What do you get out of bed for?
Your ‘purpose’, your ‘drive’, your ‘why’, your ‘flow’. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Often, it’s something matter of fact and ordinary rather than something extraordinary or exceptional. It’s more likely to be something that’s right in front of you that you appreciate the importance of than something elusive that you must search for. It gives you a reason to live. Perhaps it is your values, but it isn’t limited to that; it is an outlet for you, something that is achieved by action. It is purpose in action.
The Japanese call it Ikigai, a term coined by the people of the Japanese island of Okinawa, where life expectancy is unusually high, with many inhabitants living to at least 100 years old. Ikigai has become a frequently quoted buzzword lately.
‘Flow’ is another way of expressing it. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this expression. He said that you may be doing things very differently from other people, but for everyone that flow channel, that area of absorption will be when you are doing what you really love to do - play the piano, be with your best friend, perhaps work, if work is what provides flow for you. In that moment, you have a focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a natural high, a semi-trance state, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible, sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. What you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake. Csikszentmihalyi described this as the ultimate state to be in.
Having something to live for nourishes your life - every day. It’s the reason you put up with all the things that can happen during your day that could get you down – you let it all go and look forward to that thing that makes it all worthwhile.
Learn how to prioritise and how to say ‘no’
This knowledge can also help you learn how to prioritise and how to say no. When you become aware of what really is important to you and what you want to achieve, it becomes easier for you to tilt your life towards that meaning. It gives you the confidence to put yourself in situations where you are doing things you love and are good at, and avoid situations where you must do things you dislike and are not good at.
You can never be completely certain that this thing will be there for the rest of your life. Right now, it may be your children, but children grow up and leave home; it may be your partner, but unfortunately, partners can leave. If it’s your hobby, then interests can wax and wane, so be careful that you don’t pursue it at all costs and neglect other aspects of your life – causing your loved one's sadness, and possibly prompting their departure.
People discover their purpose, passions or ‘Ikigai’ in many ways, perhaps when they experience positive or negative life-changing experiences, inner-reflection, decide to make a change in their life, or simply by chance.
A common theme is commitment to a role or belonging to a group and this can feel like self-realization. It may be acknowledging something that you do naturally or that you have done or felt all your life – but now you can identify what that is. For example, the business owner who realises almost at retirement that he or she ‘provides the vision’ or perhaps they are ‘the glue’. They have been performing this role for most of their careers (sometimes it has annoyed them) and now they realise that this role is their life’s work – what they were ‘meant to do’. Often this thing is work that has a positive effect on others. Dan Buettner in his Ted Talk ‘How to live to be 100+’ points out that the two most dangerous years in your life are the year you're born, because of infant mortality, and the year you retire – for many people, suddenly they have no purpose.
So how can we go about uncovering what this is for ourselves?
Dan Buettner suggests listing your values, things you like to do, and things you are good at – and the things that appear on all three of those lists can guide you to your ‘Ikigai’.
You don’t need to blaze a unique trail. Another tip is to speak to people who enjoy and love the same things as you do. What have they done and achieved? What are they doing that they enjoy? Then go out there and make it happen for yourself; find that fulfilment. Seeing someone else doing what you love can give you confidence that you can do it too.
Where would you like to see change in the world?
In a world where our value as people and our own sense of self-worth is determined largely by our success, we might feel that we need concrete achievements such as a promotion or a salary raise. But you can have a value to live by that simply provides a new level of self-understanding and self-acceptance.
There is value in the whole spectrum, wherever it connects you to the people in your world and surroundings and the actions you take that impacts both them and you.