Ikigai: How it all Began

Ikigai: How it all Began


The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” We have all read this social media forward at some point or the other, but have we ever given it a deeper thought. 99.9% of people in this world possibly come and go without finding out what is that one unique skill which only they possess on this planet.

Rajiv Bajaj- Chairman Bajaj Capital

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” We have all read this social media forward at some point or the other, but have we ever given it a deeper thought. 99.9% of people in this world possibly come and go without finding out what is that one unique skill which only they possess on this planet.

This story has to do with my love for Japan and the uniqueness of that society and my own life story.

Let me start with the latter,
In 2017 after numerous debates in the family we decided to hand over the day to day working of our business to Professional managers.

What this meant was that we were unemployed 🙂

Rajiv Bajaj

This gave me time to introspect on what I would like to do with my life as I nearing the halfway mark.
Something remarkable happened on this journey, I started wandering into the study of human longevity, and what makes people lead healthy, happy lives and the way to 100 and beyond.
I kept diving deeper into this quest, which took me to the Blue Zones or Longevity Zones as identified by NatGeo Magazine. I traveled to Okinawa island in Japan, hired a place there and spent a week on ground meeting people, I met with over 30 octogenarians including 7 centenarians. The findings were marvelous – all these people had some purpose in life, which kept their zest for life, alive.
Miyo San, 94, took me to her little farm where which she tends to like a baby. She lovingly fed me vegetables from her farm under her watchful eye.
My visit to Loma Linda in California, another Blue Zone, taught me that passion has no age. Jim and Dorothy, two friends from the Senior Living community, both in their 80s, were headed to water aerobics class right after meeting me. Their fitness is their passion and they work out in tandem, five times a week.

As a part of our research on Longevity, we realized one’s Life Purpose or Ikigai, is one of the pillars of living a long healthy life.
Ikigai- is a Japanese word, which is a combination of words ‘Iki’ and ‘’Kai’ which mean, ‘life’ ‘flow’.

Let me delve into my love for Japan now and the study of its culture. Japanese culture has evolved from ancient Shinto beliefs, which defines living in harmony with nature, as well as Japanese Buddhism, which has very strong cultural links with India. Being in the moment. Compassion towards other and self. Attention to detail. These are some tenets of Japanese life. And deep meaning and philosophy embedded in each single word, which is almost pointless, to attempt to translate into English.
Ikigai hence is very poorly defined as  ‘purpose of life’. For Japanese people, Ikigai is their state of being.
The quest to study this idea deeper took me back to Japan (happily so 🙂 and I was delighted to meet Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa from Toyo Eiwa University. He is possibly the only man on this planet to have done a PHD in Ikigai way back in 2004.
His model of Ikigai revolves around ‘object’ of feelings and ‘subject’ of actions, which means if you feel good while watching cricket, it is a good enough reason for you to make that your Ikigai.
Chandrakanta Patel, at 87, become a national celebrity at 2019 Cricket World Cup, when passion for Cricket took her to the matches, and blow horns and celebrate, oblivious of her age, because Cricket was possibly her Ikigai.
You may have noted that western definition of Ikigai, which centers around the Wenn diagram of what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and where you can make money, when all four converge, the sweet spot in the middle in your Ikigai. The eastern definition, or the original Japanese practice of Ikigai is simply doing what makes you happy, everyday. It’s our own cultural background, education and philosophy which will help is define our preference for the model of Ikigai, we associate with more.
For our further discussion, we will go with the western model of Ikigai, which our passion, mission, profession and vocation all merge into one.
Although, there are some checkpoints one must keep in mind, while thinking through our Life Purpose :
1. It should be something we truly truly love doing, it takes us into this sense of flow, that we lose our awareness of time and space, before we realize a few hours have passed, we even possibly missed a meal. Jot down what are things get you in this mode.
2. It should be something we are good at, our boss, our friends, well wishes should be echoing it- like, you are great at communication or you are great at analytical thinking. Keep taking mental and physical note of these, each time someone compliments you.
3. We all have a world view, and we are passionate about some or the other cause- it’s could be not using plastic, it could be women empowerment. Not the fashionably good causes to speak about socially, but things we truly believe in deep down. We would need to start introspecting on these.
4. Finally and very importantly, put yourself in a simulated situation that you don’t have your present job or business, what can you, using the above three to survive and thrive.
Imagine, you wake up one morning in Amsterdam, it’s the same you, with your thoughts, ideas and skills, but you have to go out and make a living, you don’t have a job. When I ask people this question, they come up with very interesting answers, like, I am good at knitting, or at cooking, or I love solving disputes.. this is a seed for something totally different from what you are doing now.
When you go through the above four concentric circles, the sweet spot in the middle is your Ikigai. We all know what we love, or what we are good at, or the causes we believe in, but we rarely, combine those three to decide what our profession would be.
This is not an easy process, and it could take weeks or months or years to discover it, and you need not be too hard on yourself.
Find solace that only a lucky few are like Sachin Tendulkar or Roger Federer or Lata Mangeshkar, who at a very young age discovered their passion, and made it their profession, many of us come and go from this world, without releasing what is the one unique skill that only I possess, which no one else has in this world and make it our source of livelihood.
Like every other Japanese concept- Ikigai is too deep a thought, it’s a philosophy in itself and takes time or discover.
It too me years to discover my Ikigai, which is to help people live happy purposeful lives, in other words, and discovering their Ikigai is one of the main ways of doing that.
Helping you find your Ikigai is my Ikigai.
Wishing you luck and speed on this path !
All the best.

Imp Notes –

Are you really fulfilled with your work, or despite making lots of money, there is a sense of emptiness, and you seek refuge in other forms of entertainment.

In his 2001 research, Prof. Hasegawa found a link between Ikigai and well being of Elders. People usually live as long as have a strong will to live .

He found in a community of age 65 plus people, people who enjoyed activities like travel, gardening, exercise, rated themselves as physically and mentally more active than their peers.

Ikigai has an impact on our relationships with people around us, we are happier when we are more fulfilled, that also leads people around us happy. Hence, our mental health also an indirect connect with our Ikigai.

In a combination of ‘object’ and ‘feeling’ could lie one’s Ikigai in his view – for example, a part experience of really enjoying a cycling trip, which made me feel really fulfilled. Hence, my Ikigai could be around Cycling.

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