The Benefits of Having a Purpose in Life

The Japanese have a great word – ikigai – which is thought to combine the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live”, and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for”. Together these definitions create the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life.

While many people struggle to find what their purpose is in life (myself included), experts suggest reflecting on four simple questions:

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need from you?
  • What can you get paid for?

As you can see from the diagram at the top of the page (copyright World Economic Forum), when the answers to all of these questions intersect with each other) in the middle, that is where you will achieve ikigai.

There are four combinations of the four questions that only include three of the four circles. For example, looking at the diagram above, when you combine What are you good at? with What does the world need?, with What can you be paid for?” you are “comfortable but have feelings of emptiness.

According to Dan Buettner, an expert on Blue Zones, the areas of the world where people live longest, the concept of ikigai pervades the life of these islanders. Combined with a particular diet and support network of friends or “moai”, ikigai is helping people live longer on Okinawa as it gives them purpose.

But just knowing your ikigai is not enough — you must put your purpose into action, says Buettner. Researchers stress that ikigai can change with age.

And if trying to answer four questions seems like too much, Neil Pasricha, a Canadian entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and author (his newest book is The Happiness Equation suggests finding your purpose through his Saturday Morning Test. This entails contemplating your response to one question “What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do?”

If I answer that with “sitting around reading”, it looks like I would satisfy the What do you love? What are you good at? What does the world need from you?. However, I likely won’t make any money from such a passive activity.

According to the diagram, such a choice would lead to delight and fullness, but with no wealth. Since I need to make a living, perhaps I should wait to ask myself that Saturday question again, in six years.

Here’s to all of you finding ikigai.

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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