Ikigai: The Japanese Concept Of Finding Purpose In Life

Ikigai Japanese philosophy

Discover the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai, which helps people find purpose and joy in life. Learn how this philosophy can enhance your life.

Ikigai (ee-key-guy) is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” 

When combined, these terms mean “that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose”. 

If you’re feeling lost or unsure about what your life purpose is, there are a number of ways to refocus your mind. Learn more about ikigai and how it can help you find happiness. 

What is Ikigai?

You’ve probably seen the word. Or, maybe you’ve seen the four-circle diagram. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic today. But, what is ikigai really? Like most things, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around on the internet. 

There’s no direct translation of ikigai into English, but the most legitimate definitions I’ve found are the following (emphasis added in bold): 

“The term Ikigai is composed of: iki and kai. At present, kai is generally written in hiragana (Japanese phonetic syllabary)… Iki refers to ‘life‘; kai is a suffix meaning roughly ‘the realisation of what one expects and hopes for.’”¹ 

“Japanese dictionaries define Ikigai in such terms as ikiru hariai, yorokobi, meate (something to live for, the joy and goal of living) and ikite iru dake no neuchi, ikite inu kōfuku, rieki (a life worth living, the happiness and benefit of being alive).”

How to find your Ikigai?

Luckily, there’s a handy diagram to get you started. The first step in our process is to sit down with a blank graph version. Free up at least one hour of undisturbed time, and find a comfortable place to sit and grab your favourite drink. Take each section at a time, and dive deep into your thoughts. Keep asking yourself, “What else?” until you create a blank.  

You might find some areas or questions are more accessible to answer than others. If you feel stuck, move to another section and return to it later. Could you talk it through with supportive friends and family members to brainstorm ideas?  


This section is about exploring what you love doing, what brings you joy.  When we choose a field of study and a job, we go for the convenient, the known, the recognized. We do it to please someone else. But that makes us overlook what we truly love doing in life.  

What did you love doing or thinking about when you were a child? 

What activities do you do in your spare time that make you happy? 


This bit of the map covers what you have learned to do thanks to your training or experience. Your skills are what you CAN do whereas your strengths are what you ENJOY doing. They might be the same, they might be different. If you’re stuck, have a look at this list of skills and this list of strengths. What are your skills and strengths? What do people ask you help for? 


This aspect of Ikigai is quite an important one. It makes you think about the impact you want to have on your community. Have a read at Tara Mohr’s definition of a ‘calling’, and answer these questions. 

What / who inspires you? What makes you angry, frustrated?  


This last part of the Ikigai map is about securing an income – yes, we need one of these. Think broadly and don’t limit your possibilities when answering these questions. Who knows, one of these ideas could be your future job! What product or service could you sell? 

What about your Ikigai?

Finding your purpose is a powerful process. It’ll help you assess where you are today and clarify which direction you want to give to your career.  

You could also start the conversation with a coach. A coach will ask you the right questions to make you think about what you truly want to do, and help figure out the next steps in your career or life journey. Get in touch if you’d like to organize a free discovery chat to discuss your objectives and challenges. Click here

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