Finding Your Ikigai

Many people in the world today are suffering a crisis of identity. The modern world is not at all conductive to a sense of purpose. Families live apart from each other. Marriage and relationships are not expected to last, or to produce descendants. We work to put food in our mouths, not for joy or out of a sense of duty to our fellow man. We buy and consume all manner of products in a desperate attempt to feel as though we're part of something, using clothes, phones, and cars to symbolize our status, or our belonging to a particular social group. We skip from hobby to hobby, always consuming, never learning skills or developing ourselves intellectually. We have lost faith in religious order, government, and our fellow man.

But it turns out the problem isn't in what we pursue in our lives as a nation, but as individuals. Many of the things mentioned above bring purpose to individual people's lives, just not to everyone. One person may feel their life is full of meaning when they have two children, whereas another may find that children distract them from their love of the arts. Likewise, in every possible source of meaning they are a million and one variables. One person who finds meaning in rearing children may be a parent, another may adopt or foster, another may become a teacher, another a pediatrician, another a writer for a children's show or magazine. Someone who finds meaning in the arts may be a creator, a historian, or even a collector or patron. No pursuit in life is automatically meaningful, no matter how deep and important it may seem to you, or to the people around you. No pursuit in life is automatically meaningless, no matter how aimless and idle it may seem to you, or to the people around you.

So how do we find meaning in our lives, when the things we believe will bring meaning, and the things we are told to do, may not be meaningful at all for us?

The Japanese have a concept called Ikigai

The word is a combination of the words “iki”, meaning “life”, and “kai”, meaning “result”, or “worth”. The idea behind it is that there is something in your life, or something which could become a part of your life, that brings value to everyone and everything around you: yourself, your family, your community, and your environment. This is your life purpose, your Ikigai, and when you find it you will have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, something you enjoy more than anything else during the good times, something to help you through the hard times, and something to provide a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day, letting you rest well in your bed at night.

Many people find their Ikigai eventually, usually by accident. They become a parent, land a dream job, start travelling, write a book, find religion, or create an invention, and suddenly realize that this is what they needed to do all along, that this is what they want to live and die for, that this is their contribution to the planet. For most of these people, however, this discovery comes after years of soul searching, or even decades of aimless wandering. The vast majority of them will not find their Ikigai until they are in their forties or older, sometimes leading to unwanted commitments and a deep sense of regret about the past. And those are the people who find it. Many more people never find their Ikigai, and struggle every day to find meaning in the little things around them, which often do not provide the sense of purpose they need.

 So how do we find an Ikigai? Well, first we need to start by finding the four meanings.

The four meanings of life are: love, talent, usefulness, and profit

These four meanings are the cornerstones of your Ikigai, and all four need to be present. However, it is not as simple as leaping out and picking something with all four meanings. This is because each meaning needs to be discovered separately, being unique to the individual and their environment.

Discovering what you truly love, the Kondo method for life

If you have investigated purposeful, meaningful living, you have likely come across minimalism and the Kondo method. If you have not, then quite simply the Kondo method is a way of de-cluttering. You take every item in your home, ask yourself if it truly brings joy to your heart, and if not, you get rid of it. Discovering the things you truly love is a similar approach. You write down a list of everything you are grateful for in life, then you go through with a fine tooth comb and ask yourself “could I live without this?” Naturally, you can live without many things. But if the idea of going without something or someone tugs at your heart, then you love it.

Discovering what you do well, using your time efficiently

This one involves a habit which is dangerous when not done consciously: comparing yourself to others. You need to consider everything you do and scale it based on how well you do it. The point scale goes:

Can't Do – Worse Than Average – Average – Better Than Average – Better Than Most

The things you can do average or above are the most important, as these are things which you have the potential to develop into fine skills. However, the longer you have been doing something, the more likely it is your limit. Something you do averagely after a week is therefore more likely to be a talent of yours than something you do better than average after a decade.

