Finding meaning in your work can have positive effects extending from the quality of your output to your health. Beyond the personal level, businesses should also mind the fulfillment of their workers because according to a Gallup study on the state of the American workplace, disengaged workers are more likely to steal from their organizations, negatively influence co-workers, miss workdays and drive customers away - and this costs US companies $450-500 billion per year!
Woah! So, in short, being engaged in your job matters and benefits everyone. Still, this state of wellness isn't the easiest to attain in hectic work environments full of stressors. Thankfully, the Japanese concept of Ikigai can help with this.
What is Ikigai?
Ikigai (pronounced “eye-ka-guy”) embodies the combination of meaningfulness and fulfillment in work and life by realizing why your work not only matters to yourself, but to the people around you and to society. With it, you'll gain a deeper connection to your role, a drive to excel at it, satisfaction from the effort and become more resistant to burnout and stressors.
The word translated to English roughly means "thing that you live for" or "the reason for which you wake up in the morning.
It's an ideal and a lifelong pursuit, with effects that are sustainable as they grow over time. A study by Wharton University shows that:
Lifeguards who read stories about other lifeguards performing rescues worked 43% more hours, became 21% more helpful according to their survivors, and thought their jobs were important and felt valued by the swimmers they were supervising.
Nurses who met the doctors they assisted before performing procedures spent more time preparing instruments, completed twice as many pieces and made less errors than nurses who had no contact with those benefiting from their services.
How do you develop Ikigai?
As the image shows, the Ikigai diagram is composed of several elements:
What You Love
What the World Needs
What You are Paid For
What You are Good At
When these intersect, greater fulfillment emerges and gives rise to:
Passion: what you love + what you are good at = when you perform competently, hone your abilities and feel zest for doing so.
Mission: what you love + what the world needs = when there is a real demand for your interests.
Profession: profitability + competence
Still, even these aren't enough.
My general formula for my students is, ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.
Those with mission might be delighted at what they're doing but might not earn much.
Those with passion may feel satisfied but this doesn't mean their work is useful to others.
Those with vocation may feel excited at their path but they might not be certain with what the future holds.
And having a profession might lead to a comfortable life, but one might still feel empty and yearn for more.
To truly have Ikigai, these aspects must be balanced, one part cannot be over-developed while another is neglected. They must be proportional so that they can complement or complete each other. Then greater meaning will emerge along with greater benefits.
How can you do this in your life?
Assess what you’re doing for a living and what you do outside of work. Remember why those activities matter, but also try to find ways to make them even more significant.
Here are some ways to impart fulfillment in the workforce:
Remind yourself of the people helped by your work. Browse through satisfied customer feedback, recount moments your work had a meaningful impact on their lives.
“Spread the Ikigai” by giving honest and positive feedback. Remember when their works had meaningful impacts and remind them of it if they’re feeling low! Realizing that you are useful can be very uplifting.
Think of your passions and how can you make them overlap with your work and the world’s demands. Try enriching your work routine, whether it’s forming a book club with your colleagues or going volunteering with them.
“What you love” and “what you’re good at” need not be mutually exclusive. Treat the former like a skill that can be developed. These aren’t separate from “what you are paid for,” either - you can earn from doing what you love too!
Ask others what gets them through the day. Those who’ve been there for a long time have a wealth of experience and can see the “bigger picture,” including the purpose of their roles.
Introspect, ask yourself deep questions, find out what drives you beyond the payslip and remind yourself of this.
Appreciate little things, the “good mornings” of a co-worker, the flavor of freshly brewed coffee, a good day’s work, etc. Not everything has to be part of a “grand plan” that will “change the world.” Acts can be meaningful for their own sake, even if they’re tiny.
Unplug, take a deep breath, have moments wherein you detach yourself from the hustle and bustle. Get off your seat and take a stroll. Go to a quiet place and meditate. Sustain yourself with these moments.
Diligence is fine but overwork isn’t. Separate work from rest, have proper downtime and be sure to recharge because overwork will only result in lower work quality.
Don’t let what you do at work dominate who you are, try to find meaning and purpose out of work. Practice hobbies, travel, read. While they seem separate, they will indirectly enrich each other too.
Finding inner peace through acts that bring pure joy can sustain us throughout our entire lives.