What's Your Ikigai, Your Purpose in Life?

If you have been reading many self-help or longevity books, you know that one of the key factors of happiness, of fulfillment, of living a longer/better life is discovering and living your purpose. Many experts believe a strong sense of mental well-being that comes from living your purpose also leads to positive physical health benefits.

When I counseled undergraduate students, we spent a lot of time on this issue -- not because I thought it was the key to finding the right career (though that was part of it), but because it's important to talk about purpose, success, and giving back when talking with young people.

But here's my problem. While I think it is very important for people to be happy in their jobs, fulfilled with their work, and excited about their career field, I do NOT believe that everyone needs to feel they have discovered their one, true purpose in life... in fact, I am not even sure we all have just one mission, one purpose.

Let's dig into the details together in this article.

The Evolution of Finding Your Purpose

The drive to help people find their purpose -- or perhaps the drive to understand life purpose -- can be found throughout various cultures.

The Japanese have ikigai, which refers to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living. It's actually a combination of two words, iki, meaning "alive" or "life," and, gai, meaning "benefit" or "worth."

But it's not just about finding joy or fulfillment in what you do, ikigai is really the intersection of four elements:

  • Something you love doing;

  • Something you're excellent at performing;

  • Something that the world needs;

  • Something you can be paid for.

The French have the phrase, raison d'etre, which generally translates to the reason, purpose, or justification for someone's life. In other words, it answers the question: What is your reason for being?

The idea of finding your purpose also aligns with eudaimonia, the ancient Greek sense of a life well-lived, leading to the highest and most lasting form of happiness.

Finally, there's an entire field of study, logotherapy, which is based on the belief that striving to find meaning in life is the primary, most powerful motivating, and driving force in humans. (Logos is a Greek word for "meaning.")

A final way of looking at this concept is "finding your reason to get out of bed in the morning."

Problems With Seeking Only Purpose

Does everyone really need to have a sense of purpose to have happiness to life? While having a sense of purpose can be like a compass in directing your life, the search for finding that purpose can also be a distraction and a drag -- and actually lead to unnecessary unhappiness.

Some people do seem born with that one thing... and they develop the interest while young and spend their entire lives perfecting that skill. We see that especially with artists, musicians, as well as craftspeople.

But other people seem to go through life holding multiple jobs in seemingly unrelated fields -- and appear perfectly happy, living to an older age.

A solitary focus on finding one's purpose seems harmful, as there are many other ways to find purpose in life outside of work.

If we separate purpose from work, we discover that there are many people with amazing skills and gifts that are unrelated to their jobs; they don't get paid for it, but it is in demand, and the person is good at doing it and sharing their gift.

Work and employers are transactional. Careers morph as culture, technology, and society change. Furthermore, if your work is interconnected with your purpose, what happens when you retire? Purpose has to extend to your entire life, not just a job or career.

Maybe We Just Need Lagom

The Swedes have a word that perhaps makes the most sense in our search for happiness: Lagom. Roughly translated, it means "in moderation," or "just the right amount," or "happy with what you have."

As someone who has always been the "peacemaker," who tries to seek balance, find common ground -- and who happens to be married to a truly special Swedish-American -- the notion of finding that wonderful balance in all of life is what should really matter. (Plus, as an interesting aside, Sweden is ranked the seventh-happiest country out of the 156 countries in the World Happiness Report.)

Living a life of moderation, of having enough of the people and things you need or want, without gorging on excess or struggling to find anything, seems like a wonderful way to live one's life. It's also about living in harmony -- balance -- with all things, including our natural environment.

Final Thoughts on Purpose, Happiness, Longevity

I worked as a professor most of my life, but I never once saw my purpose as being a professor, even though it was quite rewarding making an impact on the lives of so many college students. It wasn't until recently that I took the time to sit down with this concept... and I defined my ikigai as being an educator, not only preaching what I know, but also a protector of the truth (which is so often masked by lies used to confuse people).

My work in healing and dealing with past trauma makes me realize there are many more powerful forces at play in living a good life than simply finding one's purpose. Yes, finding a purpose early in life can set one up for a successful career path... but taking a lifetime to explore many options, as long as one only stays in a job while they are being fulfilled, sounds equally fun and rewarding.

If you're generally happy with your work, but unhappy in life, then finding your purpose should be far down on your list of things to do. Start with examining why you're unhappy and go deeply into the underlying reasons -- and decide how to fix those things before worrying about your purpose.

Having a purpose may extend your life, and is most certainly something to strive for in understanding, but for true joy, peace, and love, the only real solution is finding healing. And by doing the work on healing yourself, you may also be able to uncover the true purpose of your life.

What are you waiting for? Start a healing journey today! Learn more at HealMeWhole.com

Additional Resources on Finding Your Purpose

Dr. Randall Hansen is an advocate, educator, mentor, ethicist, and thought-leader... helping the world heal from past trauma. He is founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com.

He is the author of the groundbreaking Triumph Over Trauma: Psychedelic Medicines are Helping People Heal Their Trauma, Change Their Lives, and Grow Their Spirituality and the well-received HEAL! Wholeistic Practices to Help Clear Your Trauma, Heal Yourself, and Live Your Best Life.

Dr. Hansen's focus and advocacy center around true healing ... healing that results in being able to live an authentic life filled with peace, joy, love. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.