Discovering what the world needs, the charity that builds civilization

This one involves stepping completely outside your own personal interests. To discover what is useful and lacking in the world. Some things are lacking but not needed. Some things are needed, but available. Some things are lacking but we cannot provide them. The point is to write out a list of things which are needed right now, whether or not you believe you can help them come to fruition. This is important on two levels. Firstly, it tells us what sort of a world we live in and what may be expected of us. Secondly, it tells us what gaps there may be in the market for people with our skills and interests. Which leads us to...

Discovering what you can profit from, sustaining yourself

This covers all possible sources of employment. Just log onto any job hunting website and read the listings in your area, even the ones which do not apply to you. These are the ways people can make money in your little corner of society. These are the ways in which you can sustain your own life. You won't be able to do all of them. Not all of them will be truly necessary, and therefore not all will be stable. Not all will be enjoyable. But that is what is available right now in terms of ways to support yourself.

So what can we do with these four life meanings? We must combine them, to find something greater than the sum of its four parts.

Action: the combinations of twos add value to our lives

Each of those individual lists of meanings is completely pointless without action. The refrain goes: “You are what you repeatedly do.” But you can't repeatedly do something just because it is nice, you're good at it, it's needed, or it makes money. Very few of these things we can actually do. In fact, the only one we can actually do at all is what we are good at. We cannot do something we love but can't do, we cannot do something the world needs if we can't do it, and we can't make a profit from something we cannot do. And if being able to do something is all it has going for it, we will not be able to keep it up. Imagine repeatedly doing the same thing over and over without anyone using it, without getting paid for it, and without enjoying it. Over time these pursuits become completely stale to us. So the only things we do are a combination of two or more meanings. The Japanese theory breaks down the combinations into a mere four, not a full six, but the other two still exist and could be defined as the four virtues.

The four actions

The four actions defined by the concept of Ikigai are passion, mission, profession, and vocation.

PASSION is the combination of talent and love. When we combine talent and love, without use or profit, we find something that we can do, that we enjoy doing, but which does nothing for us socially or economically. It brings us joy and uses our skills, but nothing else.

MISSION is the combination of love and use. When we combine love and use, without talent or profit, we find something that we enjoy, that is needed, but which we cannot deliver upon. It is not of a high enough standard to help others, nor to make a profit for ourselves to live on.

PROFESSION is the combination of talent and profit. When we combine talent and profit we find something which we can do very well and make money off, but which brings us, and those around us, no joy. It has no security and no pleasure behind it.

VOCATION is the combination of profit and use. When we combine profit and use we find something which is needed and which we can live off, but which we do not enjoy and are not skilled at. As such we are unlikely to develop the skills in this field and are likely to quit or be replaced by someone more dedicated.

The two virtues

Secondarily, we have the combinations which we cannot always act upon, but which represent the ideals that civilization is built upon. These virtues are important for our emotional and spiritual health.

SELFLESSNESS is the combination of talent and use. Selflessness is a virtue because it connects us to others and brings society together. Nobody is useless to society, but not everyone is useful and capable all the time. For example, Stephen Hawking is an amazing mind, but without the support of others we could never hear his thoughts. Or an intellectually different child may bring profound joy to her parents, but will always need the support of those around her. By supporting each other, even if we gain nothing from it, we allow everyone the opportunity to give something to civilization, which benefits us indirectly by preserving our great societies.

SELFISHNESS is the combination of love and profit. Many people believe selflessness to be a virtue and selfishness to be its polar opposite, a hateful, hurtful behavior. However, selfishness is better defined as self-care. If we were selfless all the time, we would use all our time on charity, give away all our goods, and starve in a ditch. There is always more need than we have resources to offer. Selfishness is that line in the sand where we provide for ourselves first, where we put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. And this virtue allows us to continue helping others for longer, to multiply our usefulness to society, and to build a society according to our own ideals.

However, neither the actions nor the virtues are your ikigai. They are good pursuits to have around the sides, but none of them is a good reason for living. Your ikigai has to add even more.

Our emotions: many people get stuck when they come to a combination of threes

A combination of three meanings is often a plateau for people seeking a sense of purpose, and the longer it takes to get there, the more likely you are to stop at this final hurdle. These four combinations are so difficult to overcome because they genuinely bring us deep joy by stimulating our four positive emotions. However, we must move beyond the four positive emotions if we are to find our Ikigai.

