Ikigai — It’s not a fish

People living on the islands of Okinawa and Sardinia are more likely to reach 100 years of age than people living anywhere on earth.  These people attribute their long lives not to healthy eating, leisure living, or great genes, but to a term they love to use — ikigai which in essence means “sense of purpose.”

To expand it a little, ikigai is related to positive life-satisfaction, self-esteem, morale and a sense of having meaning in one’s life.  So people who possess ikigai have defined “that which makes one’s life worth living.”  Unfortunately there is not really an American English equivalent word, but we certainly understand the concept – it’s what all of us long for as well. 

This goes beyond a basic spiritual sense of purpose and eternal connection.  Having resolved our spiritual position, it’s that feeling that our life is valuable and that our future is worthwhile, even if our present circumstances are dark.  In studies of these island dwellers it appears that having <i>ikigai</i> is not connected to economic status at all. 

Now what about you?  Is your sense of having purpose and a life worth living independent of your circumstances, or has your current economic situation also deflated your confidence in the value of your life?   While the holiday season can be a delightful time of year, for some this upcoming month will also be stressful, emotionally taxing and a reminder that goals were not achieved this year. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

  • Do I know where I stand spiritually and have resolved how I will spend eternity?
  • Have I discovered my “purpose” now — here on earth? 
  • Is there anything on my goal list for 2008 that I can still accomplish with a little focused effort?
  • What did I accomplish this year that I should be celebrating? (It’s easy to get too busy to notice all you have accomplished.)
  • What can I do to have a daily sense of ikigai in 2009?

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15 Responses to “Ikigai — It’s not a fish”

  1. Bea Smith Says:

    how do you know when you’ve found your purpose in life. I can’t sem to do that.

  2. Edwin Crozier Says:

    Tack onto this issue of believing a sense of purpose is tied up in economic standing is confusing roles for purpose in life. In once counseled a young lady whose husband had died, leaving her with an infant. She said when she put the baby to bed she just felt like she had no purpose.

    First, obviously such a loss is tremendous and the grief should be strong for a while. However, we do need to recognize that our roles such as husband, wife, father, mother, parent, child, employer, employee, etc. are not our purpose in life. If I’m fired from my job, I no longer have the role of employee. That doesn’t mean my purpose in life has ended. If my wife dies, I will no longer be a husband. That doesn’t mean I have no purpose.

    We need to see our purpose as something that transcends our roles, guides how we live in our roles but is not equal to our roles.

  3. Kent Julian Says:


    Awesome article! As you know, the entire reason I started http://www.liveitforward.com is because I finally discovered my life’s purpose (my here and now purpose). It’s an ongoing pursuit and journey, but the meaning and deep sense of satisfaction that occurs along the way is priceless.

    Keep writing and speaking about this truth!

    Live it forward,

  4. Rosemary Says:

    Dear Dan,
    Your e-magazine always blesses me and this one in particular. I am part time ministering in a nursing home, and the Lord has been pointing out to me that it is this very issue that is needed there, and everywhere. Thank you for pointing it out and for directing the attention we all need for our sonship in the Lord. Now, pointers for “ikigai” at the care center?
    God bless you, R

  5. Jared Matthew Kessler Says:

    Dan, I’m always amazed at how few people talk about living a “Purposeful” life. There are so many authors that talk about “Growing Rich” and doing these “things” to make you rich… yet, as you AND I have found, what is it worth without “Purpose.” I don’t think it is worth much. I think the hardest part in all of this is asking, “Who am I? Why do I FEEL I’m here? How can I LIVE who I am?”

  6. Josh Jacobs Says:

    ikigai have defined “that which makes one’s life worth living.” Unfortunately there is not really an American English equivalent word.

    I thought this was interesting. I think Zig has a story similar to this about somewhere they notice nobody studdered, they found there was no word for studder in their language. They had no word for it so they didn’t do it. Zig tells it much better!! But I think you get my point. Maybe we should contact Websters and get this mess straighted out!! Because I would love to have a word for “ikigai” so I could do it. 🙂

    If you think about it in America we come up with new words or acronms for peoples problems everyday…….OCD…….ADD…on and on. When was the last time there was a new word created to describe peoples attributes, forms or levels of happiness?

    When your riding a bicycle you want to focus on the path you want to take, not the obstacle your trying to avoid. When you focus on the obstacle you end up hitting it, if you keep your focus on where you want to go you’ll go by the obstacle like it wasn’t there.

    Maybe we as a people we have lost focus of our path, and all we are doing is staring at the obstacle.

  7. poor boomer Says:

    It’s difficult to attain [i]ikigai[/i] when your sense of purpose is frustrated by an inability to achieve it due to poverty.

  8. Beckie Houze Says:

    Hi Dan,
    I love your newsletters. As a result of looking into information that came from your friend Tim Knox, I came across “IPC Instant Cash”. Are you the CEO of this company or do you just happen to have the same name, Dan Miller? If you are not, what do you think of this internet program? Right now, I strongly relate to Poor Boomer’s comment above: “It’s difficult to attain ikiagai when your sense of purpose is frustrated by an inability to attain it due to poverty.” So, I’m very tempted to try this program – especially because it bears your name!

    Beckie Houze

  9. A Maui Blog Says:

    Thank you for this post. I will contemplate on those questions ann will answer them for me .. a good way to plan and start 2009 🙂

  10. Alan Says:

    Hello Beckie this Dan Miller is not the CEO of IPC

  11. Tim Says:

    Ben, when I was a young man the ideas from the tract linked below was quite helpful to me. I especially thought about the endless cycle of meaningless life described at the beginning of this tract. I lamented this as my future and chose to live a life of purpose. It has not been easy or anything like I expected, but it sure beats the alternatives.


  12. Todd davis Says:

    I am coming to believe that my life purpose is to reside in spiritual peace. As I have gotten older, I realize that my purpose is becoming more obvious. Once I have some sense of mastery in peace, then it will be my job to share that with others. How? I am not sure yet, but I will know.


  13. Yuki Johnson Says:

    As a wife who desires to honor her spouse – how do I deal with the fact that in many ways I have ikigai but he does not. I have watched this man for the past 19 years go from my greatest encourager and supporter (He is the reason I have ikigai) to a man broken and numb and depressed. He started reading 48 days and a few chapters into it handed it to me. He has asked me to read the book and tell him what his passion is because he feels so numb he can’t even figure out if he has anything he’s passionate about. It breaks my heart and I long to help him – but I am at a loss as to how. I long for him to feel again, to have hope. Unless he gets out of his current job and into something that with purpose that builds him up I fear I may completely lose the man I married.

  14. 48days Says:

    I love the fact that so many of you are thinking and struggling with this concept — not content to just live a mediocre life. For those of you still searching I say, don’t give up the quest. This is very much an internal issue. You won’t find your purpose “out there” or just suddenly dropped out of the sky. 85% of the process of getting clarity comes from looking inward — look at what God has already revealed to you. Recognizing your natural abilities, your personality traits, and your unique dreams and passions will give you the clues you need.

  15. Mack Says:

    You knew it as a child. We all did. Your purpose, ikigai, whatever you wish to call it, has been with you since you were small. What happened is, as you got older you skillfully hid your purpose from yourself, and got “serious” about life…whatever that means.
    So you need to revisit your childhood. What did you like to play and make believe when you were younger? What was your one greatest, strongest fantasy about? What did you enjoy doing more than anything else?
    Start your search for meaning there; in your childhood. The clues are hidden all around you. But God isn’t the one who hides your ikigai; He’s the one who reveals it. He’s been speaking to you about it, for some time now. Have you been listening?

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