Ikigai – The Japanese Formula for Happiness

The Improvement Pill channel on Youtube recently posted a video explaining the Japanese formula for happiness, called Ikigai.

The video basically ends with the following Venn Diagram:

Whilst watching the video and thereafter I was thinking about how different aspects of my life fit, might fit, or perhaps even once fit, into this diagram.

A key aspect of my life, as for many people of my age, is my job and this is where the above diagram, coupled with IP’s video, might help people fulfil this aspect of their lives. I’m not so sure it can be employed for other/all areas of one’s life but I discuss this in a future post.

Ideally a job would be more than just a job, as the IP’s Diagram illustrates; an ideal job would:

  • involve something you’re good at
  • add meaning to your life
  • be of benefit to others
  • pay you well

Beyond this, a great job would be all of this and more; you would feel passionate about what you do and it would also be challenging enough.

I feel fortunate, and other people comment on how lucky I am with regards to the work I do, and to sum up the reasons for this, it is because my job interlocks with a few aspects of my life. I essentially fix computers for people and this was born out of an interest in fixing things; as a child any broken toys I had, such as radio controlled cars or other gadgets, I would take them apart and see how they worked with a view to fixing them, or creating something out of the bits (not always successfully I might add, but it was satisfying to me).

If I refer now to the Venn diagram above I can see how my job, which involves taking things apart and putting them back together, already completes two interlocking circles: It’s something that I love and it’s something that I’m good at, therefore I have a passion for this. Of course this might not be a job for some people, it might simply be a hobby, but as the red text on the diagram tells me “You need to figure out how to make money doing this.” Clearly I have succeeded in doing this because I have now been doing this job for 15 years. However, this is not to say my job “pays well”, it is more that it fits my lifestyle and I don’t need to earn more. To be honest, I could get any low-paid job and potentially earn more but this would be at the detriment of other aspects of my life and completing the Ikigai diagram.

The reason my job works well for me is because I’m self-employed and I have no children or other things to demand I have more money coming in (besides the bills and interests which I ensure don’t make too much of a demand on my income). I have also kept myself flexible to the demands of the job; when I started in business I really wanted to be building computers for people, but it turned out there wasn’t a great deal of demand for this and it also didn’t fit well with another motivator: the desire to recycle. Therefore I focus more on repairing what people have rather than trying to talk them into throwing something out and buying something new. Perhaps this fulfils that other circle in the Venn diagram; I think recycling is “Something that the world needs” to do and therefore it becomes my Mission.

Also, when occasionally finding myself in a position where others would be spouting a sales pitch I feel quite uncomfortable – I’ll say what the benefits of buying from me are but I wont overstate things and in the end if they buy from elsewhere I like to still be approachable for further assistance. I don’t like selling things for the sake of it because I’m also anti-hoarding and I wouldn’t want to be a part of someone’s decision to buy something they don’t really need.

In another way that my own flexibility has been beneficial is when I stopped working from the premises I had begun at. Demand had already dictated that I didn’t stay confined to a premises but instead visit clients to assist with their problems, so when I had to move out it didn’t mean my income was greatly affected; I was continually providing a service people needed and being paid to do so.

Skip forward a couple of years and after cycling to and round Scotland for a couple of weeks I discovered my desire to not drive a car every day. My trip had been an eye-opener to what was possible and my dislike of roads filled with cars – I no longer wanted to be a part of this and due to my own ageing car and the fact I had been gradually using it less and less (due to cycling more and more), I parted company with my car and made cycling everywhere a real thing. Again, I made this aspect and desire in my life fit in with my work. Cycling everywhere not only benefits me, but it feels like I’m doing it for the benefit of others and the environment.

My point in highlighting all these aspects of how my job fits in with my life in these ways is to explain that I didn’t plan it this way or really employ these features with any ultimate plan in mind; I certainly wasn’t aware of Ikigai or such diagrams as above at the time. Instead I employed one thing after another as and when I felt the need or ability. I began with what I enjoyed doing when I saw there was a possibility to earn some money from it, the rest followed on from there. I think this is important for those that are unsure about what they want to be doing in life. Once I was comfortably earning an income I was then able to tweak various aspects when I felt the urge to do so; the ability to follow such nudges is important for the sense of feeling that you are on the right path in life: keep employing the things that Spark Joy (to borrow a term from the Japanese organising consultant, Marie Kondo), and work towards cutting out any negative aspects.

As mentioned, some people perceive some sort of luck has been involved, but I think it has been more about flexibility.

In the Improvement Pill video the narrator uses a school teacher as an example in that often teaching will begin as someone’s ideal job but as the years pass, they can find the job becomes monotonous where they’re essentially teaching the same stuff year in year out. I have certainly pondered this during my time as a student and I can recall teachers of mine who had obviously lost their passion for the job (assuming they once had a passion for it) and others who were immensely passionate – the latter being the best kind. A strict school curriculum to adhere to could also prevent job satisfaction for teachers. I have certainly noticed how my own freedom to learn what I want has enabled me to find interest in subjects I didn’t actually do so well at at school.

My own job, while it may sound wonderful, as some people remark, does have its downsides. When things are going well, then I find myself in my element (a concept I have talked about before). I can have a packed schedule for example and get a buzz from this. However, very occasionally something will occur that disrupts my flow; a job might not go to plan, take longer than expected, or leave me underpaid for the time I have spend on it. I might even have an unhappy client from time-to-time. I feel that sometimes the level of responsibility is more of a burden, especially when compared to what I earn. In now referring to the Ikigai Diagram I can see that if the job becomes stressful then it is likely that too few aspects are being fulfilled. By acting on these things I have worked to reduce such occurrences. To overcome the depression that can result I remind myself of the better times I’ve had previously and the better times ahead; if there is a lack of work and therefore a lack of money coming in then I don’t need to worry so much because I earned enough the week before, if a client refuses to pay me what I need to charge to earn myself a living or for some reason they aren’t happy with my efforts then I think of the people who have remarked on the reasonable and excellent service I have provided. I suppose it can at times be beneficial to trick our perceptions in this way, but of course one must not be delusional.

A key to finding a job that has Ikigai for you, is to look to things you in life, however minor, that fall into that diagram above and have the potential to earn you some money. Focus on what Sparks Joy. From there, as the occasions present themselves, you can hopefully span out what you do into other areas of the diagram, or work to interlink them. But remember, even if your job is just a job, in that it earns you a wage, if you can find other things in your life that help you complete the diagram then I’m sure you will still also be on the right path to finding your Ikigai.

Here is Part 2.

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