The four emotions

Positive emotions can be so hard to create that when we find one, we may think of it as the Holy Grail and become highly defensive of it. Although all of these combinations are good for us, none of them provide a sense of true purpose or peace. It is important to find them, because they are essential to reaching our Ikigai, but we must not stop when we get here.

SATISFACTION is the combination of love, talent, and profit. When we do something we enjoy, are good at, and make money from, we tend to feel satisfied after a day's work. However, the downside of this emotion is that it comes with uselessness. As your actions are not needed, it is possible that your profit will be lost some day, setting you back to a passion. This uselessness leaves us seeking something more to connect us to humanity as a whole.

COMFORT is the combination of talent, profit, and use. When we do something we are good at, can make money from, which is needed, we tend to feel comfortable. However, the downside is that our life has little fulfilment. We do not enjoy what we do, we just wake up every morning and do it, because we have grown used to it and because we are afraid that it is the best there is. This lack of fulfilment means that you are not happy, and this action cannot be your ikigai.

THRILL is the combination of profit, use, and love. When we do something we can make money from, which is needed, and which we love, we tend to feel excited. However, the downside of this emotion is that because we are not good at what we are doing, our future under this action is deeply uncertain. We cannot rely on this action to sustain us forever. This uncertainty means that you are relying on luck to continue this action for your life, and it cannot be your Ikigai.

DELIGHT is the combination of use, love, and talent. When we do something which is needed and we love, and that we are good at, we feel a genuine joy, a natural high at being connected to our own wellbeing and that of others. However, the downside is that we cannot profit from these actions, so we have no wealth. This leaves us in the position of relying on others, of not putting in as much as we take out, eventually building resentment on both sides: on theirs because you do not contribute, and on yours because you have no wealth.

The one and only Ikigai

The reason so many people get stuck at the emotional hurdles presented by the combination of threes is because of how much hardship and sacrifice it takes to get there. We have learned throughout our lives that we discover meaning through trial and error. We find a profession, or a passion, but we have to give them up because they do not provide us with all that we need from life. It can be very disheartening to find something satisfactory, or comfortable, and to realize that it still leaves a little void in our sense of purpose. However, this hurdle is actually the easiest to overcome.

Whereas in the case of meanings we cannot stick to one meaning on its own, and in the case of actions and virtues we cannot improve upon them, and must leave them behind, when it comes to the combination of three which leads to emotional fulfilment we don't need to throw it out the window and try again. Discovering our Ikigai is not a case of doing something completely new, but of tweaking and specializing combination of three to add the final meaning to it.

For example, a teacher may love her work, be paid for it, and be good at it. But if her service is not needed it can lead to instability. She must therefore find an aspect of teaching which is needed, for example special education, private tuition, or simply teaching in an area where her skills are necessary.

Or a sculptor may be talented, providing creations that the world needs, and be paid for it, but feel empty as the art the world wants and needs is not what they wish to create. He must therefore find a client for his more personal, intimate works, someone who will buy the art he loves creating.

When you are that close to your Ikigai, it takes literally a single step to reach it. So don't settle for a pleasant emotion. Take that last step and find fulfilment.

11 Tips For Becoming A Morning Person

Research shows that the early bird actually does catch the worm. Early risers are inclined to better grades in school, more productivity, faster career advancement, less stress, and a feeling of greater happiness than their late-waking counterparts...

11 Tips For Becoming A Morning Person

Introduction

Research shows that the early bird actually does catch the worm. Early risers are inclined to better grades in school, more productivity, faster career advancement, less stress, and a feeling of greater happiness than their late-waking counterparts. Unfortunately, studies also reveal that your late-sleeping or early-rising inclination may be genetically hardwired.

About 1 or 2 in 10 people are natural morning birds, or Larks. Night Owls comprise roughly 2 or 3 in 10. The rest are Hummingbirds, arising early sometimes, late on other days, flitting back and forth between Night Owl and Lark status.

If your sleeping habits are pre-destined because of your genes, is it possible to reset your biological clock? Sleep researchers have proven you can. To reap the many benefits of getting up early, follow these tips for a transformation from Hummingbird or Night Owl to morning Lark.

