What would you guess is the secret to a happy life? Having a ton of money in the bank? Good health? Great friendships? Having a metabolism that lets you eat as much chocolate you want without gaining weight?
Turns out that while happiness is quite individual (that last example would TOTALLY hit my happiness buttons), there are some commonalities. And once we know what they are, we can use them to deliberately design our lives to optimise for life satisfaction.
The ‘secret’ to living a meaningful life
We’re all looking for meaning in our lives. Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, noticed that it wasn’t the most physically strong men who survived the concentration camps, but those who were able to find meaning in their suffering. In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl tells us that the quest for meaning in life is “the primary motivational force in man”.
And if you’re someone who’s been searching for that “one true passion” or “purpose” to propel your life into a direction that feels right and true and meaningful, then you know just how motivating that quest can be.
So today we’re going to focus on how to live your life purpose, and I’ll share with you what I think is the best (and easiest) way to work out what you should be doing with your days.
AND I’ve created a free workbook to help you figure out your purpose.
>> Get instant access below! <<
What’s so great about purpose?
Living with purpose helps you feel like your life is meaningful, that you’re here for a reason and you’re making a difference in the world. As well as feeling more satisfied with life, studies have shown that living with purpose will also help you live longer and stay more healthy.
Living longer, happier, and healthier? Who wouldn’t want that?
So if you’re trying to find the recipe to living a long, healthy and happy life, it makes sense to go find a population where lots of people are already living long, healthy and happy lives and see what they’re up to.
Which is exactly what Dan Buettner, author of the book The Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, went out and did.
His search took him to the Japanese island of Okinawa, which is home to the highest number of centenarians in the world. The WORLD. He wanted to know their secret, and it was here that he learned about the Japanese concept of ikigai.
What is ikigai?
I’ve gotta be honest, I totally geek out on learning words in foreign languages that eloquently capture what would take us English-speakers a sentence or more to explain. (The Danish concept of hygge and the German fremdschämen are particular favourites).
And the definition of ikigai (pronounced “ee-key-guy”) definitely falls into this category.
So what’s ikigai all about? It’s many things.
Your ikigai is:
>> The reason that you get out of bed in the morning
>> That thing you live for
>> Your reason for being (similar to the French term raison d’être)
>> That thing that makes life worthwhile
>> The something that gives you a sense of fulfilment
Your ikigai is basically your whole reason for existing
Not much pressure on finding that then, hey?
We’ve already learned that having a purpose helps people live longer and stay healthier. And that ikigai is the beautiful Japanese word for life purpose that captures so much more nuance that its English equivalent.
So the natural next question is:
How can I find my ikigai?
If you’re looking for your ikigai, you’re looking for what makes you happy and keeps you motivated to get out and get into the world each day. It doesn’t have to be something big, pompous and earth-shattering. It can be simple.
All that matters is that it’s meaningful to you.
Luckily for us all, ikigai isn’t some obscure and theoretical concept shrouded in mystery. It’s practical, and it’s pragmatic. Put simply, your ikigai is the combination of that which:
→ You’re good at
→ You love doing (or are passionate about)
→ The world needs
→ You can be paid for (if you’re looking at ikigai for the purpose of identifying a career)
Here it is explained in an easy-peasy diagram.
The Ikigai Diagram
(Gotta love a Venn diagram)
Many of us don’t yet live and work in alignment with our ikigai. We might have lives that overlap one or two of the circles, but not all four.
Let’s take a look at what it looks like when you’re only part-way there:
You’re doing something you love AND you’re good at it
That’s your PASSION
(but you may not be making money doing it)
You’re doing something you’re good at AND you can get paid for it
That’s your PROFESSION
(but you may not love what you’re doing)
When you’re getting paid for doing something that the world needs
That’s a VOCATION
(but again, you may not love it)
When you’re doing what you love and it’s something the world needs
That’s a MISSION
(but it may not be paying your bills)
So it’s the intersection of all these things – where you’re getting paid to do what you love and are great at AND it’s something that helps the world – that’s the sweet spot.
It makes sense, right?
How to find your ikigai
The beauty of ikigai is that it’s not only an elegant concept, it offers a practical roadmap on how to uncover what kind of life will make you feel most happy and fulfilled. It’s a personal journey, and one that takes a lot of self-reflection.
Don’t forget – I’ve created a workbook to guide you through the process of uncovering your ikigai, which you can download for free.
