IKIGAI: A JAPANESE CONCEPT OF BALANCE

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The Japanese concept of “Ikigai,” is a compound of the two words ‘Iki,’ (meaning life) and ‘Kai,’ (meaning an effect/result/worth/benefit), arriving at the concept of “A reason for living,” or “A meaning for life.” (Watanabe, Skrzypczak and Snowden, 2003). It comprises of a psychological and conscious understanding of what aides the motivation for living (Sone et al., 2008) in a positive sense. 

Neuro-scientific evidence indicates that there are visible differences in the way in which negative and positive processes affect the development and functioning of the brain (Davidson, 2002) which offers some information about wellbeing and mental health.

Every person naturally has a drive to establish meaning in life. This is based on intrinsic motivation, which develops more fully during adolescence compared to other developmental stages (Atkinson et al., 1996; Smith et al., 2003). 

A central premise in understanding your Ikigai is taking time to understand how and where you fit and feel regarding four key premises;
What you love, What the world needs, What you can be paid for, and What you are good at. 

Adolescence is a critical period for development of the frontal lobe and Ikigai. The establishment of Ikigai during adolescence parallels Rousseau’s proposal (1762) that adolescence is a period of “second birth” compared with physiological birth. (Ishida, 2012).

Lack of meaning in life or failure to find purpose leads to feelings of emptiness and anxiety, which interfere with feelings wellbeing (Frankl, 1972a, 1972b, 1975; Kamiya, 2004).

Wellbeing in a western sense can be broadly defined as either “Psychological wellbeing” (Ryff, 1989; Ryff and Keys, 1995) or “Subjective wellbeing,” (Diener, 2000). 

Psychological Wellbeing focuses primarily on the sense of autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relationships with others and self-acceptance (Urry et al., 2004).

Subjective wellbeing focuses primarily on issues such as life satisfaction, satisfaction with domains (eg. Work) and the frequency of pleasant and unpleasant emotions (ibid). 

The difference between the two foci is that the first emphasises positive affect is a feature of wellbeing, where as the second understands that growth, purpose and mastery may or may not be accompanied by feeling good (ibid; Ryan and Deci, 2001). 

Ikigai as a philosophy is an additional method of looking both internally and externally at the various elements of life that can develop meaning in life in order to find a balance. 

A central premise in understanding your Ikigai is taking time to understand how and where you fit and feel regarding four key premises; What you love, What the world needs, What you can be paid for, and What you are good at. 

Once one begins to understand their feelings and attitudes to these domains of life, they are able to think about how to go about addressing things they feel could be deficient within their lives, in order to address the balance that could unlock a sense of wellbeing that could have positive affect on psychological and physiological wellbeing. 

Ikigai as a philosophy is an additional method of looking both internally and externally at the various elements of life that can develop meaning in life in order to find a balance. 

References:

Atkinson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., Smith, E. E., Ben, D. J., & Nolen-Hoeksema S. (1996). Higard’s introduction to psychology. Philadelphia: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 

Davidson, R. J. (2002). Toward a biology of positive affect and compassion. Visions of compassion: Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists examine human nature, 107-130.

Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American psychologist55(1), 34.

Frankl, V. E. (1972a). The meaning of meaninglessness: A challenge to psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 32, 85-89. 

Frankl, V. E. (1972b). Ausgewählte Vorträge über Logotherapie. Bern: Verlag Hans Huber. 

Frankl, V. E. (1975). Der Unbedingte Mensch. Bern: Verlag Hans Huber. 

Ishida, R. (2012). Purpose in life (ikigai), a frontal lobe function, is a natural and mentally healthy way to cope with stress. Psychology3(3), 272-276.

Kamiya, M. (2004). Ikigai ni tsuite. Tokyo: Misuzu-Shobo. 

Rousseau, J. J. (1762). Émile ou de l’éducation. Tokyo: Iwanami-Shoten. 

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual review of psychology52(1), 141-166.

Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology57(6), 1069.

Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of personality and social psychology69(4), 719.

Sone, T., Nakaya, N., Ohmori, K., Shimazu, T., Higashiguchi, M., Kakizaki, M., … & Tsuji, I. (2008). Sense of life worth living (ikigai) and mortality in Japan: Ohsaki Study. Psychosomatic Medicine70(6), 709-715.

Smith, E. E., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Fredrickson, B. K., & Loftus, G. R. (2003). Atkinson & Hilgard’s introduction to psychology (14th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson. 

Urry, H. L., Nitschke, J. B., Dolski, I., Jackson, D. C., Dalton, K. M., Mueller, C. J., … & Davidson, R. J. (2004). Making a life worth living: Neural correlates of well-being. Psychological science15(6), 367-372.

Watanabe, T., Skrzypczak, E. R., & Snowden, P. (2003). Shin Wa-Ei daijiten. Kenkyūsha.

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