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How can a traditional Japanese concept transform your life and health? Ikigai is your reason for being. It can bring value and joy to life, and positively affect mental and physical health. In the book Ikigai: Giving Every Day Meaning and Joy, Yukari Mitsuhashi, explains the true ikigai meaning and how to discover your ikigai. She grew up in Japan before moving to the States, giving her first-hand perspective on both the Japanese and Western interpretation of ikigai. This free version of our Ikigai book summary will present Mitsuhashi’s key insights in two parts:

  • What ikigai is and isn’t; and
  • How do you discover your ikigai?

But first, let’s take a quick look at the meaning of ikigai.

Introduction: Ikigai Meaning

The Japanese word “ikigai” is formed from two characters: “iki” [生き], which means “life,” and “gai” [甲斐], which means worth or value. In simple terms, ikigai refers to that which brings value and joy to life.

Ikigai is deeply personal. It is whatever brings happiness and value to your life, or the reason you get out of bed each morning.

It doesn’t have to be a grand ambition or a noble life purpose. It can be as simple and humble as tending your garden, sharing a hobby with others, or watching your child grow up.

This concept can be complex and abstract, even for Japanese people. Many people have drawn their own conclusions about what ikigai is. In this book, Mitsuhashi draws on insights from experts and inspiring stories from individuals who have found their ikigai to establish the true meaning of ikigai.

Part 1: What Ikigai is and isn’t

Ikigai Book Summary - What Ikigai Is and Isn't

What Ikigai is

At the core, ikigai is about the joys and values that make life worth living. It’s rooted in the daily pleasures and pursuits that give us satisfaction.

The term ikigai originates from the Heian period (794 – 1185CE) and encompasses the idea of finding value in life.

This goes beyond material wealth to include personal fulfillment through various aspects of life, such as family, work, hobbies, or even seemingly trivial things like feeling the breeze on your face or enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

What Ikigai isn’t

Popular Western interpretations of Ikigai are captured in the Venn Diagram above, which was first conceptualized by Mark Winn.  It shows ikigai as the intersection between one’s professional and personal aspirations

Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles’s book, “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life,” also explains ikigai using Winn’s Venn diagram.

According to the diagram, ikigai is the intersection of four elements: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Finding this balance can lead to a sense of purpose and fulfillment in life.

However, in Japanese culture, ikigai does not necessarily involve one’s career, professional skills, financial rewards, or overarching purpose.

In a 2010 survey, most Japanese men and women associated their ikigai with a hobby or leisure interest, followed by family and pets. Only 31% indicated work-related ikigai.

Mitsuhashi explains that it is more about finding joy in the everyday aspects of life, without which you cannot have a happy life.

Ikigai-Related Values and Beliefs

Yukari Mitsuhashi shares how ikigai forms an integral part of the Japanese culture, tied inextricably to various Japanese values and beliefs.

Unlike shiawase or kōfuku, the Japanese notion of happiness, ikigai is forward-looking in nature. When you have something to look forward to, it’s easier to confront existing challenges in life.

There’s now a lot of self-help material on the importance of mindfulness and appreciating the present. These ideas are already deeply – embedded in the Japanese culture, which places a strong emphasis on savoring life’s fleeting joys, and recognizing the beauty in transience.

The Japanese’s attention to detail further enhances their awareness of their surroundings and their ability to appreciate small joys in daily life.

The Nature of Ikigai

Ikigai is a highly personal, fluid, and multifaceted concept. Different people have different ikigai. We can have multiple ikigai at any point in life, and our ikigai tends to evolve as our interests and life circumstances change. Understanding your ikigai is akin to understanding yourself and your desires.

Mitsuhashi provides several guidelines or contrasts to help you explore your ikigai, which we explore in detail in our complete book summary. Here’s a brief outline:

  • Your ikigai is more likely to be something that connects you to the external world, than something in your internal world.
  • Your ikigai will likely be about giving, not receiving.
  • Ikigai involves fluid experiences that allow for growth and change, not fixed states.
  • Ikigai has to do more with emotions than logic.
  • We’re more likely to feel alive and fulfilled when we get specific feedback that affirms we’re making a real, positive impact.
  • Ikigai must involve action.

