But Japanese people aren’t just living longer. They’re also happier, thanks in part to a concept called “ikigai.”
Ikigai, which combines the Japanese words for “to live” and “the realization of what one hopes for,” culminates in an ideal we might think of as “the meaning of life.” Living with ikigai — having something to wake up for in the morning — is a key component of Japanese culture, which researchers think may lead to longer, more fulfilled lives.
While work can provide one sense of identity, the Japanese tend to search for personal meaning that outlasts their careers; in fact, only 31 percent of Japanese people surveyed defined their jobs as “ikigai.” Rather than a career path or pursuit of success, ikigai is an earnest search for purpose in the day in, day out of life through relationships, hobbies, and personal passions.
For the supercentenarians living on Okinawa, this meaning-focused mindset seems to be paying off.
Defining your ikigai as an entrepreneur.
All of us want to live meaningful lives — even to find the meaning of life in general.
In western culture, following one’s dreams is as second nature as brewing a morning cup of coffee. Our parents and teachers tell us we can achieve anything we put our minds to, encouraging us to find what we’re passionate about and do it.
But finding that spark of ikigai — the drive that wakes you up in the morning before your alarm and keeps you motivated and fulfilled when times are tough — isn’t as simple as identifying what you’re passionate about and good at. A central tenet of ikigai is using your passions and skills generously (getting paid for it is a rare bonus).
Think of two concentric circles; meaning is found in the space where your skills and others’ needs overlap. As theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote:
“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meet the world’s greatest need.”
So ikigai, and all journeys toward purpose, may start inward. But they also extend far beyond the self.
Finding the work that makes you glad.
If the pursuit of meaning is like a puzzle, then finding work that gladdens you is the first piece. Steve Jobs was quoted as saying, “People with passion can change the world.” I think it’s true: Earth is a better place when we all feel content and fulfilled.
To figure out what kind of work makes you glad, first, ask yourself a few questions. What brings you joy in life? What makes you feel most yourself? How is your mind hard-wired to work? What sort of tasks and projects come most naturally to you, and what are you good at?
Most importantly, what doesn’t feel like work at all?
In an iconic post on doing what you love, Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, wrote,
“The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it — even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?”
I’ve always been a builder, so I’m lucky that my line of work often feels more like play than work to me. Whether it’s figuring out a bug in a line of code or the most effective way to solve a customer complaint, my brain is wired to toy and tinker until I find a solution that works. That’s why I built JotForm as a side hustle to my main gig before it brought me an income. I love to problem solve so much that I’d do it for free (and I have!).
Perhaps you love to paint, or you fill your spare hours with writing lines of code or poetry. Maybe you’ve always wanted to raise a family. Whatever lights you up, try to fit it into your life. Because when we’re all authentically connected to ourselves, we can not only find our purpose, but use our passions to create a better world.
Integrating your passion with the needs around you.
Doing what you love is an important piece of the equation, but it’s just one piece. What good would your personal gifts or happiness be if you weren’t making them useful? Making a mark on the world, and experiencing personal meaning, begins with looking outward.
As Leo Tolstoy once said, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” To figure out how you can serve most effectively, ask yourself another set of questions:
What needs do you see around you, and how can you use your personal passions to meet them?
For example, I didn’t just start JotForm because I’m passionate about building the best forms. I launched my company to make people’s lives simpler. Through a well-designed product and seamless customer service, I’m helping people focus on what matters most to them. That’s what satisfies me at the end of the day — knowing my product is actually improving users’ lives.
In this way, my talents and time aren’t my greatest gifts to the world. Their effects are.
For example, painting and writing inspire people, and maybe motivate them in their own creative endeavors. The lines of code you love to write could make it easier for people to connect with their loved ones. And your passion for parenting children equips the next generation to live, lead and love well.
Before you begin to think an outward focus might set you back, there’s actually scientific evidence that giving people are not only healthier and live longer, but actually experience more happiness — fuel for the fire of your dreams and passions.
Plus, figuring out how you can use your talents and skills to better others’ lives is actually good for business, since a laser focus on solving someone’s biggest problems means you’ll have built-in marketing. If you’re passionate about improving lives, people will sense authenticity and in your work, and it’ll sell itself.
Living in the sweet spot.
