When it comes to looking after yourself, mental health is just as important as physical health. Talking about mental health disorders like anxiety and depression has become easier, but there are many people who still choose to suffer in silence. Finding a way to manage mental health can be tricky, but concepts like ikigai are useful for helping to develop coping strategies.
A Japanese mentality, ikigai roughly translates to ‘a reason for being’ and is a concept based around a person following their passion and having a reason to get up in the morning.
Ikigai is an integral part of Japanese culture that many Japanese strive their whole lives to attain. A simple way of explaining it is to deconstruct it into four main concepts:
- What you love
- What you are good at
- What the world needs
- What you can get paid for
All four categories blend into each other, forming the basis of a person’s ikigai. It’s a desire to feel fulfilled in every area of life, whether through work or through the relationship with friends and family. It’s about finding a reason to look forward to the future, even if you are unhappy in the present moment.
Japanese people feel ikigai in various ways, such as by doing a job that allows them to help make others feel valued. Or it could be an activity that helps them feel closer to their community. In Okinawan culture, ikigai is embraced by an older generation that are living healthy lifestyles.
Dan Buettner, the author of Blue Zones: Lessons On Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest summed up the Okinawan version of ikigai. “Older Okinawans can readily articulate the reason they get up in the morning. Their purpose-imbued lives gives them clear roles and responsibilities of being needed well into their 100s.”
Applying ikigai to your own mental health
Finding your own ikigai is a great way of helping to manage a mental health condition. A good starting point is to consider what kind of activities make you passionate and then taking steps towards getting involved. If you like running, then it could mean devoting half an hour a day to jogging around the local area.
A personal part of my ikigai is comics. I’ve loved reading them for years and they inspired me to create my own pop culture website and to cosplay. Even when I’m at my lowest, I know I can return to superheroes like Thor and Wolverine and remind myself that comics bring purpose into my life.
Another method of embracing ikigai is to take pleasure from small joys, like spending time with a friend or eating a favourite meal. This can help to improve mindset and provide a base for creating a positive outcome for the day.
Finding what you’re good at is a core tenant of ikigai and there’s the opportunity for improved self-esteem. It can be beneficial for an anxiety sufferer because they can instill themselves with feelings of self-worth. They can remind themselves that they are capable of achieving something good and worthwhile.
Building a positive future
It’s important to remember that ikigai isn’t a magical, quick fix solution. Overcoming mental health disorders is an ongoing battle and there will be good days and bad days. But through finding a purpose, you can develop coping mechanisms and get better at dealing with anxious thoughts or depressive moods.
At its core, ikigai is about finding a reason to live. And once you have that mentality, there is always a reason to keep moving forward.