Why do I exist? Finding purpose and meaning in life – IKIGAI

Every year, for the last couple of decades, I have been meeting youth at CL Educate as well as across the country on my travels, while working with various institutions; most of the youth keep wondering what they want to do in life, while a few are enamored of a particular career, course or institution for what they have heard about these as “holds promise”, “Zindagi banjayegi” etc. The thought process or plan, of most of the youth is usually short term, on the basis of ‘financial returns – salary’ or lifestyle it affords.

The real mozo happens only when one finds his purpose for existence. As Late Dr. Abdul Kalam said, “Dreams are not those one sees in his sleep, but those that do not allow one to sleep.” Indeed, when one knows his purpose and meaning of life, it is a celebration. You live, breathe, eat, drink, think and sleep for that very purpose.

I have been pre-occupied with this thought of – How do I facilitate the youth to arrive at their purpose – thinking purposeful and doing purposeful. While I created a framework on facilitating the youth to think through, I came across this concept from a Japanese philosophy – IKIGAI! In this short note, I am bringing various interesting frameworks that could be of value in finding one’s own purpose for life and working towards realizing that infinite potential that exists within. This will also enable you to work on making your profile compelling, that reflects in your thoughts and actions, helps you to leave lasting impression in any face to face interaction.

IKIGAI – Purpose and Meaning of Life

Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life. Examples include work, hobbies and raising children.

The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki meaning “life; alive” and kai (sequentially voiced as gai), “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something which] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.

In the culture of Okinawa, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED Talk, Dan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.

The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions which we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.

In the article named Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.” The very self-actualization that Abraham Maslow also spoke about in his seminal work “Hierarchy of needs”, that we will talk about later or in another article, as a frame work to build ones profile.

We’re trying to find our passion; Our purpose; What makes our lives worthwhile and will give us that joy on a daily basis.

An important distinction is that Ikigai doesn’t strictly mean your career or your economic status, but it is representative of all aspects of your life: physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, social, professional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational and so on. It is the culmination of your life as a whole.

Moreover, Ikigai is not forced; rather it is something that emerges from within and that we are willing to do. These are natural actions and behaviors. We’re not trying to become something we are not.


While the above is good enough for each one of us to understand and work upon, as I researched more, I found another version that also clarified about the gaps that may be there in our life, when we miss one of these four essentials – what I love doing, what am I good at, What the world needs and what one can be paid for.

IKIGAI modified

How Do You Achieve Ikigai?

Ikigai can be achieved by answering four distinct questions.

1.What do you love?

Irrespective of all other factors, what are the things you love to do, without limiting by telling yourself how trivial it is. You probably are aware of these already, though you may not know what to do with them quite yet. If you’re not sure, try asking yourself, “What can you not ‘not do’? ”

This question is getting to the heart of who you are and what you’re all about. What are the things that you love, that you do repeatedly, that you always come back to? What is the thing that you can get lost in for hours on end, without even noticing, without even having food and sleep? The thing that doesn’t feel like work; The thing that infuses infinite energy; thing that makes you feel alive.

The thing you can not ‘not do’?

We may not have taken the time to notice these parts of our life before, but when you ask these sorts of questions, they come to the fore. You may be staring that skill or idea or field in the face, but simply never thought of it in that way. You just have to notice.

Let me bring my dear friend Dina Ralte as an example here. Dina was my classmate at IIM Bangalore and has been crazy about music since childhood. She could not ‘not do’ without music every day. That passion, like a powerful tsunami found its destination. Found a soulmate in Sonam Sherpa and thus formed one of the most popular musical band of South-Asia. You will see her in the first visuals here, crooning with her guitar and also Sonam.

2. What are you good at?

Everyone typically has some traits or skills that they excel at. They may not like it or want to pursue it, but if you look at yourself, you have inherent strengths, as well as weaknesses.

If you don’t enjoy your talents, it may be a matter of applying them differently. If that doesn’t work, the beautiful thing is that you can become good, if not great, at a lot of things. Putting in the time and effort is key and can even be easy, when you’re working to get good at the things you love.

As I travel, I document stories of people who are pursuing their lives with gumption, who asked “What am I good at.” Enough stories here, on this very website of mine about UNSUNG Heroes – Ponnuchammy and others

Ponnuchammy, The Madurai soupman
Ponnuchammy, The Madurai soupman

These first two questions I think are the core of finding Ikigai. They build the foundation for you to find many avenues with the help of the next two questions.

3. What does the world need?

A lot when you think about it. In our own cities and countryside in India, to half way across the world, there are a lot of problems to be solved – clean air, food, housing, energy, water conservation, sanitation, waste management, transportation, connectivity, financial access, education, skills, livelihood, human excellence etc. If you can find one that interests you, then explore the advances in that domain, where is the world heading, how a few people are making a big difference – read about it, watch on Youtube, TED and other sources to be aware and to guide you.

I bring in here, two inspiring individuals, who have been students in my/our classrooms – Nirmal Kumar, an MBA aspirant in 2005 in the classrooms at CL Educate and Jaydeep Mandal, a student who did his MBA at our business school, Indus World School of Business in 2008-10 IWSB

Nirmal Kumar introducing G-Auto concept (2013)

Jaydeep Mandal talking about Aakar innovations‘ ANANDI (low cost sanitary napkin)

4. What can you be paid for?

Anything that you are good at! You just need to find people who need what are you capable of, what good are you good at, passionate about or what are you selling. You may have to get a bit creative, but there’s something of value within the things you love and what the world needs. You just have to seek it out.

Putting these together allow you to find different parts of yourself. Understanding what you love and what you’re good at leads you to passion. On the other hand, finding what the world needs and what you can be paid for identifies your vocation.

Here I bring in an inspiring friend, Arun Pai, who is the initiator Bangalore Walks.

Also checkout what Anamik Nagrik behind “The Ugly Indian” is doing.

The intersection of all of these is where you achieve Ikigai. Of course this isn’t something that happens over night. It takes many of us years or our entire lifetime just to realize our passion, so I can only imagine finding your Ikigai would be that much more difficult.

Here is my Ikigai rejuvenation space. Relish it! (Added during covid..)

My Ikigai rejuvenation space

Even so, it’s the ultimate form of self-actualization and a worthy one at that. Hopefully these questions can help you start to discover where you should be going to achieve your own reason for being.

So the question is, are you excited to wake up tomorrow?

Visit www.sreeni.org for a detailed article on Ikigai

Happy Ikigai-ying! 😉

Ref: Wiki, Youtube and various articles by thinkers on the net. Thanks to each one.


  1. Greetings Sir!..
    It had been a wonderful experience reading this extraordinary article. Its unusual that someone has such level of wisdom as the case in yours..This article really helped me understand how to live a stressfree and happy life.I am highly grateful to you that you told me about ikigai.I wish that we could talk in person once again.Till then ,i would be highly obliged if you talk on phone with me.
    Thankyou so much.
    Pranika(phone no.-9818845649)


    • Humble thanks Pranika. Hope the article has been of some value to you. Kindly do the homework you need to do as suggested in the article, I am sure you will have greater clarity in life. for your career and more.

      There are many more articles around which can be very invaluable. Kindly keep visiting.

      God bless


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