A fascinating Japanese concept can be both very useful and very detrimental
Nice post, Mssimo!
I hadn't heard of the term ikigai until this blogpost exc a day earlier, in Netflix's series on longevity (Blue zones"). According to its narrator, inhabitants of the five blue zones, live so long because they eat well, move a lot, have lots of friends and have a purpose in life - you see images of Okinawans taking care of their garden and helping eachother, Sardinian 90 year-olds taking their sheep to the mountains, Nicoyan centenarians riding horses - many of these people working for a living or for charity almost every day of their lives. Basically Marcus Aurelius' reason to stand up every day.
(Those blue zones of high longevity are: Okinawa in Japan, Icaria, a Greek island in the east of the Aegean, the highlands of Sardinia, Italy, Nicoya, a Costa Rican peninsula in the Pacific and a 7th day Adventists community around Loma Linda (San Bernadino CA)
Thanks for the nice and informative text. I have two doubts on which I would like to know your opinion:
1. Could it be possible that one's 𝘪𝘬𝘪𝘨𝘢𝘪 was the possibility of dedicating one's days to promoting eudaimonia, understood as the possibility of achieving pro-sociality, rationality, pleasure, the absence of pain, virtue, flourishing and peace of mind (as long as these things were not in competition)? I.e., is it fair to consider 𝘦𝘤𝘭𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘮 the idea of following different Antique approaches to find eudaimonia instead of considering it something in total accordance to our nature?
2. Regarding the meaning of life found in the idea of 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘪𝘯 𝘢𝘤𝘤𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘯𝘢𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘦, do you think that the 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘰𝘴 is an ultimate guideline of how nature works or perhaps to generate the idea or desire of satisfying some 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘰𝘴 could there be other natural principles (such as basic chemical reactions involved in our homeostasis) that generate them and that make us experience them as imminent desires accompanied by the conscious or unconscious intention of satisfying them plus the idea that this works according to a 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘰𝘴 (even though it is not the case)?
Hope my English is clear. :)
A lovely summary at the end of your piece Massimo which highlights the need for us to do the work of finding a coherent philosophy of life with practical steps to use in a daily & moment-to-moment way.: "The value of ikigai, I think, is that it reminds us that there are things that make us get up in the morning, that make our life valuable and purposeful. But that’s only half of the equation. The other half consists in a critical self-analysis to figure out whether some of the possible sources of ikigai ought to be rejected and others cultivated. In so doing we move from the descriptive to the prescriptive, from posing the question to begin to articulate possible answers."
"In modern times the term was popularized by Natsume Soseki in his novel Kokoro, published in 1912."
This claim, which looks like it's from Crossley-Baxter's article, is a bit puzzling, because Kokoro does not seem to contain the word "ikigai" as far as I can tell. His previous novel Kōjin (The Wayfarer) does use the word multiple times.
I think it's important to note that "ikigai" is a compound word, as Crossley-Baxter explains. It's certainly not one untranslatable chunk of thought that the Japanese are alone in the world in coming up with, and it seems to me to have amazing marketing catered toward people who want to think of Japan as being more exotic than it is (which include some Japanese people in Japan).
