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Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being". The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one's life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.


The word consists of 'Iki' (to live) and 'gai' (reason).[1] The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (生き) meaning "life; alive" and kai (甲斐) meaning "(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail" (sequentially voiced as gai) to arrive at "a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d'etre".[2]


Ikigai can describe having a sense of purpose in life,[3][4] as well as being motivated.[5] Psychologist Michiko Kumano describes Ikigai as eudaimonic well-being, as it "entails actions of devoting oneself to pursuits one enjoys and is associated with feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment".[6] The word ikigai is also used to describe the inner self of an individual, and a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel ikigai are not forced on an individual; they are percieved as being spontaneous and undertaken willingly.[7]

National Geographic reporter Dan Buettner suggested ikigai may be one of the reasons for the longevity of the people of Okinawa.[8] According to Buettner, Okinawans have less desire to retire, as people continue to do their favourite job as long as they remain healthy. Moai, the close-knit friend group is considered an important reason for the people of Okinawa to live long.[9]


In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, ikigai was thought to be experienced towards either the betterment of society ("subordinating one's own desires to others") or improvement of oneself ("following one's own path"). In the 21st century however, ikigai's focus has shifted towards the self; instead of "self-sacrifice", the focus is on developing oneself.[10]

According to anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-de Silva, for an older generation in Japan, their ikigai was to "fit this standard mold of company and family’", whereas the younger generation reported their ikigai to be about "dreams of what they might become in the future".[11]

A 2012 study in the Global Journal of Health Science suggested that having the feeling of ikigai influenced the functioning of the prefrontal lobe.[12] Some studies[vague] showed that people that don't feel ikigai are more likely to experience cardiovascular diseases. However, there was no evidence of any co-relation with development of malignant tumors.[13][14]

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  1. ^ Mogi, Ken (2017). The little book of Ikigai. Great Britain: Quercus Editions Ltd. pp. 5, 6. ISBN 9781787470279.
  2. ^ Watanabe Toshirō (渡邊敏郎), Edmund R. Skrzypczak, and Paul Snowden, eds. (2003), Kenkyūsha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (新和英大辞典), 5th edition, Kenkyusha, pp. 127, 459, 130. In the game go, iki especially means "alive" (able to remain on the board indefinitely): "in go normally a situation in which a connected group of stones of any size contains at least two independent liberties [me] and so cannot be captured by an opponent".
  3. ^ Schippers, Michaéla (2017-06-16). IKIGAI: Reflection on Life Goals Optimizes Performance and Happiness. ISBN 978-90-5892-484-1.
  4. ^ Mathews, Gordon (1996). "The Stuff of Dreams, Fading: Ikigai and "The Japanese Self"". Ethos. 24 (4): 718–747. doi:10.1525/eth.1996.24.4.02a00060. ISSN 0091-2131. JSTOR 640520.
  5. ^ Schippers, Michaéla C.; Ziegler, Niklas (2019-12-13). "Life Crafting as a Way to Find Purpose and Meaning in Life". Frontiers in Psychology. 10: 2778. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02778. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 6923189. PMID 31920827.
  6. ^ Kumano, Michiko (2018-06-01). "On the Concept of Well-Being in Japan: Feeling Shiawase as Hedonic Well-Being and Feeling Ikigai as Eudaimonic Well-Being". Applied Research in Quality of Life. 13 (2): 419–433. doi:10.1007/s11482-017-9532-9. ISSN 1871-2576.
  7. ^ Nakanishi, N (1999-05-01). "'Ikigai' in older Japanese people". Age and Ageing. 28 (3): 323–324. doi:10.1093/ageing/28.3.323. ISSN 1468-2834. PMID 10475874.
  8. ^ "How to live to be 100+".
  9. ^ Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Penguin Books. 2017. ISBN 978-0143130727.
  10. ^ Manzenreiter, Wolfram; Holthus, Barbara (2017-03-27). Happiness and the Good Life in Japan. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-317-35273-0.
  11. ^ Ozawa-de Silva, Chikako (2020-02-11). "In the eyes of others: Loneliness and relational meaning in life among Japanese college students". Transcultural Psychiatry: 136346151989975. doi:10.1177/1363461519899757. ISSN 1363-4615.
  12. ^ Ishida, Riichiro (2012). "Reducing Anxiety in Stutterers through the Association between "Purpose in Life/Ikigai" and Emotions". Global Journal of Health Science. 4 (5): 120–4. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v4n5p120. PMC 4776915. PMID 22980384.
  13. ^ Sone T., Nakaya N., Ohmori K., Shimazu T., Higashiguchi M., Kakizaki M., Kikuchi N., Kuriyama S., Tsuji I. (2008). "Sense of life worth living (ikigai) and mortality in Japan: Ohsaki Study". Psychosomatic Medicine. 70 (6): 709–15. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e31817e7e64. PMID 18596247.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Tanno K., Sakata K., Ohsawa M., Onoda T., Itai K., Yaegashi Y., Tamakoshi A.; JACC Study Group. (2009). "Associations of ikigai as a positive psychological factor with all-cause mortality and cause-specific mortality among middle-aged and elderly Japanese people: findings from the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study". Journal of Psychosomatic. 67 (1): 67–75. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.10.018. PMID 19539820.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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