Even more simple is the question “what do I love doing most?” Your ikigai may lie in the activities that tend to induce a state of being fully and delightfully immersed in that action, what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow” and Abraham Maslow called “peak experiences.”
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, suggested another question to get at your ikigai: “If money were no object … what would I regret not having done with my life?”
There’s no single way to learn your ikigai, and the individual answers are even more varied. Your ikigai may be devotion to friends, cooking, being a good parent, writing, scientific inquiry, fighting climate change, drawing, helping your neighbors and on and on.
García and Miralles interviewed elderly residents of Ogimi, Japan, about their individual ikigai, and their answers included, “I plant my own vegetables and cook them myself,” “getting together with my friends” and “making things with wicker.” Ikigai doesn’t need to be lofty or complicated, and it’s better not to stress about it. Ikigai is largely just the activity that will blissfully keep you busy until the end of your days. (And by pursuing it, you’ll probably have more of those days.)
“You need to find your ikigai in the little things. You’ve got to start small. You need to be here and now,” Mogi writes. “Most crucially, you cannot and should not blame the environment for a lack of ikigai. After all, it is up to you to find your own ikigai, in your own way.”
Once you do that, even if you don’t live to age 100, your life may feel longer because you are more fully engaged with it while you are here.
And living with purpose will encourage other behavior that promotes longevity. “Having ikigai would induce you to lead a healthier lifestyle, with more exercise, increased social activities, and life-long learning,” Mogi wrote to me in an email.
I also asked Mogi about his own personal ikigai. “I used to chase butterflies and study them as a kid. Now, going for a run in the morning is my ikigai. Connecting to people of different backgrounds, going over the borders of language, ethnicity, and nationality, is probably the greatest ikigai of my life now,” he wrote. “So ikigai can be small and big, both of them equally important in one’s life. Ikigai is a spectrum.”
As I think of my own ikigai, the activities that give me the most flow are creative ones, mostly writing (you are reading my ikigai!), storytelling and sharing experiences with my wife and kids. I like to think that these pursuits will have a wider impact on the world, too. If I could spend every day for the rest of life pursuing those activities, I’d die very happy and apparently very old.
You and your ikigai: Till delayed death do you part
Once you find your ikigai, there is really no reason to ever retire from it. The Japanese apparently don’t even have a word for “retire.” It’s the not retiring from your purpose-driven life that seems to be the key factor of longevity and happiness on Okinawa.
It’s not as easy as that sounds, of course. “Modern life estranges us more and more from our true nature, making it very easy for us to lead lives lacking in meaning,” García and Miralles write. “Powerful forces and incentives (money, power, attention, success) distract us on a daily basis; don’t let them take over your life.”
Instead, they advise, follow your curiosity and intuition, which are the paths back to ikigai, as is self-awareness. Find the activity you love, surround yourself with people you love, and stay true to that internal compass.
Mogi has more advice on keeping your ikigai engine running smoothly. His five points boil down to: focus on the details, accept yourself, rely on others, enjoy pleasure and stay present.
“There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end,” García and Miralles write.
Or, great mythology teacher Joseph Campbell summed the more than 1,000 words of advice in this story into just three: “Follow your bliss.”