According to Japanese culture, everyone has an ikigai. It might take time and effort to find it, or it may come easily, but I have it and you do, too. Translated, it means “a reason to live,” or more specifically, “the reason to get up in the morning.” It comes from a combination of the word for life, ikiru and kai, which mean “that which one hopes for made real.” If you want to determine your ikigai, there’s a specific process you can undertake.
Obviously, the concept of finding one’s life purpose is a question people across many cultures ask — the French have a similar phrase, raison d’etre, which means reason for living.
What’s uniquely Japanese about the idea is how that culture suggests figuring out the answer: It starts with four questions that need to be addressed in a specific order. You can simply begin with a list, or you can draw out a large version of the diagram in the main image above, and fill in the large, outer circles with the answers to the questions below. The advantage of doing it that way is you will easily see if words pop up in adjacent or opposite sections.
What do you love to do?
This question really gets the juices flowing, which is why it’s a great one to start with. If you have trouble with the large scope of the question, some more specific inquiries would include: What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about making money? How would you spend your time on a long vacation or even an open Saturday? What’s exciting to you? These questions will all focus on what you find fun, interesting and motivating. Include everything here, from typical stuff (like eating dessert or watching a favorite TV show) to goofy things (doing magic tricks for your younger cousins or climbing trees) to activities you like (acting in plays, planning vacations, going out dancing).
What are you good at?
This question takes into account your talents and skills. These can be things that you are paid for, but don’t have to be (there’s a specific question for that below). You might list things here that are very practical, like being able to drive any type of a vehicle, from a stick-shift car to a tractor-trailer truck, or abilities that are more psychological, like being able to read people’s emotions well. Think about prizes you’ve won, tasks at which you have excelled and times when other people admired the ease with which you did something they consider difficult. What parts of your current job do you find effortless?
What does the world need from you?
This question is meant to figure out what you can give to the world, your culture or your family. Some additional questions to ask (because yes, this can be the toughest section to fill in) are: What problems would you like to help solve? What issues in your community touch you emotionally? If you already volunteer for an organization, that might be a solid clue about what you care deeply about. You can even ask around: What do others see that you have to offer the world? Has anyone ever told you that you were great with children, the elderly, caring for animals or motivating young people?
What do you get paid for?
Plenty of people get paid for things they don’t want to do or don’t like to do, but don’t worry about that when you are answering this question. Simply list the things that you have been or are currently getting paid to do, like them or not.
Once you have some answers to these questions, you can start looking at the various places where they overlap. What you love to do and what you are good at identifies your passion. That which you love and that which the world needs is your mission. Those things that you are paid for and are also good at is your profession. And your vocation is the combination of what the world needs and what you can get paid for.
The idea is to have all the overlapping sections in balance: Mission, passion, vocation and profession. In the very center of your chart is the answer to your personal ikigai — that will be your key to a prosperous, joyful and long life.
Remember, as you are asking yourself the questions above that most people don’t figure out their ikigai until their 30s or later; it’s meant to take time and effort to both determine and balance the aspects of your life. As ikigai expert and anthropology professor Gordon Mathews told The Telegraph, “Ikigai is not something grand or extraordinary. It’s something pretty matter-of-fact.”
For many people, the answer to their own Ikigai is simple — they find it in their work or their family. But if you are still looking for it, going through the questions can help you understand where the imbalance lies.
Unlike Western ideas of success, which are fairly narrow, everyone has ikigai, no matter one’s job or class or education level. It’s not about achieving what other people have for yourself, but finding your own happy combination of life satisfactions.