Ikigai: what is it in simple words, 5 main principles

The Japanese island of Okinawa is notable for the fact that a large number of centenarians live there, whose age has already exceeded 100 years. Researchers believe that one of the main reasons for this amazing feature is the popularity of the ikigai philosophical concept among local residents. Today we will find out what it is, what principles it includes and whether it is available to those who have seen the landscapes of Okinawa only in photographs.

What is ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese philosophical concept that implies the realization of one’s own destiny. Also, this word is called a state of harmony, in which a person feels that he is doing a business that benefits the world, and he himself – joy. The Japanese pay great attention to this concept and often use it in relation to work, hobbies, and even everyday affairs.

In Japan, a simple definition is sometimes used: “Ikigai is what you wake up for in the morning.”

Adherence to the principles of ikigai gives a person satisfaction and peace of mind, as he feels that everything he does has meaning. A person who has found his ikigai is not prone to depression. He is constantly passionate and completely absorbed in what he loves, so he does not have time for rumination, he does not waste time on meaningless activities and is not prone to addictive behavior.

Another easy way to describe what an ikigai is is to list the four elements at which it intersects:

  • What you enjoy doing.
  • What you do better than others.
  • Something that you get paid well (or might be paid for).
  • Something that benefits the world and people.

The Japanese concept of self-development implies that each person must have their own ikigai. At the same time, not everyone found and discovered it, but knowing its basic principles, everyone can do it, while gaining peace of mind and happiness.

How did the term come about?

This term is translated into Russian literally as “the meaning of life.” It is formed from the words “iki” (life) and “gai” (value). It is assumed that this concept appeared in Japanese culture during the Heiyan period (a long peaceful period in the country’s history, which lasted almost 400 years – from the end of the VIII to the end of the XII century). In fact, the Japanese have many words formed in a similar way: “hataragai” (value for work), “yarigai” (value for work), and others.

In Japan, a huge number of books have been published that reveal the essence of the concept of ikigai. At the same time, the most successful and popular of them is the book “On ikigai”, which was written in 1966 by psychiatrist Mieko Kamiya. One of the key thoughts of the book is that in its meaning the word ikigai is close to the word “happiness”, the difference is only in some nuances. The author also says that this word can be used to describe the state of a person who is confident in his future, because he knows that his life is on the right path.

Mieko Kamiya claims that ikigai is possible, even if a person is feeling bad for some reason right now, but he knows for sure that everything will be fine soon.

How do I find my ikigai?

A person who wants to find their ikigai must ask themselves 4 questions. You need to answer each question thoughtfully – so that ultimately you will find a lesson that will be present in each of the answers. This will be a matter worthy of becoming the meaning of life. And it is very important that you can name this case in response to any of the four questions below.

1. What do I like to do?

The first element of ikigai is passion. It should be something that you do not just like, but that brings real pleasure and gives a feeling of satisfaction. Of course, there may be several such cases. This could be sports, dancing, computer simulations, or cooking. The main thing is that it enthralls you, motivates and gives you the feeling that you are in your place.

2. What am I good at?

The second element of ikigai is talent. Of course, not everyone is able to become the best specialist in the world in their field. But everyone can become one of the best. When looking for your ikigai, you must realize that you do better than others. This should be a business to which you have a predisposition, in which you have already succeeded and at the same time feel that you want to continue to develop in this direction, improving your skills and achieving new heights.

3. What can I give to others?

The third element of ikigai is demand, the feeling that people need the fruits of your efforts. In fact, this is the satisfaction of the needs located at the 4th and 5th levels of the Maslow pyramid. A person who feels that they are creating something meaningful and valuable gets much more pleasure from their work and life.

4. Where can I make good money?

The fourth element of ikigai is the feeling of worthy material return. No matter how passionate a person may be for his work, if at the same time he does not earn good money, he will very quickly experience emotional burnout, and even his favorite work will cease to bring joy. Therefore, when looking for ikigai, it is important to understand whether this business brings good income and whether it will bring it in the future.

Ikigai principles

Of course, everyone should find their ikigai. But it’s not always that easy, and you are unlikely to be able to do it in one evening. To find your ikigai, you have to go to this goal for a long time and methodically, observing 5 basic principles, each of which deserves detailed consideration.

Principle # 1: Start Small

It seems that the meaning of this principle is obvious, but this is not entirely true. In European culture, this phrase usually implies that you need to move towards the goal in small steps. But in the ikigai context, this principle should be interpreted much more extensively. Its essence lies in the fact that our life is multifaceted and consists of a large number of various small matters and events.

The Japanese have such a concept as kodawari – the value and significance of a small deed or action. Washing dishes, walking or jogging, calling your parents, commenting on a social network – all these things have a certain value. And the principle “Start small” implies that we evaluate the kodawari of every action we take, even if it is something everyday and routine.

Principle # 2: Freedom and Serenity

To find your ikigai, you need to free yourself from everything that deprives us of inner harmony. There are a lot of such factors. These are stereotypes imposed by society, compromises with which we have to live, all kinds of experiences and complexes, dissatisfaction with personal life, career or social status. All this deprives us of inner freedom, fettering our thoughts and emotions.

To understand this principle, you need to look at the child and try to understand how he perceives life and the world around him. He is not yet constrained by stereotypes, is not ready to compromise, does not suffer from meaningless experiences. Even if right now he feels bad because he hurt his knee or cut his finger, he still remains a carefree and free child.

Principle # 3: Harmony and Sustainability

Each person has his own idea of ​​the ideal life for him, but at the same time everyone will agree that harmony is necessary in it. It is possible to be truly happy and satisfied only when harmony is present in all spheres of life. If it is not there, you need to figure out what is causing the interference. And if this is a job, then your ikigai is most likely located somewhere in a different area.

Principle # 4: Daily Joys

Many people, in pursuit of success and personal effectiveness, often give up various pleasant little things that fill our lives. The Ikigai philosophy implies attention to these little things. Look for joy in everything you encounter during the day.

Try, for example, while walking, not to be lost in thought, but to admire nature or even cityscapes. Rejoice at a flying bird, a beautiful flower, or a witty joke on a billboard. In fact, little joys can be found in most everyday activities. And this will allow you to fill your life with pleasant emotions, with a minimum of effort.

Principle # 5: Living in the here and now

This principle highlights another difference between European and Asian cultures. A typical representative of European culture tends to think a lot about the past and the present. He constantly reflects, and sometimes even torments himself with meaningless rumination, regretting the missed opportunities and coming up with many more favorable options for the development of events.

In addition, many of us have a stereotyped belief that happiness will come sometime later, and now we need to endure “hardships and hardships.” Ikigai teaches that the only time in which all our thoughts and emotions should be devoted is the present. This does not obviate the need to work for the future well-being. But you need to live for today.


It is not so difficult to understand what ikigai is, but, alas, not everyone succeeds in finding it. The reason is that it is a very individual concept. The key elements and principles of ikigai are the same for everyone, and yet everyone follows their own unique path to it, and you cannot simply copy someone’s success here. It can take years to find your ikigai. But do not be discouraged if your search has not yet been crowned with success. Statistics say that many successful people find their life’s work at a fairly late age.