engraved in the human heart is a longing for which the japanese have a single word: ikigai, n., “one’s reason for being.” in japanese culture, we each have an ikigai, and those with the grit and the patience to search will find it. the japanese consider this journey of self as one to be taken very seriously, believing that only those who have discovered their ikigai will live a life of meaning, satisfaction, and joy.
earlier this month—may 2014—psychology researchers patrick hill and nicholas turiano published a study in psychological science, in which they asked 6,000 participants three questions to measure their sense of purpose, and twelve questions to measure their positive and negative affect (“during the past 30 days, how much of the time did you feel… “cheerful”, “in good spirits”, “extremely happy,” “satisfied,” “so sad nothing could cheer you up,” “nervous,” “restless or fidgety,” “worthless”…)
the three statements that hill and turiano used to measure sense of purpose in life were the following, for which participants were given the choice to agree or disagree in varying strengths (strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree, strongly disagree):
- “some people wander aimlessly through life, but i am not one of them”
- “i live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future”
- “i sometimes feel as if i’ve done all there is to do in life”
after 14 years, hill and turiano accessed national mortality data to determine which of the study participants had died, controlling for other physical and psychological factors known to contribute to an individual’s risk of death. decedents scored significantly lower in purpose in life than did survivors, but did not score differently in positive or negative affect. in other words, the experience of positive or negative feelings did not necessarily predict longevity, but having a sense of purpose in life did. as the study authors put it, “the benefits of purpose cannot be explained by psychological and affective well-being.”
ikigai is, literally, a combination of the words life + value. it is the undercurrent in your work and your play. it propels you forward, infuses meaning in the mundane, and affords balance and rest in your everyday. and, as hill and turiano discovered, it feeds the force that keeps your heart beating.
what is your ikigai?
PHOTOS TAKEN FROM TUMBLR, UNABLE TO LOCATE ORIGINAL SOURCES