Part 2: Discovering Your Ikigai

Sources of Ikigai

Ikigai can be found in a wide range of activities (both work and leisure) that ignite curiosity, passion, and a sense of contribution to the world.

Ikigai book summary - sources of ikigai

To discover your Ikigai is to reflect on the values and priorities that guide your life. In our full 13-page Ikigai book summary, we share more about:

How to find ikigai in both personal- and work-related settings, including strategies like job crafting and cognitive crafting to better understand and engage your ikigai.

• The inspiring journeys of 6 Japanese individuals who found their ikigai in unexpected ways.

Reflective questions to help you understand your deepest interests, recurring themes, core values, and ultimately, your ikigai.

Getting the Most from Ikigai

Remember, Ikigai is not a one-size-fits-all solution or a magical formula for eliminating life’s challenges. But, it can serve as a valuable guide to help you find focus and contentment throughout all stages of life. If you’re ready to unlock joy and meaning in everyday life, then take a dive deep into the transformative concepts through our comprehensive Ikigai book summary bundle. Discover actionable insights, profound examples, and practical tips distilled from Mitsuhashi’s exploration of the Japanese way of ikigai. Our bundle includes an engaging infographic, an insightful 13-page text summary, and a 22-min audio summary.

Ikigai summary - book summary bundle

This is a short, succinct, and beautifully presented book. To hear directly from the author, or learn more about each of the 6 inspiring examples above, do purchase a copy of the book.

Want to learn more about finding meaning and fulfillment in everyday life? Then check out our free summaries for The Power of Now, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Finding Flow.

About the Author of Ikigai

Ikigai: Giving Every Day Meaning and Joy was written by Yukari Mitsuhashi is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles. She grew up in Tokyo and spent most of her childhood in Japan before moving to New York with her family. After graduating from Keio University in 2012, she began working as a freelance translator and writer. At the same time, she set up her blog, TechDoll.jp. While most of her writing is in Japanese, her work has also been featured on the BBC World website.

Ikigai Quotes

“Ikigai can be about the joy a person finds in living day-to-day, without which their life as a whole would not be a happy one.”

“Whatever gets you up in the morning is your ikigai – and no one can tell you otherwise.”

“What is your ikigai? Is not a straightforward question with one right answer but an abstract one, to which an infinite number of responses are possible.”

“Ikigai is the action we take in pursuit of happiness.”

“Ultimately, knowing your ikigai is about knowing yourself, which takes time and effort.”

“Each major event wouldn’t happen without the smaller moments leading up to it.”

“Each person’s ikigai is unique because we all find joy in different aspects of life. There is no right or wrong answer.”

Bonus: FAQs about Ikigai

What are you good at?

Yukari Mitsuhashi suggests that each individual possesses unique talents, skills, and passions that contribute to their ikigai, their reason for being. Through self-reflection, you can identify your strengths and areas of expertise, helping you understand what they are good at and how you can contribute your talents to the world.

What does ikigai mean in Japanese?

The Japanese word “ikigai” is formed from 2 Japanese characters: “iki” [生き] which means “life,” and “gai” [甲斐] which means worth or value. Yukari Mitsuhashi explains that ikigai represents the essence of living a fulfilling life, encompassing the things that make life worth living and bring joy and satisfaction.

What is the meaning of ikigai?

At the core, ikigai is about the joys and values that make life worth living. It’s rooted in the daily pleasures and pursuits that provide us with a sense of fulfillment.

What is the meaning of life?

Through the lens of the Japanese concept of ikigai, it could be argued that the meaning of life lies in the pursuit of one’s purpose and the fulfillment derived from living in alignment with one’s passions, strengths, and values.

Why do Japanese people live so long?

Research often attributes Japanese longevity to factors such as a healthy diet, regular physical activity, strong social connections, and a sense of purpose. Ikigai, which is a person’s reason for being, may contribute to their well-being and longevity by providing fulfillment and motivation to lead a purposeful life.

Click here to download the Ikigai infographic & summary

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