The happiest thing that could ever happen to a human is being always healthy and happy. Wake up in the morning full of energy, and off to a brilliant start of a new day with a splendid mood full of “ummph.”
Life is so wonderful and meaningful. This will give our daily lives a powerful push and inspiration, reaching office on time to start a productive work day.
Every day could be so exciting and meaningful. And this is the essence of the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai (生き甲斐)!
Ikigai is a unique Japanese terminology that had its origins during the Heian Period beginning 794 AD. The word can be split into two parts: 生き (iki) which means life and existence, and 甲斐 (gai) which denotes value and meaning. “生き甲斐” can be explained as “the meaning of life and existence,” or “the core value of existence.”
As a matter of fact, it also embodies the passion, sense of mission, value and satisfaction for life, as well as realisation of the meaning of life, and the subsequent resolute mental state of accomplishing the goals in life.
Japanese clinical psychologist Hasegawa said: Ikigai could also be interpreted as an integrated concept putting together all the values in life. Let me put this in simpler terms: be positive, and live our lives with a positive mentality!
Moreover, the Japanese people’s Ikigai belief has nothing to do with income and material gains, and is neither restricted to any particular lifestyle or thing, but is an open-minded attitude towards life, always having empathy not only for ourselves, but also life and all things, in hope of making our day-to-day lives more meaningful, extraordinary, and joyful.
Kamiya, another Japanese psychiatrist, meanwhile explained Ikigai as being somewhat similar to happiness but with slight differences. Ikigai will make you yearn for a brighter future even when you are downright desolate or helpless, making it hard for you to give up your dream and hope!
The Japanese believe that even the smallest joys in life will nourish us, and make the whole life more fulfilling, positive, and complete.
From my personal experiences interacting with the Japanese people over the last three decades, as well as my immersive participation in the Japanese culture, I discover that they draw their inspiration of life from their existential value in the eyes of other people, but not that kind of philistine popular perception.
For example, the Japanese are tremendously grateful for the respect they receive from colleagues, friends and relatives, and this speaks volumes of the reality that team value prevails over personal value in Japanese society. To them, the word “value” transcends “self” to a three-dimensional attitude encompassing depth, height and thickness.
Such a sacrificial spirit typically exists as a common trait in Ikigai, making people particularly hard-working, dynamic and ready to help other people.
It is therefore not difficult to understand that Ikigai can be a positive transformation you have brought to other people’s life because of the work you have carried out. This reminds me of the fact that writers like me are looking forward to appreciation from our readers for the viewpoints we have presented.
There’s another prevailing phenomenon in Japanese society, i.e. senpai (先辈), or people more senior or coming before us. Such a social hierarchy in Japanese society is indisputable, not only in career life but also the population in general, where seniors are invariably held in very high esteem by the juniors.
At the same time, the seniors will feel that they have the responsibility and wisdom to pass down their knowledge to the younger generation. As such, they will never feel that they are old, and are therefore of little value to society.
On the contrary, they not only live their lives to the fullest, but also set as their ultimate goals in life to pass down their knowledge to the young. This is what we call the Ikigai philosophy of life.
Look, the long-living people in Okinawa understand that the so-called value of life is living a truly meaningful life. Because of that, they have managed to live long, and happily.
Friends around me would occasionally tell me softly that they felt depressed and suffered from sleeplessness during the pandemic, and felt helpless and indifferent to things around them.
The bosses, meanwhile, would tell me frankly that raw material costs had gone up sharply, and even salary expenses were over 30% higher now. Although they could sell at higher prices, it’s the ordinary consumers that would eventually suffer from the escalating cost of living.
We have discovered that not every worker is feeling happy because of the pay rise. Instead, they seem to have plenty to grumble about nowadays.
Could this be their response to intolerable stress and pressure? Very much so, because they are suffering from an imbalance in life such that they don’t feel joy anymore despite material gains.
Professor Mary Fujimoto who is living in New York says: Seeking Ikigai in life could constitute a life-long mission. In order to better understand the core value of our existence, we will have to keep exploring what is beneficial to us and what deserves our full devotion, while avoiding thoughts that might distract us.
Ikigai provides a core belief that will consolidate our value system vis-à-vis individual core values, such that we will gain happiness and balance in life in the process.
Then, do you think we should all reconsider our next step in life, and how we should command the meaning of our current jobs and handle the maddening tempo of life?
As a matter of fact, whether we choose to “live to eat” or “eat to live,” there’s absolutely nothing wrong with living a fast-paced life or a slow life. The key is, we must keep focusing, improving, and thus lifting our quality of life.
It is said that we all become small in a world full of unpredictabilities.
Life is short, so let us cherish every moment we share with everyone!
We will very soon usher in the year 2024. Let us embrace a selfless attitude and forge ahead fearlessly in the spirit of Ikigai in the new year!
P/S: This was written during the 26-hour flight from New York to Kuala Lumpur via Taipei, having referred to several books on Ikigai plus my personal views. It is hoped that starting from 2024, we will all live our remaining lives to the fullest, and with endless excitement!
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has travelled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)