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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Ikigai" by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is ikigai? Where does the concept originate and what does it mean?

Ikigai is is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, which translates as “alive” or “life,” and gai, which means “benefit” or “worth.” But what is ikigai exactly? The word ikigai is essentially the Japanese equivalent of the French raison d’être, meaning a person’s reason for existing or life purpose.

Keep reading for the answer to the following question: what is ikigai?

What Is Ikigai?

You can think of your ikigai as your “existential fuel.” It’s the thing that keeps you going in life and the reason you get up in the morning. Your ikigai could involve helping people or enjoying their companionship. It could involve an art or craft, such as writing or painting. It could involve a sport or activity. It could involve business, science, or any number of other things.

You don’t necessarily have just a single ikigai. Einstein, for example, had two ikigais, physics and playing the violin. He said that if he hadn’t been a physicist, he would have devoted his life to music.

The following diagram helps to illustrate the various elements that go into your ikigai.   

Finding Your Ikigai

Having learned what ikigai is, you can now try to find your own ikigai. Your ikigai is hidden deep within you, so you have to search for it. Ikigai s likely to reside in the areas and activities where you’re most liable to experience flow—a state of mind where you’re so immersed in the experience that you’re totally focused.

Once you know what your ikigai is, the next thing to do is to integrate it ever more fully into your life, until your whole life is an expression of your flow-generating ikigai. For a helpful illustration of this way of living, consider the example of the Japanese artisans called takumis

Japanese Takumis

In Japan, takumis are individuals who learn to flow with their ikigai as they become masters of a highly particular craft. The work of takumis displays a special kind of simplicity that combines sophistication and attention to detail in pursuit of their ikigai. Various industries employ them, from automobile makers to entertainment companies. 

For example, in a Japanese town with several factories that produce makeup brushes for big-name companies. One Takumi had become an expert at choosing and sorting brush bristles. She was visibly happy and dedicated to her task, which she performed with amazing skill and grace, fully absorbed in the flow state. The company president told them that this takumi was one of the most important people in the company, because every brush bristle went through her.Takumis protect their space and make sure to create distraction-free environments that are conducive to entering the flow state. They are often reclusive by common standards, choosing to limit many aspects of their lives in order to focus wholly on their ikigai.

What Is Ikigai? It’s Your Existential Fuel

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Here's what you'll find in our full Ikigai summary:

  • How to apply the concept of ikigai, or life purpose, to your own life
  • Why the people of Okinawa live longer than people anywhere else
  • The 10 commandments of ikigai

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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