Ikigai (生き甲斐) – Reason for Being


Ikigai (生き甲斐) is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.” Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self-discovery and reflection.

The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. The word is also used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to economic status or daily state of things.

sungha-jung-sungha-jung-17204895-640-426Even if a person feels that today is dark, but has a goal, he may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make one feel “a reason for being” are not actions which individuals are forced to take – these are natural and spontaneous actions.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” ~Abraham Maslow

In the culture of Okinawa, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED Talk, Dan Buettner referenced ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.

Primary text source – Wikipedia: Ikigai (生き甲斐)

1915202_10153754688664299_2409685134083694770_nThe idea of “kai/gai” from Iki-gai (effect to live) and hataraki-gai (effect to work) means the effect of doing some action is beneficial for everyone, for example to live and work supports the health, happiness and life satisfaction of self and others.

「かい(甲斐)」 動詞の連用形や動作性の名詞などに付いて、その行為をした効果・効験の意を表す。「生き―」「働き―」

Related: Japanese from Okinawa reflect on the importance of Ikigai in their lives  (video) *  Psychology Today: Ikigai & Mortality  * Blog: What is Your Ikigai? *  Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs * Self-Direction is the Key to MasteryEvery Child is an Artist by Nature  * Flow- The Psychology of Optimal Experience  * Paradigms are Made for ShiftingToward a More Creative & Holistic Model of Education  * Real Learning is a Creative Process  *

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” ―Pablo Picasso

“Creativity is not a characteristic of famous artists only. We live in a Creative Universe and are involved in creative activities every moment of our lives. Understanding this more deeply, and teaching this to our children, could lead to a global renaissance of innovation and creative transformation on our planet.” ~Christopher Chase,  How We Participate in the Creative Life of the Universe

“If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that…” ~Alan Watts

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself..” ― Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels…” ~Albert Einstein



About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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11 Responses to Ikigai (生き甲斐) – Reason for Being

  1. I love what I am reading and want to know more!

  2. chiong says:

    Viktor Frankl was the originator of “the reason of being” and he discovered this in the german prison. He found that those with a reason of being had a higher survival rate the others. A person with reason for being is emotionally and psychologically more “healthy” . The path to arrive at this state is through the process of rationalisation.

    Buddhism on the other hand subscribed to abandonment of all notions as the path to peace and mental health. Meditation become the means to arrive at no-mind.

    • “Buddhism on the other hand subscribed to abandonment of all notions as the path to peace and mental health. Meditation become the means to arrive at no-mind.” This sounds like Western ideas about Zen, but Buddhism is much broader than that, even Zen Buddhism, which I am most familiar with (see Buddha’s teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh as an example).


      Buddhism has an 8 fold path. The Japanese cultural ideas on ikigai are rooted there, I think. Wisdom and compassion are essentials, right action and right livelihood which is very closely aligned with the idea of ikigai. But yes, I agree with you, Victor Frankl’s ideas are also very much related.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  7. moirainori77 says:

    Reblogged this on Sunflowers for Moira and commented:
    Ikigai. Even the word sounds lovely.

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