IKIGAI - A Japanese Philosophy for Finding Life Purpose



In the postmodern age, we are beset upon from an early age with an immense amount of information and possibility; in essence there is so much choice out there in the world we see, enabled by an internet connection, it is mind boggling. On top of that, society expects us to know what we want to do with our lives at an early age; an expectation I personally think to be erroneous and unrealistic. As an evolutionary astrologer, I study natural cycles reflected in the sky, and through observation and correlation, we all tend to come to a natural threshold of clarity and commitment to a path or course of action in life, around the age of 28-29 as the planet Saturn completes a full cycle of the zodiac since birth.


In addition, pop philosophy fervently believes in the idea that we can literally be anything that we want to be (especially allied with the American dream); all we have to do is stay focused and persevere and we will get there in the end. This kind of well intentioned passionate belief, I think puts even more pressure on an individual to reach even harder for the stars, despite the high probability that they are well beyond our reach; it is a rare few with the qualities needed to be a top ballet dancer for example; it just isn't true that we can all excel at ballet given enough practise.

In an earlier post Life Purpose is not a Job Description, I proposed that each of us is already imbued with an image or a vision for a purposeful life, contained within us much like a seed waiting to germinate. But for most of our early life, especially through the current systems of education, we are essentially groomed to be something we are not; encouraged to fulfil someone else's idea of a good life.

Many of us, whether children or adults, simply don’t have a clue what we should do - we can become so distanced from our core essence that it really seems that way, but I think deep down all of us know something true about ourselves, which much like mythical Ariadne’s ball of twine, can guide us out of the labyrinth of confusion. All we have to do is dare to admit this truth to ourselves in order to begin.

Ikigai ~ Reason for Being


The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai (pronounced ih-key-guy), can help us to determine what it is that will give us something to get up for in the morning; it offers a map of sorts, from which it becomes easier to know what isn’t going to work for us, and to begin to distill the true essence of who we are deep inside, into a clear awareness of purpose.


The principle of Ikigai is built from four aspects:


1. We need to choose something that we are good at.

The things we are good at, are based on a combination of nature and nurture. Within the human tribe, nature provides a diverse array of innate skills, predilections and aptitudes, in order to optimise for survival. All of us have qualities that are useful to society, for some it is a leadership quality, for others an aptitude to build, for others it is to think and design, and for others yet it is to nurture or teach. In addition to this, early life conditioning can provide us with specific skills.


Depending on who we are and where we are at in life, this can be an easy or difficult thing to identify. It is very common to emerge from the school system imbedded in strategies that conform to social expectations, and while we have been adhering to these forms, we may not have been able to express anything of significance of our core essence, and have had no feedback and thus no awareness of what we are good at. If we have kept ourselves hidden, then identifying something we are good at may take some time. If this is the case, it is often useful to rely on intuition and gut instinct as a starting point. Sometimes the things we are good at are so natural to us that we can’t see them as others do, and unless we have been appreciated for innate skills, it is reasonable that we might not know. So it helps to consider the most obvious things sometimes.


If we spend too much time trying to do things we are not particularly good at, we may at best become mediocre but will rarely if ever truly excel. But if we pay attention to what we are good at, with less effort we are able to become masterful, which of course contributes a great deal more to society, than mediocrity.

Whatever we are good at, we must also love to do.


This is relatively obvious. The key here is in distinguishing between the excitement we feel over novelty versus the excitement we feel when we are engaging activity that makes us feel alive inside because it resonates deeply with the soul. For younger people, knowing the difference is a bit harder, but time itself will always show the way, as with experience we soon realise if something we love is transitory or not. It is another reason why the age 28-29 tends to be a ripe time for such clarity to become apparent to us.

Whatever we love to do, which we are good at, should also be needed by the world.


This is an important factor, because when something is needed by the world, we are highly likely to be appreciated for what we do (and supported by others), which nourishes a sense of purpose and meaning. If what we do is not recognised enough, it becomes harder to fully validate it as having sufficient purpose.

Whatever we love to do, which we are good at, and which is needed by the world, should also qualify for payment; we need to get paid for what we do.


Aside from the obvious survival necessity that money provides, payment also confers both appreciation and respect that are essential aspects of a purposeful life.

When we get a few of these aspects together they can look like this:



Getting paid for what we are good at, doesn't mean at all that the world really needs it. A profession on its own is not able to satisfy the need for meaning and purpose. There is only so much money that we need, after which it loses meaning.




What we are passionate about, isn't necessarily what the world needs, and it might even be destructive. Passion on its own is not enough to give us purpose.




Having a mission in life is an important aspect of meaning and purpose, but we may not be good at it and therefore cannot fulfil it; a mission on its own is not enough to give us purpose.



To do what we are good at, because the world needs it, is likely to be a selfless act of duty, which will ultimately feel like a burden and lead to unhappiness.



A vocation may well be a noble undertaking, but we may not enjoy what we are doing. A vocation on its own is not sufficient to provide meaning and purpose.





The philosophy of Ikigai teaches that the reason for being can only be reliably attained when all four factors coincide. When we get the synergy of these factors to happen, we are able to enjoy an effortless flow or creativity, passion, willpower, and focus, sometimes called a 'flow state' which can be deeply fulfilling.


Aquila Idha is an Evolutionary Astrologer, Self-Realisation Mentor and Tarot Counsellor.




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