Ikigai is a Japanese word that means “reason for living.” Japanese people believe we need ikigai to be satisfied with our lives. Although we may not be aware of our ikigai, we can take time to reflect on what is important to us, where we want to put our time and energy, and what makes our life feel meaningful. Our true freedom is internal: where we put our attention and effort and what we choose as important. We cannot control the world, and we cannot guarantee outcomes of our efforts. This continual, existential, uncertainty can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or rage. But no matter how much we protest, the world continues to function as it does and we continue to be faced with outcomes we want and outcomes we do not want.
It is not that our efforts are ineffective. It does matter what we are trying to do. It is just that we cannot guarantee that our efforts will have the effects that we want them to. We are going to be disappointed at times. However, we believe that, overall, if we try to make our lives the way we want them to be, we will be successful more often than not. This is largely true, but not always, and not in ways that we can either predict or control. When we come up against events or experiences that are significantly disappointing, we can lose our sense of purpose and motivation.
The good thing is, ikigai is really internal. We can identify where we want to put our limited time, energy, and resources. We can be satisfied that our efforts are going toward what we value. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, we are not reflectively aware of this deeper motivation, and we can get turned around and deflated by life. We get discouraged and defeated. There is time for that. Losses knock us off our feet at times, and there is space to sit on the ground, rage against our bad luck, and threaten to give up. As we therapists put it, “that loss needs to be mourned.”
We will have losses. We will have gains. Our efforts affect that balance. But more importantly, our choice of where those efforts are placed represents our true, free choice, which is both an expression of ourselves and another brick in the structure of our future selves. Because our choices not only reflect who we are, they create our future selves. In order to make these choices in a way that is truly reflective of who we are and what we find important, we spend some time reflecting and understanding the complexity of the inner person that we are.