About Finding the “Ikagai”

Dalai Lama in one of his seminal speeches had said that “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions“. It’s not what you have or who you have but rather what you do, how you act and how you live, that many philosophers and thinkers say is the key to happiness.  The concept of “Ikagai” stems from these principles and in Japanese, means something akin to  “a reason for being” and translated in English it refers to the “reason you wake up in the  morning”.


This idea of having a reason to wake up in the morning is beautifully explained and illustrated in a brilliant and precise work called Ikagai – Giving Everyday Meaning and Joy by Yukari Mitsuhashi . In this book, Ms. Mitsuhasi , takes the reader to the very root of the Ikagai word, explaining that the Japanese word of “Ikagai” consists of two Japanese characters, “iki” meaning life and “gai” meaning value or worth. The life that the “iki” refers to is not the big life and its meaning, but rather daily life – seikatsu; and about the joy a person finds living day to day , without which their life as a whole would not be a happy one. She further shares that while in West, the concept often leans towards finding happiness through work, in Japan, most people find their “ikagai” from their hobbies or their loved ones and not something they are necessarily paid to do. The concept of Ikagai per Ms. Mitsuhashi is so ingrained in the Japanese culture, that through their art and language, the Japanese people are constantly reminded of the joy that can be found in everyday life and will lead to a fulfilling life. Thus, Ikagai with its features of Everyday life, the act of giving, understanding and accepting emotions and active way of living leads to a stable state of mind, growth and progress and most importantly finding a purpose of life. She illustrates this concept by sharing stories of lives of people, both famous as well everyday man/woman, who have found their ikagai, through a variety of sources, including, hobbies, food, volunteering, or through their work, by getting better at their craft or seeing the impact that their work brings. Through several interviews, the author weaves stories of writers, business men and women and athletes, who have found their Ikagai through their work or by finding something worthwhile, post their retirement and how this finding of Ikgai has helped them succeed and find contentment. She brings the circle to its close, by showing how pursuit of Ikagai is the actions that lead to happiness.

This is a short, but a mighty book! It’s thought provoking and forces the reader to reflect on his or her life and  the directions it is heading towards. The author’s examples are well chosen, in the sense these are successful men and women, but they are like us and their life and pursuit of Ikagai, has helped them succeed, thus providing the reader with role models and inspirations. The author has written with simplicity, which works very well, as the ideas that the author puts through are contemplative and require thinking as the reader navigates through the book.  Furthermore, the concepts are clearly enunciated and the “plot” keeps moving forward. One of the most exemplary things about this work of non fiction, was that Ms. Mitsuhashi does not beat a concept to death, by constant repetition, but manages to find the fine balance of emphasizing on an idea and moving to the next concept.

To end, I would strongly recommend this book to everyone. It is good to sometimes sit and think about our lives and the good things in it and this book helps you value those good things and channelize them into your “Ikagai”

This book was part of my Non Fiction November Reads.


15 thoughts on “About Finding the “Ikagai”

  1. a riveting post! it resonated with me because of my experiences in studying Zen… it’s surprising how different paths lead to a similar idea: living a satisfactory life involves being present and aware… and doing something, at least on a somewhat regular basis, that you like… maybe it takes the thousands of year of history for a society, like the Chinese, Indian, or Japanese ones, to produce an accurate and viable way of understanding life and the earth around us…

    1. Thank You! I agree; I think we as humans really over complicate matters when in simple things and daily routines, there is infinite pleasure and calmness! P.S. I had no idea you had studied Zen; please do a post on it!!

  2. it’s just that my blog is about books, not me so much… besides talking about myself gets boring rapidly… v briefly, then, i got into composing haiku (i won an award for one once) and that led into zen. i flashed on what reality was one morning on a walk, helped by my profession as a geologist, and haven’t looked back, basically… if that makes any sense…

    1. You wrote Haiku??? I cannot even begin to tell you how very impressed I am! You are truly very inspiring, with rich life and all its experiences! I can get the close relationship between geology and Zen philosophy! Thank You so much for sharing!

  3. I looked for this book in my library and couldn’t find it but there are two other books on Ikagai. Sigh! It’s sounds interesting and perhaps a deviation from your normal reads. I’ve had an urge to read more non-fiction lately but have myself embroiled in too many read-alongs, lol!

    1. I liked this because it speaks of what is important in our everyday life; there is no rocket science about meditating etc. etc. Non Fiction is good! I am reading non fiction this month like no tomorrow…lol

  4. in answer to your question on my blog: i first started reading them when i was learning to rock climb at 14 and i think most of the early ones had to do with first ascents in the Alps: some of those are incredible, especially the stories connected with the North face of the Eiger, and some of the accounts of solo climbers and their feats…

  5. I loved this book too, as I do so much of Japanese/eastern thought. I am a Christian, but I didn’t find the ideas necessarily conflicting. Finding happiness from loved ones, and a job well done, and a passion for something good in this world is important.

    1. I do not think any of main themes of our religions are conflicting; they all talk about helping one another, being grateful and having faith! The thing about Ikagai and it’s something I am still learning and will take a long time to internalize is living in the moment; without hope or expectation of the future; enjoying the job being done in the present and putting your mind to it! That is what matters in the end I feel!

      1. Oh, I definitely think they’re conflicting. Christ is the point of Christianity which is different from any other religion. But, of course loving one another and being grateful are necessary to living well. xo

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