How to apply ikigai to your life
Your ikigai acts as a compass, helping you navigate situations and decisions that come up in your life. Like I said when I talked about the benefits of creating your own personal mission statement, having a compass or guiding light helps make difficult things easy.
Unsure about a decision? Ask yourself whether it will get you closer to your ikigai.
> If the answer is yes, then the decision is simple.
> If the answer is no…the decision is also simple.
When you know your ikigai, you don’t need to feel bad about turning down opportunities that other people think are amazing or are pushing you to accept. If it’s not in alignment with your ikigai, it’s not going to ultimately make you happy. So you don’t have to feel regret or FOMO in turning it down and continuing on your own path.
But completing the exercises in the free workbook and finding your ikigai isn’t a one-and-done deal. Your sense of purpose can evolve over time, so staying in alignment with your ikigai means constantly reconnecting with your intuition and evaluating how you feel about the direction you’re taking.
But…it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact,
It shouldn’t be complicated
Following your ikigai is all about being in flow, on purpose and feeling content.
In the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, the authors – Héctor García and Francesc Miralles – share what they call the ten rules of ikigai. They’re fab, and applying them to your daily life will help you feel more purposeful, calm and happy with life in general.
The 10 Rules of Ikigai
These principles were drawn from over 100 interviews the authors held with centenarians in Okinawa, Japan and they align nicely with broader findings from positive psychology researchers.
If you’re looking for a meaningful life, here’s what to do:
1. Stay active and don’t retire
That is, don’t ‘retire’ in the traditional sense. When you give up doing something that you’re good at and that gives your life meaning, the loss of purpose can cause health concerns as well as unhappiness in general. Keep doing things of value, keep growing and making progress even once you’ve stepped back from whatever your job or official profession was.
2. Take it slow
Forget urgency, go with the flow and experience life at a pace that doesn’t cause you panic and flood your body with stress hormones.
3. Only eat until you’re 80% full
This one’s fascinating. It was found that people living the longest cultivated a deliberate habit to stop eating before they were completely full. Having a lower overall caloric intake is really good for us, and seems in some way to help our bodies keep us kicking along longer as well.
4. Surround yourself with good friends
It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to have a strong social support network. You can turn to your friends for a chat, to share concerns, or just to laugh and live and enjoy life. Don’t underestimate how important they are to your health and happiness.
5. Get in shape
The authors aren’t talking about a gym membership here, but rather cultivating the habit of taking gentle exercise every day of your life. Walking, gardening, taking the stairs. Keep your body flowing and moving, and it will reward you by releasing happy hormones and continuing to work properly for longer.
The old saying is “smile and the world smiles with you” – maintaining a cheerful outlook not only makes you feel happier, it can help you make you friends (which as we saw earlier is a really important thing!).
7. Reconnect with nature
Visit nature as often as you can – whether it’s sitting in the centre of a city park, or heading out to surround yourself with mountains, ocean or lakes. We’re part of the natural world, and being around nature can restore and revive us.
8. Give thanks to anything that brightens your day
Gratitude is a magical superpower that we all possess, but many don’t choose to use. Feeling grateful and giving thanks for all the blessings – big and small – around us has more positive health benefits than it’s even possible to list in this post. It makes you feel wonderful and happy to be alive. Whether you start a gratitude journal, use an app, or just quietly whisper your appreciation to yourself, practicing gratitude will without doubt make a huge and positive impact to your life.
9. Live in the moment
The past is gone, and no amount of thoughts or energy directed that way will ever change anything that happened. The future isn’t here yet, so the present is all we have. Be mindful of all you’re experiencing right now. Savour it. Enjoy the moment. It’s quite literally the only thing we have.
10. Follow your ikigai
Your ikigai is unique to you. It’s a combination of your strengths, interests, passions and talents. Once you let go of trying to be who you think others expect you to be, and start expressing the real you and living your ikigai, you’ll experience a fulfilment and satisfaction with life that warms your heart and makes you smile inside and out.
Who says that finding your purpose is supposed to be difficult and involve inner angst and turmoil?
Download the Find Your Ikigai workbook and you can start the process today!
So there you have it, the secret (not a secret) recipe to living a balanced, purposeful and meaningful life that’ll keep you healthy and happy into very old age.
Which of these suggestions resonate most strongly with you? Let us know in the comments below.