During a month that has brought terror and disbelief to our peaceful shores, we have also witnessed an outpouring of compassion, care, love and determination to change. First responders, members of parliament and local council, religious leaders and community members were all fuelled by their purpose.

Living a purposeful and meaningful life is closely tied to enhanced physical and mental wellbeing.  Research has identified that individuals whose daily actions represent their purpose have an increased lifespan and strengthened resilience. Multiple variables contribute to this outcome. Having an identified purpose can:

  • Boost people’s motivation and provide them with a reason for living
  • Provide people with a heightened sense of direction on how they want to live their life
  • Support people to bounce back from challenges and setbacks faster. As the 19th century philosopherNietzscheonce proclaimed, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”
  • Encourage the frequency of people’s experiences of positive emotions, especially optimism and hope. Optimism and hope have been closely tied with improved heart health, performance, creativity and innovation.

When discussing purpose and meaning, the question is often how do I set about discovering mine?  An age-old ideology from Okinawa Japan, called Ikigai (pronounced “E-Key-Guy”) can support this exploration.  In Japanese, “Iki” = Life and “Gai” = Purpose, so Ikigai is “life’s purpose”. To highlight the link between purpose and longevity, Okinawa, where Ikigai is cemented at the heart of their way of being, has more centenarians per capita than anywhere in the world.

Ikigai has four directions:

  • Do what you love
  • Do what you are good at
  • Do what the world needs
  • Do what you can be rewarded for

Your Ikigai may be your career, or it may be a hobby or outside passion. For those who place themselves in the latter half of that equation, they may think of it as having a part-time Ikigai which their full-time employment funds, with the hope that one day that could transition into their full-time Ikigai.

If you would like to discover your own Ikigai, reflect on the following:

  • Discover what you love: What brings you energy and what do you “light up” about when you talk about it?
  • Discover what you are good at: Is there something you do that people provide you with consistently good feedback about? Strengths testing may also be helpful, a systematic way of identifying what you are good at.
  • Discover what the world needs: This will be different for us all, so using your values as a compass may be the place to start. Based on your core values, what in your view is important for the world and its people?
  • Discover if you’ll be rewarded for it: You’ll need to do your homework on this one. Is your Ikigai something you can be paid for, or will it become an engaging and meaningful activity/hobby outside of paid work?

Ikigai is a verb. It’s an action. Your meaningful life is not a destination, it is how you live.