Finding your passion and using it for the good of other people is one dimension of deriving purpose from life, but it’s not always simple. If you focus too much on yourself and your interests, you may miss out on opportunities to help others. And if you’re hyper-focused on others’ needs while ignoring your passions, you’ll be bored and burned out quickly.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, highlights the balancing act of living in the overlap between your own gladness and the world’s needs. “Selfless giving, in the absence of self-preservation instincts, easily becomes overwhelming,” he writes. Grant introduces a trait called “otherish,” which he defines as “being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight.”
Whether you call it ikigai, vocation, or the meaning of life, strive to find that sweet spot. It may be just a sliver of space, but it’s there — and it’s worth it.
GETTING RICH QUICKLY: A BLESSING OR A CURSE? (THE NIGERIAN PERSPECTIVE)
Generally, money is very important in the life of every human being. This is because in our ever-changing world, it is becoming a norm that anyone who does not have money is close to being considered a destitute. Amongst, friends, the ones without a strong financial base are cast aside, in families, the ones without money are most times shut up as their sometimes wonderful ideas are cast aside because they do not have the financial capability to back it up; among siblings too, anyone who is less privileged is counted less important. One might argue that money is not everything. However, most things, ranging from transactions, deals and agreements among other things are done with the direct or indirect involvement of money. See
Having established the quintessential role that money plays, it is then important to limit the scope to our argument to our locality; Nigeria, in order not to have a distorted view of the subject matter.
Before going into the crux of the matter, I’d like to throw this pertinent question at you; is getting rich quickly a blessing or a curse?
Undeniably, some quarters are going to say it’s good to get rich quickly because it would make the individual to do a lot of important things in record time. In Nigeria, those things include, buy or build a house(s), buy a car, get married and take care of the family. That’s perfectly right! Those are valid reasons to get rich quickly. However, adopting the Nigerian perspective, has the race to achieve all these in record time not led Nigerians and indeed Nigerian Youths to do the unimaginable?
Almost everyone, if not all, would agree with me that if we were to ask an average Nigerian, particularly a fledging youth what he or she wants, the popular answer would be that; “Ki n sa ti lowo (Let me just have money)
These days, the desire to ger rich is so strong that people would do anything to get rich; Yes! I mean anything. This has resulted in ritual killings, kidnappings and famously, Internet fraud, popularly known as ‘Yahoo Yahoo’
Concerning the Internet fraudsters, they have become so rampant that some of them now organize tutorial classes for fellow youths like them to learn how to become an internet fraud. Some of them have even gone to the extremes of adding what they call ‘plus’ to it. The meaning of this is that they would add ritualistic means to their internet fraud to make their ‘business’ boom. What this has caused is that a lot of youths who are suppose to be in school in order to be the so-called leaders of tomorrow have dropped out of school to face their internet fraudster business squarely. In the end, some of them either go irredeemably broke after squandering their ill-gotten ‘fast’ wealth while others die of mysterious reasons. I ask again, is getting rich quick a blessing or a curse?
For those who indulge in kidnappings, they most times get into crossfires with policemen or security outfits when trying to recover their ransoms leading to the death or severe injuries to them; I ask again, is getting rich quickly a blessing or a curse?
One cannot completely blame the citizenry for this rather saddening situation. The government, over the years also share a bulk of the blame. Either directly or indirectly, successive Nigerian governments have through their posture led Nigerians towards resorting to nefarious means to get fast wealth. In a country where the citizens have to provide water for themselves, security, sometimes power supply (electricity generating sets) and the likes, do you expect such citizens not to resort to nefarious means to get wealth? Definitely they would. In a country where the citizens know that they cannot get true justice, cannot get true representation in power and cannot reap the sincere and equal fruits of democracy; you expect them not to resort to any means to get rich as quickly as possible?
Enough of deceiving ourselves! As long as there is bad leadership in Nigeria, the ‘Yahoo boy’ would continue to thrive. As long as someone sits in the corner of his office and embezzles billions of Naira and most recently dollars, the ritual killers, thieves, armed robbers and other terrible elements will continue to thrive in the society. After all, is that not their own means of livelihood too?
As this article comes to an end, the question we need to ask ourselves is ‘WHICH WAY NIGERIA? Do we continue in bad leadership and expect internet fraud to cease? Do we continue in corruption and expect armed robbery to stop? This our food for thought, Nigeria! This is our cross!