Ikigai: finding purpose in life

This article will provide a practical explanation of Ikigai. After reading this, you will understand the basics of this Japanese concept for finding your goals in life. It’s also a great coaching tool

What is Ikigai?

There are some places in the world where people live longer, on average, than in the rest of the world. Author Dan Buettner researched these regions and dubbed them the ‘Blue zones‘. Japan, and the island Okinawa in particular, are such a region. A factor that plays an important role in the health and vitality of the residents of Okinawa is to have ‘a goal’ in their lives: ‘ikigai‘.

So in addition to eating habits and living environment, this Japanese concept plays a major role in ageing healthily. Because your ‘ikigai’ makes it possible to keep looking towards the future, even when you are going through a difficult time. Dan Buettner talks about this in his inspiring TEDtalk ‘How to Live to 100+‘.

‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese concept that, simply put, means ‘your reason to get out of bed in the morning’. In French, it is called ‘raison d’être’. Ikigai is a combination of the words ‘iki‘, which means life or living, and the word ‘kai‘ (pronounced as gai), which represents value, effect, result or usefulness.

What is ‘ikigai’ exactly? It is that place where your passion, mission, calling and career intersect. This is best illustrated by the overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. The four circles represent:

What you loveWhat you are good atWhat the world needsWhat you are/could be paid for

The place where the four circles meet, is where you find your ‘ikigai’.

How to apply your ikigai

You can only apply your ‘ikigai’ once you know what it is for you. For many people that requires an extensive search of the self first. But if you want to make a start at understanding your ‘ikigai’, you could start by making your own Venn diagram.

Fill the circles with words, ideas, pictures or sentences that fall under the ‘You like it’, ‘You are good at it,’ ‘The world needs it,’ and ‘You are paid for it’.

Try to answer questions like: What makes you tick?; What touches you?; What are you good at?; Which unique talents do you have and which can you further develop?; What can you do that is of use to others?; Is there something you can contribute to the world?; What change would you like to bring about in the world?

Search for the (natural) overlap of the various circles. Look at the complete picture and try to find connections. If you are going to do it, take your time. Give ideas and impulses a chance and keep an open mind. That way, your ‘ikigai’ will eventually become clear.


The advantages of having an ‘ikigai’ seem clear. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Enjoying in your work, loving what you do, giving meaning to your existence. Combined with healthy eating and a nice living environment, your ‘ikigai’ is an important ingredient for healthy ageing.

Practical example

In a rapidly changing world, more and more people are looking for a way to combine their passion and talents in order to contribute to society. That is basically what ‘ikigai’ is.

An appealing example of people who practice their ‘ikigai’ every day are David de Kock and Arjan Vergeer from 365 days successful. They aim to make the Netherlands the happiest country in the world, and they want to achieve that by helping others get the best out of themselves. As they say on their website: ‘One thing we learned in recent years: If you really want something and you choose a method to get there, everything is possible. Not only in your mind, but especially in reality.’

In summary

‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese concept that is about having (of finding) a goal in life, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Your ‘ikigai’ is the point where a number of aspects come together, namely what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. It is where your passion, mission, craft and calling intersect. The basis for finding your ‘ikigai’ is usually an extensive search for yourself.

Develop your skills

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Have you already found your ‘Ikigai’? Or are you still searching? Has this article given you an idea on how to get started?

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More information

García, H., Miralles, F. (2017). Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Penguin Books.Mathews, G. (1996). What makes life worth living?: How Japanese and Americans make sense of their worlds. Univ of California Press.Nakanishi, N. O. R. I. Y. U. K. I. (1999). ‘Ikigai’in older Japanese people. Age and ageing, 28(3), 323-324.Sone, T., Nakaya, N., Ohmori, K., Shimazu, T., Higashiguchi, M., Kakizaki, M. &amp Tsuji, I. (2008). Sense of life worth living (ikigai) and mortality in Japan: Ohsaki Study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(6), 709-715.

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