The origins of ikigai

On a chain of small islands off the southern coast of Japan known as Okinawa, there’s something incredible happening. Residents there are living some of the longest, healthiest, and happiest lives. Even for a country known for its longevity where the average lifespan is 84 years old, Okinawans live a full 5 years longer. Research has described Okinawa as a Blue Zone – areas in the world where people live some of the longest and healthiest lives.

What makes Okinawans live longer and healthier? One contributing factor could be the concept of ikigai which originated from the region. Roughly translated to “the reason for being”, ikigai means that you’re jumping out of bed every morning with a sense of meaning & purpose in your life. More specifically, ikigai happens at the intersection where what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you’re good at come together.

We live in an incredible time in history where, through the advancement of human ingenuity and technology, access to knowledge and opportunity can be found all over the place. And yet many of us find ourselves disconnected, disengaged, and even dissatisfied with aspects of our lives.

What happened here? And why is there this nagging sense “I should be doing more” or “I’m not good enough” whenever we hop onto our social media feed or engage in small talk with strangers? What principles can we learn from groups of people like the Okinawans so we can not only extend the length but also the quality of our lives?

Wherever you’re starting from, there might be a place for ikigai in your life. Living with ikigai doesn’t have to mean a whole life makeover like quitting your well-paying job or going on a 30-day silent meditation retreat. It’s about infusing what we currently do with more meaning, focusing less on material rewards, finding ways to get into a “flow” state more often, and bringing more experiences in our lives that spark joy.

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