Mastering the Art of Living

Given that this blog is inspired by a word that has no English equivalent – sobremesa – it seems appropriate to occasionally explore other words from around the globe. Shoutout to Danielle Shover for introducing this one to me.

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced ee-ki-guy) is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.” Or – what compels us to get out of bed in the morning. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding one’s ikigai requires a deep and often lengthy search of self.

Ikigai is mastering the art of living. Consider this, attributed to author Lawrence Pearsall Jacks:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

Here is a great graphic that illustrates a pathway to discovering your ikigai. Its creator Marc Winn writes, “Your ikigai lies at the centre of those interconnecting circles. If you are lacking in one area, you are missing out on your life’s potential. Not only that, but you are missing out on your chance to live a long and happy life.” Not unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, all the areas must be in place for ikigai to be achieved.

In the United States our work life has two short term phases and two long term phases. In the short-term we have our work day and our obsession with making it to Friday. In the long term we have our career and our retirement. I know someone who, from about the age of 30 could quote the day, date, and time of his retirement. Every time I visited him I was treated to a diatribe about his stupid boss, his stupid company, and his stupid co-workers. I was exhausted, I can only imagine how he felt. He’s retired now, and is enjoying life as much as one can with the attendant health issues that accompany being 70+. Imagine if he had found is ikigai 40 years earlier?


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