Ikigai: Find your life's purpose

Ikigai: Find your life's purpose

"Ikigai" is a Japanese term that cannot be translated into Italian but, since "Iki" means "existence" and "gai" is used to indicate "purpose", we can say that it means "the purpose of life".
Both from an abstract and a practical point of view, ikigai means answering questions: what is your motivation when you get up in the morning? Why do you do what you do every single day? How are you valuing your time on this Earth?
These are the uncomfortable questions that in the West we try to avoid with care by anesthetizing the brain, but in Japan (a country of great contrasts: every year thousands of people commit suicide but there is a very high percentage of happy centenarians) they are part of the everyday life of most people.

For the Japanese, for example, retirement is depressing when understood as a time of life when nothing is done anymore. For them, every single day must be dedicated to doing something, to giving a purpose to their life. A day in which nothing is done is a wasted day, that's why Japanese people exercise until apparently absurd ages and always find a way to occupy their time with something concrete.
Leaving aside the different mentality, I find the concept of Ikigai very fascinating and useful especially for us westerners, often tormented by existential doubts to which we can not find an answer. One above all: what is the purpose of my life?

Human beings have always wondered about the purpose of their presence on this earth. At one time they were reflections for the few, because the majority of the population lived to work and arrived in the evening too tired to think about all this. Today, however, the situation is quite different: in the Western world most people have the time, education, possibilities and tools to think about the meaning of life.
So it happens that a lot of people begin to wonder if their purpose is to work every day from Monday to Friday for eight hours doing a detestable and disheartening activity. Or to spend their whole life in the same place doing the same things, on autopilot, consuming time.
These are difficult but necessary reflections to start building a happy life. First you have to understand if what you are doing is right for you and for your emotional well-being. If not, you have to change and move in another direction.
The problem is that many people get stuck at the first step: they know they are unhappy but they don't know what they should do to change the situation. They don't know their Ikigai, their reason for being.

In addition to being a fascinating and thought-provoking concept, the Ikigai is also a practical way to understand your life's purpose. It is in fact the intersection of 4 elements:
what you love to do;
what you're good at;
what can bring positive change to the world;
what you can make a living with.
Find a path that respects each of these four parameters and you will find your purpose in life. Over time, especially while traveling, I realized that my "Ikigai" is exactly what I previously considered one of my reasons for maximum personal fulfilment: learning foreign languages.
In fact, for me learning new languages is:
what I love to do;
one of the best things I can do;
a great way to get to know cultures different from mine and an excuse to travel more;
what makes me feel richer inside.

This is my "Ikigai", my purpose in life, what makes me get out of bed in the morning with a great desire to start the day because I know that every day I learn some new words or some aspect that I don't know about the culture of the people who speak the language I am learning.

Obviously each of us has our own Ikigai, which is found intersecting those four areas mentioned above. If for me it is learning new languages, for other people it is something completely different.
For example, I know a girl who lives by the sea. Take away her sea and she'll be unhappy. Specifically, her Ikigai is diving: it's what she likes, it's what she knows how to do, it allows her to promote sustainable maritime tourism and clean up the seas she dives into (positive effect on the world) and finally it's her job (she has a diving school).
You can find the Ikigai by becoming a teacher if you love being with children/youngsters, you are an excellent educator, you want to raise individuals aware that one day they will help the next and finally you get paid to do this profession. You can find your Ikigai in any field of life and only you can find it: there are no recipes or manuals, you will discover it through some introspection and time to dedicate only to yourself.
If you want to find the purpose of your life, your reason to exist, find a common point between what you love, what you do well, what the world needs and what you could get paid for or that enriches you inwardly. In this way you will find the coordinates of your happiness.

Have you and your language exchange friends found your Ikigai yet? Let us know with a comment!

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer

Language Exchange