An ikigai-driven life

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo   |   12 August 2017   |   4:05 am  


Forget Hygge, forget Lagom; there is a new on trend word out there you are likely to hear more of soon: ‘Ikigai’ – the Japanese secret to a long and happy life. The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigai – a reason to jump out of bed each morning. And according to the residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa – the world’s longest-living people – finding it is the key to a longer and more fulfilled life.

Ikigai can be summed up as the magic zone where your passion (what you love), mission (what you are good at), profession (what you get paid for) and vocation (what the world needs) collide to form that quintessence of life – what you get up for in the morning.

Most recently, after a few setbacks which I now know for set-ups to reach a far better, healthier, happier version of me, I felt I had lost my purpose in life and did not have a clue what would be my next step. I took a much needed and long overdue ‘Sabbatical’ per se to give myself some breathing space and me time.

As someone who had always felt the footsteps of time chasing closely behind me I only realised when I slowed down just all that I had been missing including the head space I needed to figure out my next move. Hence, for the next two months, for a change, I did not rush myself. I got out of bed when I felt like it, I rested without feeling guilty, retired my watch for weeks and just followed the natural ebb and flow of the day. While I was consciously taking in the world and the magical in the mundane, subconsciously I was working things out, unwittingly taking me closer to my ikigai.

It did not happen overnight, this discover – it was a process and it was a result, I believe, of purposeful prayer. Every waking moment I was waiting for that metaphorical light bulb to flick on in my head, the lightning to strike, the epiphany to reveal itself. When it finally did, it was like the first spark of two stones that had been rubbing and rubbing in the recesses of your mind for some time – sudden and yet slowly building to that first strike.

You see for us non-morning people, finding that purpose that makes you jump out of bed in the morning is the most magical feeling. While I have had quite a few passions and professional interests in my life, as well as career goals and milestone, the power of finding your true purpose goes far beyond any of this.

When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical doctor Oscar Serrallach answered without hesitation: having a sense of purpose. According to Serrallach, while some of his patients have developed great regimes of nutrition, lifestyle activities and movement to support their wellbeing; those without a clear sense of purpose in their life experience continuing struggle with physical health issues. What his healthiest options have in common, on the other hand – despite not having always made the healthiest lifestyle choices – is that they seem to be the most aligned or ‘called’ towards some primary focus of meaning in their life.

Incidentally, since I have had my epiphany I feel more centred, calmer; my health and wellbeing have improved. I don’t even need to hit the snooze button more than once. If this all guarantees a longer life, all well and good, and even if it doesn’t, I am happy packing much intention and purpose into an average lifespan anyway.

It is all well and good telling you all about the virtues of the ikigai – or the purpose-driven life, but what about the journey to finding your own raison d’être?

You can discover your ikigai in a few simple steps. Firstly, take time to yourself and off the mad rush of the world around you. Switch off, mentally and digitally, even if it means daily detox and meditation – if you cannot make time to leave the fast lane for a while. Focus on the rhythms of the day, your body and the world outside, walk, talk, look, even breath with intention, staying as present as can be.

• What do you Love? What aspects of your life bring you into your heart and make you come alive?
• What are you Great at? What unique skills do you have that come most naturally to you? What talents have you cultivated and what do you excel at even when you aren’t trying?
• What Cause do you believe in? What breaks your heart or pulls at your gut? What change would you most love to create in the world? What would you give your life for?
• What do people Value and pay you for? What service, value or offering do you bring, or could you bring, that brings real value to others? Something people need and are happy to pay for or share some value in exchange?

Above all, be patient with yourself. You will not find your ikigai overnight, it may take days, weeks or even months, but when you do, it will be well worth the wait.



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