The Japanese art of kintsugi involves repairing broken pottery with gold leaf to produce something more valuable and beautiful than the original.
Imperfections form part of the character and the beauty of the new piece of art (Ayuda, 2018).
How we live, personally and professionally, can also become fractured.
Another Japanese practice, ikigai, can help us heal and find purpose. Like kintsugi, it produces a more fulfilling, complete, and valuable whole (García & Miralles, 2018).
In this article, we look at how to find your ikigai and uncover self-knowledge and meaning along the way while increasing balance and happiness in your life.
Before you jump in, we thought you might like to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free. These creative, science-based exercises will help you learn more about your values, motivations, and goals and will give you the tools to inspire a sense of meaning in the lives of your clients, students, or employees.
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3 Evidence-Based Questionnaires
Finding a direct translation for the Japanese word ikigai and, perhaps more importantly, the ethos behind it is not straightforward.
Ikigai can be understood as a “composite construct, encompassing meaning, motivations and values in life,” say researchers Dean Fido, Yasuhiro Kotera, and Kenichi Asano (2019).
The performance and enjoyment of an activity and our life purpose are all ikigai, arising from a deep awareness of the following (García & Miralles, 2018):
- Passion – what you love
- Vocation – what you are good at
- Mission – what the world needs
- Profession – what you can get paid for
According to Yukari Mitsuhashi (2018), ikigai not only concerns our overall life goals and meaning but is found in individual moments and curiosity for every aspect of our way of life.
How can ikigai benefit us?
The traditional and enduring Japanese way of life that ikigai represents may have much to offer our modern way of living.
As a result, there has recently been an increase in research focusing on ikigai as a way of finding a “reason for living,” but also, more generally, its associated positive health outcomes (Fido et al., 2019).
However, while challenging to define, its benefits are becoming increasingly evident when combined with positive psychology and preventative medicine. Indeed, research has found ikigai to be a useful predictor of both physical and psychological wellbeing (García & Miralles, 2018; Mori et al., 2017).
Indeed, the positive effects of ikigai are observed in many aspects of life, including (Fido et al., 2019):
- Physical health in the elderly
- Psychological wellbeing of carers
- Reduced incidence of strokes and cardiovascular disease
- Mental health
However, according to Fido and colleagues (2019), the difficulty with many studies of ikigai is their lack of precise measurement. And if it is difficult to score, it is impossible to fully understand what, how, and why we are improving.
After all, if ikigai is a complex, composite construct, our relationship with it is unlikely to be as simple as a presence or an absence.
Ikigai is personal and specific to each of us, representing where our mission, vocation, and professional lives meet.
So, how can it be measured?
Despite its importance and thorough body of research in Japan, there are, it seems, few direct and reliable Western measures of ikigai (Fido et al., 2019).
Working with ikigai researcher Yasuhiro Kotera, Dean Fido translated an existing Japanese measure, the Ikigai-9, into English and successfully validated it for future research (Fido, 2019).
The Ikigai-9 questionnaire and psychometric tool is both convenient and reliable, measuring ikigai across multiple dimensions (Fido et al., 2019; Imai, Osada, & Nishi, 2012):
- Optimistic and positive emotions toward life
- Active and positive attitudes toward one’s future
- Acknowledgement of the meaning of one’s existence
The Ikigai-9 consists of only nine statements to score against and is therefore relatively simple to complete.
- I often feel that I am happy.
- I would like to learn something new or start something.
- I feel that I am contributing to someone or the society.
- I have room in my mind.
- I am interested in many things.
- I think that my existence is needed by something or someone.
- My life is mentally rich and fulfilled.
- I would like to develop myself.
- I believe that I have some impact on someone.
Having been successfully translated and validated, the Ikigai-9 offers a valuable tool for research and therapy in the West.
By measuring ikigai, it is possible to identify, explore, and understand the positive impacts of ikigai-based interventions on mental health (Fido et al., 2019).
How else can we measure ikigai?
Measuring related concepts such as flow – our complete absorption in an activity – and our overall satisfaction in life may also offer further insight into living a life more fully and with purpose (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
Dispositional Flow Scale-2 (DFS-2)
Experts in ikigai Héctor García and Francesc Miralles (2018) write that while there is no guaranteed way to live a life according to ikigai, flow is a key ingredient that allows us to “enjoy doing something so much that we forget about whatever worries we might have while we do it.”
Flow and sensations of optimal experience are most likely when the “demands of the task and the abilities of the performer are balanced” (Hamari & Koivisto, 2014).
Thankfully, there is a widely accepted psychological tool known as the Dispositional Flow Scale-2 (DFS-2) for measuring flow that has proved useful in multiple situations ranging from exercise to video gaming (Hamari & Koivisto, 2014).
DFS-2 measures the general tendency to enter flow, rather than specific experiences in individual settings, and considers nine flow dimensions (Wang, Liu, & Khoo, 2009):
- Challenge–skill balance
- Action–awareness merging
- Clear goals
- Unambiguous feedback
- Concentration on the task
- Sense of control
- Loss of self-consciousness
- Time transformation
- Autotelic experience
The DFS-2 is available for purchase and download at Mind Garden.
