Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy combining the terms iki, meaning “life” or “alive”, and gai, meaning “worth” or “benefit”. Together, these terms describe life’s purpose or meaning. In many English-speaking countries, ikigai is defined as a reason to get out of bed in the morning. An ikigai diagram is a powerful framework based on Japanese philosophy for discovering one’s life purpose.
Ikigai is thought to have evolved from the basic health and wellness principles of traditional Japanese medicine.
Specifically, that physical health is connected to mental health and a sense of life purpose.
Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano argued ikigai is a state of wellbeing derived from devotion to activities one finds fulfilling and enjoyable.
Kumano also compared ikigai to eudaimonia – an ancient Greek concept describing lasting happiness from a life well-lived.
The philosophy has also found use in modern cognitive-behavioral science, with the pursuit or mastery of enjoyable activities known to alleviate depression.
The four components of an ikigai diagram
The ikigai diagram was created by mentor and speaker Marc Winn who represented the philosophy as a Venn diagram.
Many practitioners suggest Winn’s diagram is a westernized misinterpretation of the concept.
This may be true, but we can still learn some important lessons from it.
As with all Venn diagrams, the ikigai diagram uses overlapping circles to illustrate the relationships between two or more factors.
Let’s take a look at them now:
- Circle 1 – that which one loves, or the things we derive the most joy from experiencing.
- Circle 2 – that which the world needs. This may be something a small community needs, or humanity in general.
- Circle 3 – that which one can be paid for. Not all passions or joyful experiences can be monetized.
- Circle 4 – that which one is good at, including hobbies, skills, talents, or capabilities.
With that in mind, below is a look at how each circle overlaps:
- Where circle 1 and circle 2 overlap, an individual finds their mission.
- Where circle 2 and circle 3 overlap, an individual finds their vocation.
- Where circle 3 and circle 4 overlap, an individual finds their profession.
- Where circle 4 and circle 1 overlap, an individual finds their passion.
- Where mission, vocation, profession, and passion overlap in the center of the diagram, one finds their ikigai or life purpose.
Some key points about ikigai and ikigai diagrams
Here are some things an individual should keep in mind when attempting to discover their life purpose.
Ikigai is not all work and money
Firstly, there is no requirement that ikigai be related to work or money. Many Japanese people pursue their ikigai for as long as their health allows, which may be related to family, a dream, or simply the spiritual belief that life is worth living.
Removing work from the equation means the third circle should also be removed from the diagram.
Ikigai should never be overwhelming
Society places a lot of pressure on people in the West to find their singular life purpose. What’s more, their purpose must be ground-breaking, extraordinary, and unique.
In the East, ikigai is more humble. Instead of a single, lofty goal, there is more of an emphasis on process, immersion, mastery, and sharing this excellence with others.
Ikigai can change or evolve over time
Following on from the previous point, one’s life purpose can be tweaked or changed at any point in life. There is no need to blindly adhere to something no longer working.
The Japanese consider ikigai as something that evolves as people evolve. Many may have several life purposes for this very reason and never let the prospect of change hinder the enjoyment of life.
Let’s take a look at two ikigai examples to explain how someone may arrive at their life purpose.
Peter the entrepreneur
In the first example, entrepreneur Peter sits down to fill out the four circles.
That which one loves
Peter loves to empower others to live the life they desire and derives great satisfaction from seeing those around him realize their potential.
These are not empty words to Peter. He relishes the opportunity to help entrepreneurs tackle problems head-on, conquer their fears, and achieve their wildest dreams.
That which the world needs
Peter is confident that his consultancy company will benefit the world because it empowers leaders in start-ups to see their ideas come to fruition.
These companies are often in new or critical industries that address some of life’s most wicked problems such as food security and climate change.
That which one is good at
Peter is an entrepreneur himself and understands the trials and tribulations of getting a new company off the ground. With years of experience, Peter has an attitude characterized by persistence and humor which are both critical in early-stage businesses.
Unlike others who may hoard information or best practices, Peter is willing to share his expertise and professional network with others to help them succeed.
