Find your IKIGAI

You are lost.

In the blink of an eye, the semester has come to an end and you can’t figure out what you have done this semester. After completing your obligations, you have nothing else to do and you realise how empty you are inside. You start to feel isolated and frustrated at yourself because people around you are so great and driven. Yet, you are doing nothing other than coursework.

However, your frustration appears because you do not have a purpose in life. Without purpose, you cannot plan your present and future out of it.

You know this. You know that you need a solution, but you do not know where to start. Thus, let me share a book with you – IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. The book is written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. It gives insights on various aspects of life which can help us to achieve a long, happy, and purposeful life. For university students like us, we want to focus more on how to have a purposeful life.

What is IKIGAI?

The book authors, Garcia and Miralles, assure us that the frustration we have is our desire to have a meaningful life and to find our IKIGAI. IKIGAI is the reason of our being. Although it can be transformed or adjusted many times over the years, we all have our IKIGAI. It does not come by itself within days. Rather, we need to discover it with patient search.

You may ask: why should we find our IKIGAI if we will find it over time?

Garcia and Miralles answer this by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche’s words:

“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

Besides giving a clear sense of direction, Garcia and Miralles explain that IKIGAI helps us to endure almost any harsh condition. When we hold on to our IKIGAI, we can overcome every obstacle we meet.

Then, another question may arise: how is IKIGAI different from the passion that everyone talks about?

If you look at the diagram above carefully, you would realise that passion is part of IKIGAI. You could look at it from whichever sequence you want.  I have numbered them for the sake of explaining.

(source, original photo edited by Lua Yun Xin)

IKIGAI questions

What does the world ‘need’?

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read this question? Jot it down, this might be the issue that you care about the most. Let’s just say Stacy (a made-up person) thinks of the issue of racism.

Then, what you love to do? For instance, Stacy loves to socialise and meet new people. Stacy loves it when she gets to have one-to-one conservation with them because she thinks everyone comes from different walks of life and she could learn something valuable from them.

Next, what you are good at? Stacy is good at researching information and analysing them. She is especially capable of applying the conclusions she gains in a real-life scenario.

Finally, what you can be paid for? Stacy thinks that she could be a researcher in the future because Stacy is good at researching.

Combining all your answers, you now can see a clearer picture of your IKIGAI. Using the example mentioned, Stacy’s IKIGAI is to be a researcher who tackles the racism issue. Stacy loves to connect with people from different races and collects their opinion on how racism should be reduced. She is good at analysing these qualitative data and from there may come to a conclusion about racism.


If you could answer the four questions above immediately, congratulations, you have found your IKIGAI! If you have not, do not worry, Garcia and Miralles have introduced another important concept: the flow state. The book indicates that one of the IKIGAI’s key ingredients is the ability to reach this state of flow. Thus, we could use the flow state to find our IKIGAI. 

Garcia and Miralles mention how Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, described the flow state. The flow state is “the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life”. You will know when you experience the flow.  Involving in the activity for three hours feels like only a few minutes has passed. According to the book, we experience the flow state when we are focusing on a concrete task without any distractions.

Three strategies to achieve flow state

If you could not recall when the last time you ‘flowed’ was, be aware from now on. The book also suggested a few strategies to adopt to increase your chances of achieving a flow state.

The first strategy is to choose a difficult task (but not way beyond your ability). It is because we are likely to get bored when the task is too basic. On the other hand, if the task is too difficult, we do not have the required skill sets to complete it. It would certainly cause anxiety.

The second strategy is to have a clear and concrete objective. This is because we are more likely to waste time and energy on meaningless tasks if we have a vague objective. While we keep the clear-defined objective in mind, we do not have to obsess over it. If not, we would have neglected the flow process and fixated on completing the objective and in the end, fall exhausted.

The third strategy is to concentrate on one task at a time. People often think that multitasking will save more time. However, the book suggests that it actually wastes more time. According to Csikszentmihalyi, to focus on a task, we need: (1) to be in a distraction-free environment and (2) to have control over what we are doing at every moment.

Flow is like a muscle: the more you train it, the more you will flow, and the closer you will be to your IKIGAI.

What if you are still lost?

If you still could not find your IKIGAI and achieve the flow state, don’t be upset. You could look more into the last section of the book. It talks about a collection of different techniques which helps your mind and body stay healthy. You could try these techniques and better prepare yourself for future challenges.

Garcia and Miralles argue that gentle movements promote life-longevity. The book introduces some gentle exercises from the East, for example, Yoga, Sun Salutation, Radio taiso, Tai Chi, Qigong, and Shiatsu. It also talks about emotional resilience that helps you to face life’s challenges without letting your stress and worry age you. To have a mental workout, Garcia and Miralles also encourage readers to continue to learn new things. The healthy diet of Okinawa, a Japanese island famous for its high life expectancy, is also introduced.

Finding my IKIGAI

Although I have found my IKIGAI before reading the book, I now have a more structured understanding of my IKIGAI. In my opinion, finding IKIGAI is not the end, it is meaningful only when we take persevering action to achieve it. I sincerely hope reading this was helpful and wish for you to find your IKIGAI and shine in the future.

Written by Lua Yun Xin

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