Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary - The Pursuit of Ikigai

Find the Extraordinary in the Ordinary - The Pursuit of Ikigai

 

Have you ever woken up with a spark of anticipation, a sense of purpose that propels you forward? This is the essence of Ikigai, a Japanese concept that has gathered global attention for its profound yet simple wisdom. 


Simply put, Ikigai is a tool for finding more joy. It has been a guiding force for the Japanese people for centuries, dating as far back to the Heian period, which spanned from 794 to 1185. It is derived from the Japanese words "iki" (life) and "gai" (worth or value) and signifies "a reason to get up in the morning." This concept is now deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and emphasises finding contentment from simple pleasures, living in the present and cherishing joyful moments. We all have these moments, and there is no prescription on what brings you personal joy and fulfilment; whether it’s growing vegetables, time with your family, walking your dog, your work or playing an instrument - your own Ikigai is unique to you. 


“When you have ikigai, you don’t need to motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning. Your passion and purpose will propel you forward.” - Francesc Miralles 


Ikigai is sometimes interpreted as a tool to help you find your purpose in your career. The Zuzunaga Venn Diagram of Purpose identifies intersections of your passions, skills, and purpose in life. However the traditional Japanese approach to ikigai is different from that in the West; in particular, Japanese people don’t have a formal definition for the word, and it is an embedded practice in their daily lives. It instead encompasses a much broader spectrum of joy, purpose, and significance across various facets of life including people, such as one’s childrens or friends, to activities including work and hobbies, extending beyond the realm of work.


Blue Zone Living


Okinawa, a small Japanese island, is renowned for its high percentage of centenarians and referred to as a ‘Blue Zone’ - an area of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives (1). In the West, we tend to compartmentalise our adult life in two stages: work and retirement. However, in Okinawa, there is no word for retirement. Instead, the island’s strong cultural emphasis on ikigai, combined with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and an unhurried lifestyle, contributes significantly to their longevity and happiness.


Research highlights that having a sense of purpose can boost longevity. A Japanese TV program which followed 7 elderly residents in Kyotango, a town with a high number of centenarians, tracked their activities from morning till dawn. All seven had high levels of DHEA, a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland that many believe to be the ‘longevity hormone’. The program found that they all had something in common - a hobby they practised every day that they truly enjoyed. One woman in her late nineties spent a few hours everyday carving Japanese traditional masks, another man painted, another went fishing daily. The program suggested that having this one thing that keeps you interested , focused and gives you a sense of satisfaction in life may boost your DHEA , thus leading to a longer and happier life. 


One thing that all of these healthy and active seniors have in common is that each has an ikigai, a source for their zest for life, or something worth living for.  


The extraordinary ordinary 


So where do we begin to find our own Ikigai?


Ikigai starts with the joy of small things. Neuroscientist Ken Mogi emphasises that often, the simplest things are what make people happiest. The Japanese approach to ikigai is often less focused on big achievements. Instead, it involves finding joy in the mundane, such as:


- Savouring your morning coffee

- Watching flowers grow in a garden

- Taking in your favourite view

- Playing with children 

- Enjoying a peaceful walk


Being in the Here and Now


Ikigai is about being present, really focusing on the here and now. This resonates closely with some Buddhist principles of seeing the value in complete and mindful engagement in everyday experiences. Practising activities and actions to cultivate mindfulness and awareness is crucial to embodying ikigai; 


- Try taking deep, intentional breaths throughout the day and refocusing your mind on where you are right now. 

- Engaging in activities that require your full attention, such as yoga, reading a book, cycling, cooking or gardening

- Practising meditation or breathwork exercises 


Ikigai x Daily Rituals 


Ikigai is within the intentional rituals you create in your day to find joy in your life. Thinking about where you place these rituals can be a great starting point;


Rise Rituals -  your morning rituals can begin even before you step out of your bed. As you begin your day,  you may choose to journal, mindfully drink your glass of water or meditate for 10 minutes. Each act is mindful, present and can spark joy. Morning rituals set you up for the day - find what aligns with your passions, purposes and feelings of connection to something bigger. 


Stepping into your home - as you leave the warmth of your bed, place your feet on the ground and wander through your home (in search of a coffee, your work diary or breakfast perhaps) you notice that your home is not just bricks and mortar. Each object around you, paint colour and arrangement of furniture reflects a part of yourself. This is an extension of your Ikigai, a collection of things that bring you joy. Choose items woven with your stories, your creativity and your personality. 


Time to recharge- with our fast paced world, it’s often difficult to find moments to truly take a break. However these pockets of downtime are crucial to your working brain, your productivity and your ability to be present. Taking your time to create your favourite Ancient + Brave drink, finding the alchemy in scooping, mixing and sipping not only rejuvenates your mind and body but strengthens your connection to Ikigai. Upgrade these moments with items that allow for mindfulness, such as a matcha whisk which allows you to embrace the ritual of creating your drink. 


Embracing the brave - As the day unfolds, you inevitably encounter challenges and setbacks. Rather than allowing these to set you back, embrace them as part of your journey, amplifying your ikigai and understanding that each challenge is an opportunity for creativity, resilience and learning. Regular exercise also contributes to physical health and longevity, another essential aspect of Ikigai. Find time in your day to challenge your body physically in some way. In particular finding joy in physical activities, whether it’s a morning run, a dance class, or a simple walk in nature, contributes to a sense of fulfilment and happiness

The Act of Noticing - at different points across the day, work on your art of noticing. Look in awe at nature, the landscape, your body or the face of a loved one. Notice the nourishing food on your plate, the music you hear on the radio, the steam from your teacup, the wind on your skin or the emotion behind someone's words. The Art of Noticing is about cultivating mindfulness and paying close attention to the details of everyday life, which often go unnoticed. By embracing this practice, you can find beauty and inspiration in the ordinary, enhancing your overall sense of presence and appreciation.


Rest Rituals  - As evening draws in, find joy and purpose even within your rest rituals. Whether cooking a nourishing meal, laughing in the kitchen with your loved ones, engaging in your hobby or soaking in the last few hours of daylight in your garden, infuse each action with intention and presence.  This quality time isn’t just about whiling away some hours; they deepen your ikigai.

Slipping into night - as darkness falls, night becomes an impactful time for reflection. Look across your day and find gratitude in moments in which you found fulfilment. This is a beautiful time to sit down with a cup of Cacao + Reishi, and mindfully journal your thoughts and feelings from the day. 


Ikigai is a deeply personal and transformative concept that encourages you to live authentically and purposefully. It’s a reminder that true happiness comes from spending time on what you value and enjoy. Whether it’s pursuing a new hobby, being present for your family and friends, pouring yourself into a career, or making a positive impact, the pursuit of ikigai can help you unlock your full potential and live a more purposeful and satisfying life.


So, what truly motivates you to rise each morning, embracing a new day? 


  1. https://www.bluezones.com/2021/04/the-japanese-concept-of-ikigai-why-purpose-might-be-a-better-goal-than-happiness/ 
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