1 – Set a Waking Schedule... And Stick to It

Natural early risers get up at the same time every day, even on holidays or weekends. You should do the same. Your internal clock is just like a mechanical one. It can be programmed. You can't change your natural sleeping and waking inclinations overnight, but you can do so over time. You may find yourself, from time to time, staying up late. Regardless, don't sleep in the next morning.

You have to aggressively set a waking schedule for early in the morning and stick to it. You may find this process difficult at first. Going to sleep earlier than usual could lead to sleepless nights of tossing and turning. If you find yourself tired in the mid afternoon, treat yourself to a 20 or 30-minute nap. Only do this as long as your nap-time does not leave you foggy and drowsy.

2 – End Your Sleep with Sunlight

Night owls and hummingbirds can become morning larks by sleeping with their blinds or curtains open. When you let daylight awaken you naturally, this gentle process can help slowly reset your biological clock. You should still set an alarm, timing your alarm to go off when the sun rises.

3 – Go Outdoors Early in the Morning

As soon as possible after waking up, go outside. Take your dental floss or cup of coffee outside to add part of your morning process to this new routine. Exposing yourself to daylight in the morning helps make you alert. You can trick yourself into getting up early by having someone set your clock ahead. Don't watch them do it.

This way, you don't know if your clock is 5, 10 or 15 minutes fast. This gives you a small and simple safety net that guarantees you are up early enough to enjoy a morning outdoors. If weather or some other reason keeps you from going outside upon rising, head for the sunniest window in your home. You can alternately buy daylight bulbs that effectively reproduce artificial sunlight.

4 – Kick the TV Out of Your Bedroom

You have to understand that your bedroom is for sleeping. This means removing your television, any electronics with LED displays, excess furniture, clothing and any other items that don't promote a sleep-friendly environment. Don't kid yourself, saying that you are only going to watch TV for "a few minutes" before bedtime. Just 10 or 15 minutes of watching television, texting on your smart phone or checking in on Facebook alerts your brain and all of your senses. This makes it very difficult to fall asleep.

5 – Read a Good Book Before Bedtime

Reading somehow lends itself to sleep-promotion, unlike watching television. So does listening to soothing music. However, you should limit the amount of time you spend on either one of those activities. If you decide to read or listen to calming music before you shut your eyes at night, do it for the same period of time every night.

You will notice that routine and repetition are mentioned throughout these tips. That is because your brain responds best to consistent and repetitive action when you are trying to break an old habit or adopt a new one.

6 – Prep for the Morning the Night Before

Night owls are usually rushing around in the morning because they hit the snooze button several times and are running late. You can help your early morning rising by making it relaxing and easy on your nerves. The night before, set out the clothes you're going to wear the next day.

Pack your lunch if you take lunch to work. Prepare your kid's lunch boxes, program your coffee maker to go off automatically in the morning, and do as much as you can for your morning routine the night before.

7 – Use Mood Lighting at Night

Only use dim lights at night in your bathroom. If you have to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night, a blast of bright lights can make it difficult to go back to bed. The same is true for your pre-bedtime rituals. Brushing your teeth or removing your makeup should be done with minimal lighting, and the lighting you use in your bedroom at night should also be soft and sleep-friendly.

8 – Stop Hitting the Snooze Button

People who hate getting up in the morning tend to do it several times. That doesn't make much sense, does it? A night owl is blasted awake by his morning alarm. He dreads the thought of getting up, so he hits the snooze button for 5 more minutes of rest. 5 minutes later, the alarm goes off again, and the whole feeling of hating to get up is repeated.

Morning people arise immediately upon hearing their alarm. You should do the same. You actually make yourself more tired and cranky by trying to catch several 5 or 10-minute snooze button naps before you decide to finally, begrudgingly get out of bed in the morning.

It will be difficult at first, but after a few weeks you will have programmed yourself to live without your snooze button. If this process means immediately enjoying a cup of caffeine-rich coffee in the morning so you can stay awake, that's fine, but don't overdo it with more than 1 cup.