Ikigai – an ancient Japanese concept for all of us Liz Pearl, PK Press

Ikigai — is brilliant, relatively self-explanatory and relevant. I wish I could claim that I created either the concept or the diagram, but in fact, I did not. I’m a visual learner and I really like colourful geometric Venn diagrams; they seem to provide a wonderfully creative, descriptive and practical visual concept. A perflect blend of artistic and rational.

Colourful and artistic interpretation of the Ikigai diagram.

According to Wikipedia: Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one’s life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life.

Essentially, Ikigai is a philosophy that is clearly articulated, and a diagram that is easily understood; but in reality, it’s a purposeful way of life that is often illusive—challenging and complicated to achieve.

Recently, I learned that the Ikigai Venn diagram is actually a Westernized interpretation / version of the original Japanese concept. That makes sense. A rebirth of an ancient philosophy, with a digitally produced logo! We are living in the age of visual images and we see innovative infographics, memes, and multimedia stimuli emerging constantly.

There’s lots more to learn about the history, theory and application of Ikigai if you are so inclined. It’s an interesting multi-faceted research project, beyond the scope of this post.

The concept has been effectively implemented in therapy, counselling, coaching and transformative learning of all kinds, for decades. The confluence of variables produced by the 2020 pandemic has provided a gaping space for Ikigai to resurface, and so it has been popping up here and there on my social media feed.

Fundamental questions: What do you love? What are you good at? What can you do that you can be paid for? What can you do that the world needs? What is your central purpose?

These big questions nag at all of us. We listen to the murmur they create in our minds when we are faced with crises or confusion or perhaps at more welcome opportunities to refect and to muse. They appear in our personal journal writing and mysteriously in our dreams. Questions about our purpose, mission, livelihood, vocation, profession, ambition, career, passion etc. also seem to poke through the porous surface at times of transition — either personal, collective or universal. Now is that time.

Aren’t we are all trying to unlock our Ikigai? I think the desire to find our purpose and to live our best life is a universal human experience.

So here’s a lovely ancient concept and a contemporary diagram to contemplate: Ikigai. If it resonates, share it with friends, family, colleagues and clients. Print it and add it to your vision board or bulletin board. If it’s too confusing, upsetting or in any way triggering, just put it away for another day. If by chance you’re feeling inspired by it — poised to tackle the big questions, I’m sure you will be happy that you did. And if you find yourself perfectly positioned in the centre of the diagram then you are one of the lucky ones! IKIGAI is the new BINGO!

Warning: this is not a one day do-it-yourself project, this is a lifelong journey.

More Ikigai diagrams and a bestselling book.


One thought on “Ikigai – an ancient Japanese concept for all of us Liz Pearl, PK Press

  1. Although i had never heard this Japanese word/concept and the formalization of the concept, I have applied its principles throughout my life because of my parents modelling and the elementary Montessori school they chose for me. This is a concept that should be taught to all very young children so they have the tools to maintain it while enriching their entire lives.


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