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Ikigai, so much more than a Venn diagram

ikigai venn diagram

Have you heard of ikigai (生き甲斐) ?

Most people outside of Japan know ikigai in the form of a Venn diagram that is filled in to define your life purpose. The four overlapping circles represent what you love / what the world needs / what you are good at / what you are paid to do.

But this is a misinterpretation of the concept as we know it in Japan. The word is composed of 生き (iki) which means life and 甲斐 (kai/gai) which denotes value. For those who like the etymology, “kai” comes from the word 貝 (also pronounced “kai”) or shell, because shells were of great value in the Heian period (794 to 1185).

Ikigai is found in every aspect of life. It does not necessarily have the grandeur that we give it in its Western version and it is certainly not limited to the professional sphere (“what we are paid for”). It’s the little everyday pleasures that have meaning for us, that motivate us to get up every morning. Taking care of your pet, observing the change of seasons in your garden, having tea with your friends...Moreover, the Japanese don't look for their ikigai. It’s more something that we uncover and appreciate, especially as we get older.

I was lucky to find one of my ikigai — because you can have several — by chance. I read Marie Kondo's book to practice my Japanese. Inspired and motivated, I tidied up my flat in the weeks that followed. But that wasn't enough for me. Even though I had a full-time job in an international organisation, I found myself talking about tidying up non-stop and encouraging everyone around me to do it. A few years later, I gave in to this passion and launched myself as a Japanese-style storage consultant!

Fill your everyday with passion

When we sort, we choose what we keep according to the famous criterion of “spark joy” and we declutter the rest, which brings us towards a space and a daily life filled with glimmers of joy.

To this, I would add that you should be passionate about everything you own. For example, I'm a huge fan of my backpack. As soon as someone makes the slightest remark about it, I launch into brand ambassador mode (although I don't receive any commission). Ditto for my water bottle; there is even a security agent at Geneva airport who noted the brand to give one to his daughter.

Every object wants to serve its owner, hence the notion of treating them with gratitude. But even more powerful is treating them with love.

Remember that everything we wear, use and surround ourselves with is chosen by us. We might as well choose things that brighten our day, right?


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