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Stories from Inspire

Why the Japanese Concept of Ikigai is More Relevant Now Than Ever

by Voices Wellness 08 Feb 2021
Photo: Unsplash

Life may be uncertain but why not let your inner purpose become the compass to your growth? By SAMANTHA FRANCIS

 We’re two months into 2021—a year that brims with hope despite the onslaught of anxiety and suffering from the ongoing pandemic. While most of us hesitate to dream up lofty aspirations and resolutions due to feelings of uncertainty, there’s good reason to welcome the fresh year with a positive mindset.

Enter ikigai, a Japanese concept that translates to “a reason for being”. Simple, straight-forward, and without fluff, the idea refers to having a direction in life. This very purpose is what makes one’s life worthwhile and guides the individual’s actions so as to give them satisfaction and meaning to life.

While staying in during Singapore’s seven week-long circuit breaker, I found myself reminded of hygge, a Danish word that conveys a mood of cosiness and contentment. Working from home offered an inviting change of pace compared to being in the office, giving me the opportunity to be more flexible with my time. Concurrently, the self-love movement globally also drew attention to the importance of mental health breaks, proper rest time, and work-life balance.

But despite staying productive, I often found work spilling over to my off hours—conducting Zoom meetings at odd hours and replying to emails late at night just because I could. On the other end of the spectrum, I also fell prey to procrastination, spending hours on the Nintendo game Animal Crossing and binge-watching Netflix all night under my duvet just because I had nothing else to do.

By the time the circuit breaker ended, I felt exhausted and sorely lacking in purpose. That’s when I discovered ikigai, touted as the antithesis of hygge; if the hygge encouraged us to slow down and enjoy doing nothing, then ikigai asks that we strive to find a reason for living.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Having weathered a challenging 2020, ikigai reminds us to refocus our energies and re-adjust our sails for the year ahead. Things that we’ve taken for granted all this while, like traveling and gathering in large groups, were no longer possible, forcing us to re-evaluate what truly matters.

In a world where external forces are uncertain, we can only turn inwards to ourselves. Ikigai aptly calls for us to devote ourselves to pursuits that we enjoy and are associated with feelings of accomplishment and fulfilment. With industries, especially travel and F&B, devastated by the pandemic, people have had to pivot their career paths to something else. In the Lion City, air stewards have turned to operating hawker stalls, while countless retrenched white-collar professionals have turned to e-commerce businesses.

One might argue that this is for survival, but more often than not, these people have uncovered a passion or hobby that they’ve never had the chance to properly pursue—now with the added incentive of monetising it.

Meanwhile, home-based hobbies like gardening, baking, and crafting, formerly reserved for the rare leisurely weekend, have grown in popularity. Not coincidentally, these same activities are also closely associated with the ability to de-stress by virtue of the fact that mindfulness is required. By being in the here and now, these activities give meaning to our lives, and when done together with our loved ones, offer a platform for bonding.

Experts have also suggested that ikigai may be the reason for the longevity of the people in Okinawa, who’re said to have less of a desire to retire as long as they’re healthy and able to do their favourite jobs.

In a nutshell, ikigai is the meeting point of life’s fundamental components: passion, vocation, profession, and mission. Though not everyone is fortunate enough to have a job that they love, this age-old ideology encourages us to dig deep and find what sparks joy in our hearts, then let it carry us through our lives; whether as a weekend hobby for days when work leaves us feeling jaded or as a passion worth sharing with our community.

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