That which one can be paid for
Peter’s passion for helping other entrepreneurs realize their vision is happily something he can be paid for. His consultancy business affords him a more than respectable income, and in the future, he plans to put his capital and expertise to work in a seed or angel investor capacity.
Mary the nature lover
In the second example, we have Mary the nature lover. Mary adds information to the four circles so that she can find a fulfilling and rewarding new career based on her unique skillset.
That which one loves
It will be no surprise that Mary loves the natural environment – whether that be fauna, flora, fungi, or otherwise.
Mary is also a passionate volunteer at a local environmental non-profit that seeks to restore and protect coastal ecosystems.
She enjoys leading school groups and other interested parties into the dune system and educating them on its importance and significance.
That which the world needs
Mary understands that the world needs people who are not only interested in protecting its natural resources but can motivate others to do the same.
That which one is good at
In a past life, Mary was a successful project manager in an unrelated industry and thus is skilled in communication, decision-making, leadership, and team-building.
Mary is also able to work well under pressure and is a superb negotiator.
That which one can be paid for
Mary considers that she could become a botanist or ecologist with her excellent knowledge of local species and project management skills – but this would still require that she complete a multi-year Bachelor’s degree in environmental science.
To pivot into a new career more quickly, she decides that a project management position within an environmental charity or non-profit is a better choice.
- An ikigai diagram is a powerful framework for discovering one’s life purpose by considering Japanese philosophy.
- An ikigai diagram is a western misinterpretation of the original Japanese concept. Nevertheless, it remains an important way to help clarify life purpose. This purpose can be found at the intersection of four circles: what one loves, what the world needs, what one can be paid for, and what one is good at.
- There is no requirement for an ikigai diagram to produce a life purpose dominated by work or money. Practitioners who want to develop an ikigai based on family or spirituality can simply omit the third circle from the diagram.
- Ikigai Defined: Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy that combines the terms “iki” (meaning “life” or “alive”) and “gai” (meaning “worth” or “benefit”). Together, they represent life’s purpose or meaning. In English-speaking countries, ikigai is often described as a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
- Origins and Evolution: Ikigai is rooted in traditional Japanese medicine, linking physical health with mental well-being and a sense of purpose. Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano connected ikigai with fulfilling and enjoyable activities, akin to the concept of eudaimonia in ancient Greek philosophy.
- Ikigai Diagram: The ikigai diagram, represented as a Venn diagram, was created by Marc Winn. It highlights the intersection of four circles:
- Circle 1: What one loves or derives joy from.
- Circle 2: What the world needs, whether on a small community or global scale.
- Circle 3: What one can be paid for, considering monetization of passions.
- Circle 4: What one is good at, including skills, talents, and capabilities.
- Components of the Diagram:
- Overlap of Circle 1 and Circle 2: Mission or purpose.
- Overlap of Circle 2 and Circle 3: Vocation.
- Overlap of Circle 3 and Circle 4: Profession.
- Overlap of Circle 4 and Circle 1: Passion.
- Central Overlap of All Circles: Ikigai or life purpose.
- Key Points About Ikigai and Diagram:
- Not Solely About Work and Money: Ikigai doesn’t require a focus on work or money; it can be related to family, dreams, or spiritual beliefs.
- Avoiding Overwhelming Pressure: Eastern interpretation of ikigai is humble and emphasizes process, immersion, mastery, and sharing excellence, rather than pursuing groundbreaking goals.
- Evolution Over Time: Life purposes can evolve and change, and individuals shouldn’t hesitate to modify their paths.
- Examples of Ikigai:
- Peter the Entrepreneur: Peter’s passion for empowering others aligns with the world’s need for innovative solutions, and he can monetize his expertise, resulting in his life purpose.
- Mary the Nature Lover: Mary’s love for the environment, skills in project management, and desire to contribute to the world’s needs direct her toward a career in environmental conservation.
- Key Takeaways:
- Ikigai is a concept representing life’s purpose and meaning.
- The ikigai diagram is a westernized interpretation but provides a framework to understand one’s life purpose.
- Ikigai need not be work-centric; it can encompass family, spirituality, and more.
- Life purposes can change, and the pursuit is more about the journey and shared excellence.
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