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Written by Michal Park

Further to my Tuesday Chat this week, I bring to you the Japanese concept of Ikigai.  This is just another reason why I love Japan so much.  Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Japan – I would live there if I could.  The culture, the people, the food, the act of putting the good of the community first – what’s not to love.

Anyway, back to Ikigai.  Interestingly, there is no direct English translation to Ikigai, but, loosely, it is essentially ‘the reason you wake up in the morning’.

The concept covers overlapping spheres that converge to create Ikigai in the central position.  Each sphere is represented by a question:

  1. Are you doing an activity that you love? What is important here is that we allow ourselves to think deeply about what we love, without any concern for whether we are good at it, whether the world needs it, or if we can get paid for doing it.
  2. Are you good at it? This sphere encompasses talents or capabilities, whether or not you are passionate about them, whether the world needs them, or if you can get paid for them.
  3. Does the world need what you offer? This domain of Ikigai connects most explicitly with other people and doing good for them, beyond one’s own needs.
  4. Can you get paid for doing it? Whether you can get paid for your passions or talents depends on factors such as the state of the economy, whether your passions/talents are in demand, etc.

I definitely feel fortunate enough to have hit the Ikigai sweet spot.  I am passionate about financial planning and educating my clients, I have over 20 years experience in the industry, there is absolutely a need for financial literacy in the community and I have pretty much found the ideal job.  Yay me.

But what happens when I stop work?  The loss of role and responsibility, combined with reduced social contact can actually be devastating to some, resulting in retirement being not all it’s cracked up to be. Attaining Ikigai is particularly challenging in retirement, with many clients I know delaying retirement for fear of losing their life’s purpose.

So be like the Japanese.  The Japanese believe that by shifting one’s mindset from retirement as the end goal, to discovering one’s Ikigai, individuals can find greater purpose and enjoyment throughout their lives.

Examples of Ikigai in retirement could be as simple as enjoying time with one’s family, contributing to social change, doing well on the job, or pursuing self-realisation.  Japanese people believe that small joys collectively add to a fulfilling life and as life changes, so can one’s purpose.  I myself am a big believer in celebrating all of the small wins.

Further to this are the “rules” of Ikigai:

  1. Follow your Ikigai: Purpose in life is the most important motivator to live and one, therefore, must follow one’s Ikigai every day and moment.
  2. Never retire: Idea is to remain active till the time one can. One should continue doing the activities one likes. Pursuance of activities should be in alignment with the Ikigai. The very idea of taking retirement is like taking a backseat from actions of life and might mark the beginning of the end.
  3. Don’t fill your stomach: This means not to eat too much and follow the principles of having a healthy and nutritious diet but within control. One of the health tips many people in Japanese society follow is known as 80 percent secret meaning thereby that to remain healthy, people should eat only up to 80 percent of their total permissible intake.
  4. Surround with good friends: This is very important as the accompanying environment of good friends is always full of positive energy. “Stay connected for life” is the principal axiom of a happy, contended and long life. Spending time with family / extended family is also equally relevant. It can be with spouse, children or grandchildren; it can be children of others in one’s society; it can also be in companionship with friends, clubs or communities. These play a very important role through developing bondage with like-minded people. It also helps in giving an opportunity to express our views. Communities play an important role in this regard.
  5. Keep smiling: Attitude of smiling even in adverse circumstances is extremely important as it depicts strength of mind as well as an attitude of resilience. This also symbolises the youthful vitality and energy and brings down the level of anxiety associated with advanced age.
  6. Being ready for next birthday: It is an indicator of the hope that everything will continue to be fine in the future. This beacon of hope is what keeps an individual busy and active in daily life activities.
  7. Reconnecting with nature: To remain connected with nature and the ecological system keeps one in synchronous with the larger system of “Nature” as well as the “Planet”. Idea is that a person should remain in connection with nature at least for some time each day.
  8. Give thanks: We are a part of a larger society and live an inter-connected life. Gratitude should thus form an essential part of our ethos so that we remain grateful to others for our existence. This reciprocal concept of gratitude creates a climate of compassion in the Universe. This results in positive vibration all around.
  9. Live in the moment: Past is long gone and no one knows about future. Happy people are those who neither regret about past nor be worried about the uncertain future; they only live in the present.

Source: “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life” in 2016 authored by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. 

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