Ikigai: How I apply lessons from Japanese friends to live my life fully and joyfully
Have you ever tried a bowl of Japanese ramen? A gourmet one would be the one combine every ingredient nicely, just like how the Japanese have been living happily with their Ikigai principle.
Japan seems to be a place of secret unique philosophies and lessons for foreigners like us to explore.
The term Japonisme is a word that I love to put on my social media account. Recently, I have been obsessed with the word Ikigai. It has been gaining popularity as a new method of living a better life by Japanese people, however, in fact, it has always been present in Japanese life since Heian period, for more than 1000 years.
1. Ikigai – the thing that gets you to wake up every day
Ikigai contains two parts: iki, which means life and gai, which describes value or worth. It can be described as the little fire inside our soul, which excites us about working and living fearlessly.
Some people find their ikigai in their 20s and others discover their ikigai later in life. Sometimes, there are persons who lose their fire somewhere in this busy world.
When I first read about Ikigai, this concept resonates with me in the attitude towards life. I find myself encouraged by little small things instead of "big" stuff such as power, social class or profit. I haven't found my Ikigai yet, however, I have listed things that make me feel joyful and tried to do at least one of them every day.
That's the reason why every night before going to sleep, I become so excited about what I'm going to do the next day!
Then I asked a few Japanese friends of mine and they gave me some secret keys to find and keep my Ikigai. It turns out to be something applicable to everyone.
2. The first principle - Kokoro: concentration on our hearts and minds
Kokoro is a complicated term. The English meaning on the Internet is often "hearts or minds", but the most thorough definition is mind, hearts, emotions, feelings, spirit and soul.
All of these things expressed in just one little word remind us that we need to look at our hearts and minds as one thing instead of dealing with each one separately.
I used to write this word on the first page of my daily journal when I get depressed about the daily lives.
I tried to identify how I'm feeling because my emotions will affect my thinking, my logic; ultimately how I make a decision. Consequently, I know how to manage my emotions, especially when I'm overexcited, over angry or over depressed. I took actions to get myself out of depression and take care of my "kokoro".
I also stop blaming the environment for my depressed mind. It's always better to be in a supportive, encouraging workplace, class and family; nevertheless, it's not always the case.
The most positive Japanese I have ever met do not grow in a family completely willing to agree and support them (financially and emotionally). They work and live in different regions of Japan, each with a distinguished problem. What I learn from them is how to keep my inner self peaceful regardless of the circumstances I'm in.
There is a Japanese word ganbare which sums up two famous sayings in English do your best and don’t give up. It is a term that embodies the strength of our hearts and minds, our altitude of determination and perseverance to reach our goal.
Ganbare – say it to yourself and stay strong to keep going!
3. The second principle - Karada: nourishment of our bodies
Mindfulness and mental strength can be built up through movements and practices of our bodies.
When our bodies are taken care of, it is more likely that our minds can take some rest, too. Physical activities, such as jogging, enjoying a cup of tea or creating arts, are some methods that many Japanese people use to calm their inner self.
One of my professors told me that when you feel tired, it is not the body but the mind gets tired and sends signals to every body part. You need to move your hands and legs to tell yourself that these signals are wrong.
One Japanese word I learn from my Ikigai book is Shinrin-yoku. It is a term created in the 1980s to describe the practice of healing through being immersed in nature. Any scientist would agree that a walk in a forest or a park does wonders to both mental and physical health.
Sometimes, komorebi – sunlight filtered through tree leaves or kawaakari - the glow of the river through darkness can save you from a mental breakdown.
In case you want to know about the book I read; its title is A Little Book of Japanese Contentments written by Erin Niimi Longhurst. She is a journalist born in London to an English father and a Japanese mother. After travelling and living in every city, Tokyo is where she comes back and finds her joys.
I'm currently living in the midst of buildings, skyscrapers and busy people, thus, it is really hard to fully immerse myself in nature. But I grow houseplants at home and watching them only is enough to chill me out after a hard day. My (secret!) favourite time is the golden hours when the sun is setting and the light turns into a beautiful golden color.
4. Last key - Shukanka: habit formation
Beginning is easy. Continuing is hard. - Japanese proverb
Everything does not happen overnight. Repetition or willpower to keep concentrating on our kokoro and karada is the core element that leads us to the ending we want, whether it is a success, happiness or balance in life. Japanese believe that there is no ending to the challenges or obstacles coming in our way, the only thing we can do is kaizen, constantly improving in every aspect of your life.
Kaizen is a term I even met in a business book. It is applied in every aspect of Japan society, from business and production to the daily life of each person.
Today is another chance of doing better than yesterday. One day, we will get the things we deserve - that's what I always tell myself at the end of my day.
Now you know how Japanese people live their lives and reach their goals, why don’t you try them to improve your own life and tell us the results? You will never know if you never try!
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