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There’s a Word for That?

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Graphic by the Toronto Star.

When we talk about our different obligations, it’s not uncommon to employ the narrative of juggling balls in the air, but is that really the most healthiest or effective way of visualizing how work, family, and responsibilities impact our lives?

Okinawa, Japan, is said to be home to the largest number of centenarians in the world, and the island is also home to the concept of ikigai, the reason for living, which along with a healthy diet is credited as one of the reasons Okinawans enjoy such longevity.

Ikigai (Noun)

Pronounced: Ick-ee-guy

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The purpose that gets you out of bed in the morning.

Ikigai is made up of two Japanese words iki, meaning life and gai, meaning worth. The philosophy of ikigai is often represented as a diagram with four overlapping circles. The circles represent what you are good at, what you can be paid for, what the world needs, and what you love. The intersections determine your passion, mission, vocation, and profession. By shaping your life in a way that appeases all four categories, a person can find their ikigai.

Referencing psychiatrist Mieko Kamiya’s 1966 book, Ikigai-ni-tsuite, writer Yukari Mitsuhashi explained, “as a word, ikigai is similar to ‘happiness’ but has a subtle difference in its nuance. Ikigai is what allows you to look forward to the future even if you’re miserable right now.”