Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced ee-key-guy) is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose. Ikigai is similar to the French term “raison d’etre” or “reason for being.”
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University
According to psychologist Katsuya Inoue, ikigai is a concept consisting of two aspects: “sources or objects that bring value or meaning to life” and “a feeling that one’s life has value or meaning because of the existence of its source or object”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ikigai as “a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living”. More generally it may refer to something that brings pleasure or fulfillment.
While both Ikigai and passion involve doing what you love, they are not exactly the same.
Passion is often described as a strong inclination towards a self-defining activity that one loves, finds important, and in which one invests time and energy. It’s something that excites you and makes you feel alive.
On the other hand, Ikigai is a broader concept. It’s a Japanese term that translates to ‘reason for being’, and is essentially your true passion and calling in life—what gets you up every morning. However, Ikigai goes beyond just passion. It is believed to be the union of 4 elements:
What you love (your passion)
What you are good at
What the world needs
What you can be paid for
Where all of these elements perfectly align, there you find your Ikigai. So, while passion is a component of Ikigai, Ikigai encompasses more aspects of life, including your skills, societal contributions, and livelihood.
In summary, while passion refers to a strong enthusiasm or desire for something, Ikigai is about finding a balance between what you love (passion), what you’re good at (vocation), what the world needs (mission), and what you can be paid for (profession). This balance is believed to bring fulfillment, longevity, and true happiness.
It’s important to note that Ikigai is not limited to one’s profession or career, but can also be found in hobbies, family, friends, and social roles. It’s about finding what brings you joy, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose in life.