In his TED talk, “How to Live to be 100+,” Dan Buettner shares the Okinawan concept of Ikigai. Ikigai roughly means, “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” If you have read much of our writing about beer and peanuts, you will recognize how closely this matches my definition of purpose: “something to get out of bed for and a way to organize your time.” Buettner suggests that Okinawans have extended life expectancy in part because most of them know their ikigai. They know why they’re here and they have a reason to keep on living.
Buettner shows pictures of centenarians: a 102 year old karate master whose ikigai was carrying forth the martial art. A hundred-year-old fisherman’s ikigai was catching fish for his family to eat three times per week. A 102 year old woman whose ikigai was caring for her great-great-great granddaughter. Buettner reports that when he, “asked her what it felt like to hold a great-great-great granddaughter. . .she put her head back and she said, ‘It feels like leaping into heaven.’”
Purpose doesn’t have to be something that will make headlines. It doesn’t have to be ending racism or curing a disease. Having a purpose or knowing your ikigai doesn’t have to change the world. But it will change your world. “I can’t stand my job” is a reason to leave a job, but not a reason to withdraw from the world. When purpose and profession align, life is good. But purpose doesn’t have to be tied to your work. In fact, I think purpose should be bigger than a job. The reason we live, the reason we get up everyday should be powerful enough to pull us into the future. And that pull should last a lifetime.
This isn’t a commencement speech platitude about following your passion. Some people may never feel a passion the way it is sometimes described. Passion is a feeling and feelings change. But purpose is like a direction. regardless of how we feel, north is still north. East is east regardless of where you are. Or what job you have. Or if you have a job at all.
Your ikigai, your reason to get out of bed might be your family. It might be caring for a garden. It might be a political cause or a religious group. It doesn’t really matter to me. What’s important, is that it matters to you.
You can watch Buettner’s talk or read the transcript at: http://www.ted.com/search?q=dan+buettner