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.

Welcome to The Ikigai Project

Ikigai is a Japanese word for “the reason for being” or, put another way, the reason you wake up in the morning. When we live with Ikigai, we have clarity with our purpose and the contribution we want to make in the world.

I believe that crafting your ikigai is one of your most important tasks in life. When we live with ikigai, we have more energy and clarity to fulfill our goals. We have a sense of direction – a North Star – that helps keeps us moving forward despite the obstacles that might get in the way. We become less distracted by what others think of us and show up with the courage to make a difference.

I also believe that we craft our ikigai. It’s a deliberate, evolving process and requires active decision making. Your ikigai in your 20s might look very different from your ikigai in your 80s as you learn more about yourself and the world around you.

Very few people simply stumble into their life’s purpose by accident. We need to come face-to-face with our own fears, insecurities, doubts and not shy away from the life tasks we all face. As such, crafting your ikigai is ultimately about courage — the courage to accept yourself, trust in others, and contribute to something greater than yourself.

The goal of The Ikigai Project is to help people find the courage to pursue their ikigai. Through this blog and the podcast, we’ll unpack core principles and actions that will help you take that first step forward. This journey will shift your mindset and focus on making the hard changes that you’ll need to make.

Of course, there’s already a lot of great books, blogs, podcasts, and resources on the topic of “purpose”. So how will this project be different?

First, we’ll apply the principle of leverage. Instead of sharing a plethora of different tools and resources, I’m going to focus on a few specific themes and go deep with them. Quality over quantity will be the name of the game. If we focus on the right things, in the right order, the impact that we can create within our lives will be substantial.

Here’s an example of the power of leverage. If you were to line up a two-inch domino and double the size of the next domino and double the size of the next domino etc, etc, by domino #23 you’ll have reached the height of the Eiffel Tower, by domino #31 Mt. Everest, and by domino #57 you’ll almost be able to reach the moon. If we pick the right domino (priority) and leverage momentum, great things can happen over time.

Check out this blog post from The ONE Thing for an image of The Domino Effect.

Second, we’ll focus on mindset. We’ll use concepts from philosophy and modern psychology to better understand ourselves. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom from the ancient Greeks, Zen masters from Japan, and western psychotherapy that we can tap into. Specifically, we’ll borrow some of the key concepts developed by Alfred Adler to understand what it means to live in harmony with yourself and society.

Third, we’ll focus on deep practice. The easy part is reading a book or taking a course. The hard part is distilling the key insights and putting them into practice. We’ll use some of the best practices around habit building and behaviour change to give us the best chance of making sustainable change in our lives. The shape of what this will look like is TBD but you’ll be the first to find out when we start building something out.

Finally, you should also know that I’m an unashamed jack-of-all-trades with a curiosity about a wide range of topics. Specifically, I’m interested in understanding and learning more about behaviour change, the power of mindset, and the art of learning. Not to mention I also enjoy exploring topics around health & wellness, financial growth, and the latest tech tools to help us live better lives. As you can see, this project will take an interdisciplinary approach to uncover principles that we can all apply in our lives.

As a student of living with ikigai, I’m looking forward to approach this topic with a lot of curiosity and joy. I plan to apply many of the lessons and themes in my own life. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a bit intimidating at times, but in the end, it’ll be worth the journey. Thanks for being here.