WHY Find Your ikigai

Barbara Bray
4 min readAug 30, 2020

“Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in
common is that we are all searching for meaning.”
Hector Garcia Puigcerver

When I first learned about ikigai around ten years ago, I was in a deep conversation about the meaning of life with a group of interesting people at an international conference. We were discussing how cultures look at aging and life from different perspectives. Someone mentioned ikigai as the Japanese concept of “a reason for being.” When they said that there was no word for “retirement” in Japan, I wanted to learn more. I decided to research some of the studies they mentioned.

One was the Ohsaki Study (Sone et al., 2008) that found some of the happiest and longest-living people in the world are from Okinawa, Japan. There the average lifespan is seven years longer than in North America. Okinawa has more 100-year-olds than anywhere else in the world. Instead of retirement, the Okinawans use ikigai (pronounced like “icky guy”), which is composed of two words: iki, which means life and gai, that describes value or worth which translates to “the reason you get out of bed in the morning” and what drives you the most. It’s your path to self-realization, unique to you in every way.

The concept of ikigai dates back to the Heian period (A.D. 794 to 1185), but only in the past fifteen years has it gained attention from millions around the world.

The Four Elements of ikigai

ikigai is similar to passion but holds a strong “purposeful” connotation. The Japanese see the discovery of your ikigai as requiring a deep, long search within yourself that can bring about satisfaction and meaning to life. ikigai has nothing to do with income. Start with these four primary elements to determine your reason for living by using the following drawing (Venn Diagram).

  • What you Love: All of us have things we love, but we may not have written them all in one place. Write keywords, phrases, and any ideas about what you love, what you are passionate about, and what makes your heart sing.
  • What you are Good at: All of us have strengths, skills, and dispositions that make us who we are. Write what unique skills come most naturally to you, dispositions needed for your future, and talents to cultivate.



Barbara Bray

Story Weaver ~ Podcast host ~ Author “Define Your WHY” ~ Co-author 2 books on Making Learning Personal ~ Author "Grow Your Why" ~ New Podcast "Real Talk"