Each of the following statements is associated with a specific activity and rated as Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Frequently, or Always.
When participating in [activity name],
- I know clearly what I want to do.
- My attention is focused entirely on what I am doing.
- I am not concerned with what others may be thinking of me.
- Things just seem to be happening automatically.
- I find the experience to be extremely rewarding.
Widely validated, DFS-2 offers a practical approach for measuring dispositional flow (the tendency toward such experiences) and the ability to enter optimal psychological states, and is therefore consistent with ikigai (Wang et al., 2009).
Achieving psychological states of flow leads to everyday tasks becoming exceptional and helps you get the most out of your ikigai (Mogi, 2018).
Satisfaction With Life Scale
While not a direct measure of ikigai, life satisfaction is closely related and similarly impactful on wellbeing.
The Satisfaction With Life Scale, a multidimensional model of psychological wellbeing, has been used in Japanese ikigai research to score global life satisfaction and positive psychological functioning (Kumano, 2017; Diener, 2009).
Individuals review each of the following five statements and provide an honest rating of their agreement using a scale between 1 and 7 (where 1 is strongly disagree and 7 is strongly agree).
- In most ways, my life is close to my ideal.
- The conditions of my life are excellent.
- I am satisfied with my life.
- So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life.
- If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
The accumulated scores indicate the level of satisfaction with life, ranging between the following two extremes:
- People who love their life
Things may not be ideal, but work, family, education, leisure, etc., are going well, and there are opportunities for growth and challenge.
- People who are extremely dissatisfied with their life
Either a result of recent upset (death of a loved one or unemployment) or long-term dissatisfaction with multiple areas of their life.
The answers and overall scoring provide valuable information and direction for future interventions and opportunities for growth.
Help from therapists, counselors, and psychologists can be extremely beneficial for those partially or extremely dissatisfied with their lives (Diener, 2009).
5 Tests You Can Use With Clients
Ikigai requires you to know yourself; it is crucial to understand your values, what you care about, and your priorities.
They are deeply personal to who you are.
Finding your ikigai is no easy task, but without knowing what it is, you can’t fulfill it – so it is worth undertaking the search.
Finding your ikigai
The following questions can be answered either in preparation for or during a therapy session and can help you identify your ikigai:
- Do what you love:
What did you enjoy doing as a child or in your early adult years?
What do you do now in your spare time that makes you happy?
- Do what you are good at:
Do you know your strengths and skills? What are they?
What do people ask you to help them with?
- Do something the world needs:
What and who inspires you?
What makes you annoyed or frustrated?
- Do something you can be paid for:
What service or product could you sell (what would people pay you for)?
What job could you do?
Write the answers down on a piece of paper first, then briefly summarize and transfer them to a blank ikigai diagram:
Spend time reviewing the completed diagram and consider what activity fits into the center, meeting each of the four circles’ criteria.
Finding your purpose
Much of our day is spent on autopilot. Often without thinking, we do as much as we can in our waking hours, only stopping to crash in front of the TV or get into bed.
Ikigai encourages us to focus on our overall life purpose and the “joy a person finds in living day-to-day” (Mitsuhashi, 2018).
Completing the following sentences may help you or your client become clearer regarding your life purpose and how you can better focus your time and energy:
- When I was a child, I loved doing…
- If money didn’t matter, I would be…
- If I believed I could not fail, I would…
- I completely lose track of time when I am…
- I am most happy with who I am when I…
- I am really good at…
- If I didn’t care what others thought of me, I would…
- In my free time, I love to…
- If I only had six months to live, I would spend my time…
- If I were to die tomorrow, I would regret that I did not…
- The following people inspire me because they…
Review the completed sentences, adding new ones when you think of them.
See the patterns that form and recognize the actions that accompany past activities and future plans.
Then finally, complete one further sentence:
- The purpose of my life is to…
Use the completed sentence to help consider and guide your future decisions. If, overall, you shape your life according to the purpose you have found, you will arrive at ikigai.
3 Online ikigai tests and services
There are tests available online that can help you find and develop your ikigai.
While some of the resources are free, there may be payment or membership required to receive additional advice and coaching.
- Ikigai Test – provides a set of online questions to understand your ikigai and your true purpose. It’s a 10-minute test that offers insight into a potential future career path.
- Ikigai Tribe – offers a podcast, online test, worksheets, and coaching service to help you find and develop your ikigai.
- People at Heart Coaching – completing the online ikigai questionnaire helps you find a career that makes you happy while building a sense of purpose, meaning, and wellbeing.
PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources
- Read our article on Finding Your Ikigai with Worksheets as part of an ongoing self-reflection process to identify what you love, what the world needs, what you can get paid for, and what you are good at.
- Identifying Your Ikigai is a worksheet that triggers clients to think about certain elements of their lives, then answer a range of questions to help them find their ikigai.
