us has a passion, a unique talent that gives meaning and spurs us to action. If you haven’t found it yet, it’s time to find it. Finding your Ikigai may take time and a deep rethinking of your desires and needs in all areas of our lives. But the result will completely change your life for the better!


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