Not in the Oxford Dictionary

Cover pages matter. Especially on days when you browse through a bookshop aimlessly. It is impossible to not run your fingers across the spines of the books as you drift from one rack to another. Usually, we gravitate towards racks that hold our favourite genre and/or writer’s work. This book however, made my head turn. It was present in the self-care section, one that I don’t ever glance towards. Something about this cover seemed to invite me. I didn’t purchase it, but the one word title was seared into my memory. 

Eventually curiosity got the best of me, and I googled the word. Here’s what I learned and what I want all readers to take away from this writeup. 

The word Ikigai roughly translates to a concept of “a reason for being”. Ikigai can be understood as something that you have, possess or partake in that gives you purpose in life. The idea is based on the thought that every individual must have something in their life that they take spontaneous and willing action towards, to get a sense of satisfaction and meaning in life. 

The most common interpretation of Ikigai, shown in modern media, or western media takes us to the following diagram. 

Once we start putting our interests and hobbies, our activities or passions, which can be anything from individuals, to career, we will be able to identify and label what value these things hold in our life. Eventually, we will zero down on one thing, that would fall at the perfect intersection of these 4 circles. The item(s) in that intersecion, is what would be our Ikagai. 

As simple as this seems, there is a parallel story to what the true meaning of Ikigai is. While such a philosophy is open ended, depending on what people perceive to be the idea of “what gives my life meaning”. The 4th circle of “what pays” has been under scrutiny and is deemed as a western concept.

A study done by Central Research Services found out that out of the total sample of population they took, only 31% Japanese believe their work is their Ikigai. 

From what I understood, Ikigai is not what gives purpose to your life it is something you find purposeful in your life, something that makes you wake up in the morning, an image that you can escape to or an activity you partake in, or a person you meet, when life gets dreary. Something that causes you happiness, without it occurring in the instant. The circle for “paid for” doesn’t make much sense then. 

I have come to realise that much too often, we only assign value to things if they generate something meaningful. This obsession with assigning value or worth to things and emotions has transcended vocations and academic studies. Look at the base concept of Utilitarianism as described by Jeremy Bentham, when he stated the highest morality is to maximise happiness, and an overall balance of pleasure over pain. From here we culminated all forms of pleasures into a single entity. As long as a value could be assigned to that happiness, it was considered to provide some utility. Simpler pleasures would thus be neglected here.

While falling down this hole of what Ikigai truly means and how the understanding of it is distorted due to a new interpretation of it, I couldn’t help but question how many times I fell for this ruse. Oftentimes, evaluating what I wish to do would conflict with what is productive and hence what is ‘worth’ doing. It seemed like a terrible paradox. While I sit down and think about what would cause me greatest satisfaction, and what is feasible for me to do, I would factor in the idea of what won’t cause me a guilt trip in future. in the idea of taking a break, There is a lot to learn from the idea of burning out oneself and a lot of practice needs to be put in, 

While we look at the ways in which our modern culture impacts simple ideas like not having monetary association to what gives life meaning, I can’t help but draw the example of the 2018 Pixar release. 

Image 3 & 4

The movie SOUL, was based on the premise of before-life, and what causes us to be the way we are. While extremely entertaining, the movie left the audience, and myself with a lot to ponder on. You see, the image to the right is an ‘earth-pass’ according to the movie. The last empty circle is supposed to be filled with an individual’s ‘spark’. While the protagonist misinterpreted it to be the person’s purpose to come exist on Earth, it later dawned on him that this was not the case. In fact, the ‘spark’ was the person’s reason for happiness, his Ikigai. 

Such cultivation of activities that simply cause you joy is what had me going through in this pandemic. While I do not know the definitive answer for “what is my Ikigai”, I wouldn’t dwell too much into it. But on the side note, I would read this book. The Japanese concept has been preoccupying my mind. And all of this, just because of the perfect hue of blue, a cherry tree in blossom, and a word I didn’t identify at first glance. 

-Anshi Pandey

SY B.Sc. 

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