The Japanese Principle of Ikigai: Finding Your Reason To Live

Sammy Rubin explores the Japanese principle of "Ikigai", or a reason to live, in finding your vocation and creating a business that will make a positive impact.

Sammy Rubin - 3 November 2020

What is Ikigai?

Iki in Japanese means life. Gai means the reason. Ikigai is all about finding one's reason to live.

I was introduced to the concept of Ikigai when exploring the route of motivation and wellbeing, both individually and in business. Ikigai originated from Okinawa, a small island off the coast of southern Japan, known for its unusually high number of centenarians (people living beyond 100 years) and low rates of illness.

Okinawan residents were living and working past their 80s and 90s and seemed to be living happy healthy lives with a long tradition of creating productive and meaningful lives. And the research revealed that this led to high levels of happiness and personal satisfaction.

The Okinawans gave this lifestyle a name: Ikigai. Ikagai combines the spiritual with the practical, existing at the intersection of our passion, and values with what the world needs, and is willing to pay for. At the centre of these four main areas of life is Ikigai - essentially our reason for being or in simplest terms, “what makes me get up in the morning.”

This diagram shows you how all the elements can work together:

The four concepts of Ikigai

  1. What do I love? Each person has different priorities and loves in their life, whether that’s their family, their work, education or making a difference in the world. But they all love something, and that is also their passion.
  2. What am I good at? While you may love to do many things, you also may only be good at a few. Bringing together what you’re good at with what you love will enable you to live a meaningful life.
  3. What does the world need? When you think about your purpose, the passion you follow should also be something that is needed in this world. When you then bring in what the world needs, our passion becomes our vocation.
  4. What can I be paid for? The mission you follow, the passion you embrace and the vocation you choose will not be sustainable unless it is something that people will pay for.

How can Ikigai be applied to business?

Just like the residents of Okinawa, great businesses have achieved true Ikihai by mastering the art of bringing these four concepts together and applying them to the long term vision of the business. It’s these three questions which are important to ask yourself:

  1. How can we do what we love?
  2. How can we channel everyone’s strengths towards a single mission that fulfils a need in the world?
  3. And how can we create a sustainable foundation that people value and pay for?

As I continue to build YuLife within an industry that has been around for over 100 years, I aspire to master the art of ikigai. Our purpose, “to inspire life”, combined with a team that brings their own individual strengths will enable us to achieve greatness. And, as we look to the future, we think about sustainability. It's not just about now how we can create a workplace for ourselves now, but how can we create a sustainable company for the next hundred years.

Reflecting on the principles of ikigai, I encourage you to remember to stay true to what you’re passionate about, tune in to what the world needs, focus on what you're good at and make sure people value and pay for your business. The result will not only be a business that makes a positive impact on the world but your own feelings of joy, fulfilment and balance in life.

Sammy Rubin

Sammy Rubin is the Founder & CEO of YuLife, a life insurance company that strives to offer effective life cover and improve the health and overall wellbeing of its users.