Ikigai: Finding Joy Through Purpose

The winter months can be a little bit difficult for some. Darker, gloomier weather can affect your mood, and the cold temperatures can make getting out of bed in the morning feel like a chore. So GoConnect started thinking a little bit about how to ease the suffering (especially for those of you who thrive in the sun).

Finding Meaning

Sonia Jackson

Ikigai is the Japanese ideology that focuses on finding joy in life through purpose. Directly translated, iki means life and gai means value or worth. As author Mieko Kamiya said, “It’s what allows you to look forward to the future even if you are miserable right now.”

To understand a little more about this concept, GoConnect spoke with two ikigai experts. Senior Professional Career Coach Sonia Jackson explained more about the ideology. “According to the Japanese everyone has an ikigai: the place where passion, mission, vocation and profession intersect. It’s often associated with a Venn diagram with four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.

“It’s not always linked to social success or ambition, but to the passion of a subject, the love of simple things, the attention and detail of a precise moment—the need to live for the here and now and to feel fulfilled. It’s the feeling of waking up raring to go each day,” she continued.

Road to Discovery

So how do you find out what your ikigai is? 
Katheryn Gronauer

Katheryn Gronauer is the founder of Thrive Tokyo, a company that helps foreign professionals and families transition to living, working and thriving in Japan through a combination of cross-cultural training, orientation programs and private transition coaching. GoConnect asked Gronauer how she found her ikigai, and what advice she would give to people looking to discover theirs.

“While I came to understand my ikigai in depth over the course of building my business, I think the first time I felt a spark ignite in me was back in high school when I gave a presentation to my entire school on wellness and seasonal affective disorder. I was living in Connecticut at the time, which was a huge adjustment for me—it was a really dark and cold environment and my body had a tough time adapting, given I had grown up in sunny Florida. Being able to explain a concept to people who were all experiencing similar challenges for reasons that they might not have been consciously aware of—along with tips on how to make it better—gave me a huge adrenaline rush and I knew that I wanted to find ways to experience that rush again. The work I do now complements that initial feeling.”

“You can have more than one ikigai!” said Jackson. “Helping connect people to their purpose, helping them recognize what they are brilliant at, and seeing their passions fulfilled is definitely one of them. I am often with people who are so misplaced in their roles and to me it’s quite obvious what they should be doing. It’s hard to see into our own blind spots, isn’t it? And that connects seamlessly to my other ikigais: empowering women, widening the reach of education, and protecting our natural world.”

Gronauer went on to explain how you can find your own ikigai. “You need to explore the activities that you are drawn to. Through engaging with those activities and reflecting on why they bring you joy, you can find your ikigai. Making a shift towards doing what you love and being in your element takes courage to step out of your comfort zone, and the more you try, the clearer your ikigai will become.”

What Difficulties Can You Face?

Jackson explained that ikigai sits somewhere between self-fulfillment and one’s own definition of meaning, which can lead to difficulties when trying to find it for yourself. “Finding it is a process of introspection, self-reflection, analysis and discussion. This often goes back to uncovering roadblocks from childhood years, or significant morale and self-belief issues. Clients have cried, laughed, screamed and jumped. I accompany their journey of self-discovery and allow them the freedom to spend time really thinking about themselves.

“Taking time for interests, keeping focused and having daily satisfaction from personal achievements are all things we can each do without help,” explained Jackson. However, she emphasized the importance of finding an ikigai coach. “Coaching will become much more present in the future. If you want to win the 100-meter race you get a coach, if you want to build muscles in the gym you get a coach—you wouldn’t dream of being a tennis pro without a coach, but most people think that finding the job you love is something they can do alone. This will change.”

Gronauer explained that many people run into difficulties by thinking too much, instead of doing. “I think the difficulties people experience is simply that they spend more time thinking about what could make them happy, and not enough time trialling and exploring what that can really feel and look like for them. Take it one step at a time: you got this!”

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