“The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life”.
I’ve had this book since last October and never quite settled down to read it. I think it was a Kindle purchase at a busy time, and the problem with Kindle books is that, unlike real books, they don’t sit there and stare at you when you don’t read them, they stay in the cloud and keep very quiet pretending they don’t really exist. Which, let’s face it, as a collection of data bits they don’t, really, until you put them on a reader and get reading.
I picked it up this week because I was looking for something to take me out of myself. Perhaps I was searching for a reason for my life and my career. Or, not a reason, but validation. That what I am and what I do are useful and help people and myself. Whatever, I went to Japan and I am back.
The Little Book of Ikigai is one of the many Japanese-inspired books that have come out or are coming out last year and this. It’s written by Ken Mogi who is a Brain Scientist. He sounds like a Japanese version of my brother: into everything and most of all convinced that the brain is a fantastic piece of kit, that can do so much more than we think. He talks (in the book) about so many different things, religions, places, and all links back to the idea of Ikigai. I’d love to have him for dinner, although I’d be super-conscious that I’d have to be very mindful, and think carefully through every stage. Ikigai is a way of thinking, of looking at life. It’s about recognising your purpose and living aligned to that. The first chapter tells of Barak Obama visiting the best sushi restaurant in the world, because the chef there is committed to sushi: it is his raison d’etre, his life’s calling. He has served Presidents and been praised by them, but he finds as much pleasure in being praised by the lowliest man on the street. His pleasure is in making sushi, because his life’s purpose, his ikigai, is in making sushi.
The book calls on us to think through our own lives, looking at the examples and people he talks about and to think where our own ikigai is to be found. And that’s not always in the big things in life. Ken Mogi writes
Ikigai resides in the realm of small things. The morning air, the cup of coffee, the ray of sunshine, the massaging of octopus meat and the American President’s praise are all on an equal footing. Only those who can recognize the richness of this whole spectrum really appreciate and enjoy it.
Placing our happiness and self-value outside of monetary rewards, seeing success in very Emersonian terms as being of value to people but not necessarily of monetary value… ikigai is an interesting concept. It seems to be being hailed as a necessary component of living a long and successful life as demonstrated by the high p[ercentage of centagenarians in Japan. We need to feel of value in ourselves, not seeking worldly success (although enough to live on is good) but seeking success in the field we have recognised as our ikigai, our reason to be. It follows and flows very well into the ‘follow your dreams and the money will follow’ philosophy, except of course it is more practical, based in finding the things that make you happy, that form your purpose.
Ken Mogi describes 5 basic pillars of Ikigai:
- Starting Small
- Releasing Yourself
- Harmony and Sustainability
- The joy of little things
- Being in the here and now
At first sight, you’d be forgiven for thinking these were similar points to those in any of the mindful magazines out at the moment, and they are. Getting these pillars in place frees you to be more mindful, and that attention to place and time frees you to be. It’s about small details, and finding the right fit for you rather than just following the herd. Mr Mogi says that sometimes we see the Japanese as very homogeneous, very line-following, very rules-aware nation. And they are… but in their heart there is an individuality that comes from ikigai, that awareness that what makes your heart skip a beat will be different from other people, and that finding and following our own bliss is what we were made to do. He argues that is why Japan has such an open attitude to religion, because it knows that much can be learned from all people, and nothing is 100% right.
If you are looking for a simple ‘how-to ikigai’ book, then this isn’t it. It looks at ikigai, talks about where it exists in Japan and, to a lesser extent, the whole world, but it’s not prescriptive. And all the better for that. I’ve read it once, but I know I need to go back and read it again. This time, I need to apply what Ken says to me. How do I relate to the sumo wrestler? How does my ikigai show itself at work? Indeed, have I found a work that I feel happy to do until past retirement age? Is that work paid or voluntary? For what seemed like such a simple read, the book has left me with more questions than answers. And that is usually the sign of a good book.
I read Ikigai because this year I am looking to be Happier. If you’d like to read about the small things that have helped me to be happier, my new book is available from Amazon. Happier is all about how to use the small details in life to make you happier. You can get it at Amazon.
I also think the principles of enjoying life and making the most of small details is an important part of How to Hygge Your Summer , the book which contains my advice on having a hyggely time at home and outside, and which is also available in ebook and paperback version. You can find details about all my books, and how to connect with me on social media on the Start Here page of the blog.