- This Job Crafting worksheet can be used with clients who want to make changes to various aspects of their job so that they can appreciate them more.
- Meeting Needs With Reality Therapy helps clients understand their needs in life and what actions they could take to meet them.
- The Perma Model helps you understand the elements that promote happiness and what we can do to maximize each one.
- 17 Meaning & Valued Living Exercises – If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others discover meaning, this collection contains 17 validated meaning tools for practitioners. Use them to help others choose directions for their lives in alignment with what is truly important to them.
A Take-Home Message
Finding our ikigai takes time and effort. After all, if it were easy, most of us would already have found the pleasures, meanings, and purpose within our lives (Mogi, 2018).
Yet, once we recognize and understand our ikigai, we have a starting point from which we can begin to make decisions and live according to our values and goals – a path to happiness.
And the effort is worthwhile. As Tim Tamashiro (2019) writes, “Ikigai is within reach of us all and can serve as a map to find and create purpose.”
Not only that, but there are clear and measurable benefits to our wellbeing, improving our outlook on life and offering protection from depression (Fido et al., 2019).
Yet, there is no magic formula.
Answering the questions within this article will help you find purpose and joy in daily living, but there is no single, easy change that makes everything fall into place.
Ultimately and most importantly, we must acquire sufficient self-knowledge to be able to complete the following two sentences:
“I feel ikigai when…”
“I feel ikigai toward…”
When we can provide a clear and complete (and personal) statement for each, we will be equipped to build ikigai into every stage of our existence. Then, at life’s end, we can look back with overall contentment and a clear sense of living according to our needs and wants (Mitsuhashi, 2018). Perhaps we will have lived more authentically and less driven by the values of others.
While there are no fast fixes, when it comes to ikigai, small changes can lead to profound transformation, over time, in our (or our clients’) lives. Indeed, as Tim Tamashiro (2019) says,
“when you put your finger on what your ikigai is, it’s like you gain a superpower […] a GPS for your life.”
There are several excellent ikigai books that can help you see ikigai from multiple perspectives, introducing simple yet far-reaching life changes and implementing ikigai. As Mitsuhashi (2018) describes it,
“ikigai is the action we take in pursuit of happiness.”
Once known, we can make more confident short- and long-term decisions, personally and professionally, creating a life with more purpose (Mitsuhashi, 2018).
And finally, according to Mitsuhashi, while having and feeling ikigai is unique to you and is a potential source of happiness, it is only available through action and not by merely waiting for it to happen.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article and are on track with finding your ikigai. Don’t forget to download our free Meaning and Valued Living Exercises.
- Ayuda, T. (2018). How the Japanese art of kintsugi can help you deal with stressful situations. NBC News. Retrieved December 28, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/how-japanese-art-technique-kintsugi-can-help-you-be-more-ncna866471
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). The contribution of flow to positive psychology. In J. E. Gillham (Ed.), Laws of life symposia series. The science of optimism and hope: Research essays in honor of Martin E. P. Seligman (pp. 387–395). Templeton Foundation Press.
- Diener, E. (2009). Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). Retrieved December 28, 2020, from http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~ediener/SWLS.html
- Fido, D. (2019). The measurement of ‘Ikigai’ in the West and its association with depression and wellbeing. University of Derby Blog. Retrieved December 27, 2020, from https://blog.derby.ac.uk/2019/09/the-measurement-of-ikigai-in-the-west/
- Fido, D., Kotera, Y., & Asano, K. (2019). English translation and validation of the Ikigai-9 in a UK sample. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 18, 1352–1359.
- García, H., & Miralles, F. (2018). Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life. Thorndike Press Large Print.
- Hamari, J., & Koivisto, J. (2014). Measuring flow in gamification: Dispositional Flow Scale-2. Computers in Human Behavior, 40, 133–143.
- Imai, T., Osada, H., & Nishi, S. (2012). The reliability and validity of a new scale for measuring the concept of Ikigai (Ikigai-9). Japanese Journal of Public Health, 59, 433–440.
- Kumano, M. (2017). On the concept of well-being in Japan: Feeling shiawase as hedonic well-being and feeling ikigai as eudaimonic well-being. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 13(2), 419–433.
- Mitsuhashi, Y. (2018). Ikigai: Giving every day meaning and joy. Kyle Books.
- Mogi, K. (2018). The little book of ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life. Quercus.
- Mori, K., Kaiho, Y., Tomata, Y., Narita, M., Tanji, F., Sugiyama, K., … Tsuji, I. (2017). Sense of life worth living (ikigai) and incident functional disability in elderly Japanese: The Tsurugaya Project. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 95, 62–67.
- Tamashiro, T. (2019). How to ikigai: Lessons for finding happiness and living your life’s purpose. Wisdom Tree.
- Wang, C. K. J., Liu, W. C., & Khoo, A. (2009). The psychometric properties of Dispositional Flow Scale-2 in internet gaming. Current Psychology, 28(3), 194–201.