Congratulations, Massimo, on your one-year anniversary. I will remember this day easily relative to my own of yesterday, where I survived my CVA that took me “down for the count” paralyzed. Nine years have passed, and most would think I sprained my ankle, at first glance--and I need to always be thankful for that. I am fortunate continuing on the road of recovery, but not to it. It will always be a journey. I will never be like before. (A bit like repairing you car after an accident.) What are the components of my “ikigai?” I need to go back before my stroke to to the time of working. I was raised by Greek and British immigrants who were poor and without formal education. All they had were their hands, common sense and their strong work ethic. I was put to work at age nine helping with the catering business and remained employed until September 7, 2014. I could easily relate to this “ikigai” because “working” always would be, and was my intention to be, even if I retired. I recall the day I chose my career course at 17 in the local library with the Barron’s guide in hand. It was either to become an astronomer or a filmmaker. I chose the latter thinking I could incorporate my love for astronomy through filmmaking (and astronomers were making $17K at the time 🙄). I matriculated at NYU’s Film School and landed a career at CBS News. This Venn diagram of overlapping circles perfectly targets what I achieved and who I became. HOWEVER, after my stroke, paid employment was extracted out of my life because of disability. The closest experience where I thought I would die was nine years ago yesterday. (Another was hitting a bus broadside, but that was instantaneous.) There was a two-fold part that would be involved to "Getting up in the morning.” One, is to simply to survive. When you are disabled, and you believe that getting up means your survival, you will get up (if you can). I recall your saying your practice of taking cold showers once a week (and I do this often, too--it’s the reminder I suppose 😊), but if you are in a situation where you must get up because it means your survival, you will. My second reason is there is living life. This is where I particularly believe in Stoicism. We have love, we have passion, we can contribute and ethically participate in the cosmopolis, and we don’t need to be paid for it. Stoicism doesn’t require it. But the “ikigai” seems it can particularly apply to western civilization. I don’t know much about the Japanese except they seem to have always had strong collective work ethic. Both before and after their westernizing. Marcus Aurelius likened a part of our pursuit of eudaimonia with work--just like the lower organisms working--as a part of Nature. It can be any work that gives back positively to the cosmopolis. I do so whether consulting academics with the media; sharing knowledge of astronomy to colleagues or social media; or in the memories of others of conversations over forty years ago. I would like our work to stem from our passion. Often that is not the case for so many. But when the case exists, our passion shows our enthusiasm, and that is attractive. Money can be left out of the equation, but we look for it where we can. As for the detriment of “ikigai," I don’t know enough to comment. But I can say before my accident I might have accepted such a “philosophy.” But I find Stocism much more suitable with my disability and that eudomonia can still be achieved as long as we are still compos mentis. 😊
Great entry! Thanks
Excellent article. Most Asian women I've met on line, Japanese or Chinese, are super committed to working, mostly on Crypto currency. ???
I would argue that you should NEVER reject your ikigai, only work to change it. If you reject the thing that keeps you voluntarily alive, you are rejecting life itself, which includes hatred sometimes. I feel like the goal is to become aware of the ikigai concept so that you can use it to steer your choices deliberately, rather than judging/accepting/rejecting whatever your ikigai happens to be at a given moment. Life is not whack-a-mole where you smack down bad motivations, it's a maze of choices to navigate in your own unique manner.
Interesting piece. Lived in Japan 3+ years, in an old traditional style farm house, late 80s- early 90s. Learned enough conversational Japanese-n hiragana/katakana to get by. Even with that extended look, Japanese society is a very tough one to get a grasp of as a “gaijin”...the meaning of many of their words do not ‘translate’ well.
What always fascinates me is that like so many ‘terms’ or ‘popular concepts’ once you dive on and trace the roots and cultural contexts the meaning becomes ever more complex. As a psychologist the shorthand use of CBT as if it is the solution to our troubled states of mind is
a good example as is the ever more popular ‘mindfulness’ business. The roots of CBT are obviously rooted in stoicism and mindfulness in meditation- trying to convey the true depth and
value of these ideas without examining the roots and richness of both has often been a struggle.
Thank you for this as I increasingly hear the term Ikigai being banded about - again without too much reference or understanding of what it’s roots are and how it can, or cannot, be usefully related to our European philosophical and cultural context.
Really interesting post. I’d never heard of the anti-social Ikigai before. Looking at the 4 circles with that in mind it’s interesting to note that someone can love spreading hatred, be good at it and these days get paid for it. Only the 4th “What the world needs” circle stops it from being someone’s Ikigai but perhaps such a person needs wisdom to see that.
Congratulations on the year in!
Why--to read Figs in Winter; what other motivation for getting up and getting on with it could possibly be needed?
Wow Massimo! I just finished reading a book on ikigai. 🙂 I think my ikigai definitely involves lots of caring for my family, gardening and making maths models.
An important component of my Ikigai is music - to listen to it, to learn about it, to create it