The Little Book of Ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life (by Ken Mogi)

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash
Published on 11 December 2019 by Tomislav Rozman


“Yesterday I've just finished a book "Ikigai" (Ken Mogi).

The following sentence still echoes in my mind:

"When a sumo wrestler wins the battle, he doesn't show his joy in front of the loser, because he respects him and he won already."

A great lesson for life and business, don't you think?


After reading

After reading this book I searched for the popular Venn diagram which is circulating internet / LinkedIn for some time. Previously I found it attractive and smart.

Now I find the image below somehow inaccurate, ‘westernized’. When I look at it, I feel a pressure that I will not find the ikigai if I’m spending my time for one of my hobbies, if it doesn't bring money. It looks like I need to be good at something I love and also paid for doing this.

I understood Ken Mogi’s explanation of ikigai very differently.

Ken Mogis’ explanation of the art of #ikigai is mostly about love of doing things - what gets you up in the morning.

If you’re good at it, good, but if not, no big deal. If you’re paid for it, good, but if not, no big deal. If the world needs it, good, but if not, no big deal.

For example, I play guitar for more than 20 years and I still suck at it, but I immensely enjoy it. Sometimes I feel sorry for my family because they have to listen to it. I’m not paid to do it and I’m sure the world doesn’t need another guitar player. It’s my #ikigai, because it follows the 5 core ikigai premises.

Ken Mogi is a japanese and a scientist / professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology,

1. Start with small

...And focus on the smallest details.

It was 96’ and my wife taught me 3 chords - G, D, C of G’n’R’s “Knocking on Heaven's Door” song. For several weeks I practiced only these 3 patterns. No scales, minors, #, b, fingerpicking. Just these chords, position of the fingers on the fretboard and how to move them between the chord transitions. Slowly these small details imprint into the muscle memory and after some time I could add one, two, three… more chords. Now I suck a little bit less, but I know my limits - I will never be THE musician. No amount of wishful thinking and practice will fix that. I can learn a few fragments of the Metallica and Black Sabbath songs and that’s it. Which is just fine.

2. Free (release) yourself

... (from the dependency of prizes, instant gratification and ego) Just immerse into the action and enjoy it.

When I go to my ‘quiet room’, where I store my guitars, I don’t expect anybody will listen, praise or cherish me. (Sometimes) I close the door any play only for myself. Sometimes an hour or two passes and I don’t even know when.

3. Harmony and sustainability

Japanese maintain their traditions (e. G. art of building temples) for several thousands of years. Harmony of the nature in their gardens and parks is astonishing. Where did I achieve harmony and sustainability? Sometimes my wife joins me when I play guitar and sings. I try to follow her (or vice versa) and sometimes it sounds nice. That’s the harmony I enjoy in. I’m trying to sustain muscle memory of my fingers and I play at least once per week, for 20 years. If that’s not sustainability, I don’t know what it is.

4. The joy of little things

The book provides colorful examples of Japanese people, some of them are performing boring jobs, but dedicate all their spare time to hobbies, like drawing Manga art, growing bonsais or similar.

I’ve always felt bad because of my numerous hobbies. I thought that I’m wasting my time with something non productive, which doesn’t pay off. The book gave me the confirmation nothing’s wrong with that. The joy of little things (writing, drawing, playing guitar, running, constantly fixing my company’s website, managing some small social media groups, fixing home appliances) is the only joy that gives inner satisfaction. Actually, there are no big things anyway - just a sea of small tasks and amusements.

5. Being here and now

Focusing on the sensorical input and enjoyment is the ultimate ‘here and now’ feeling. Past and future are illusions, the ‘now’ is the only thing which is true. When playing guitar it’s easy for me to slip in this kind of mode. The world around doesn’t exist, only my ears and fingertips touching the strings. Other times, when I feel disconnected, I have to forcely remind myself: “What is happening right now? What I see? What I hear/smell/touch/feel?”

My Ikigai image

Modern motivational speakers and influencers are trying to convince us everybody can ‘grow’, ‘become the winner’, ‘do his/her dream job’, ‘materialize wishes’, because ‘universe will provide’’.

The real world simply does not work like this. Just look around. The majority of people will never become Steve Jobs or James Hetfield. The reason is surely not that they do not wish it (or work) hard enough. Wishful thinking and hard work simply has its limits.

But this is no obstacle with ikigai - you can find joy and greatness even when cleaning the toilet, not only when you’re leading a team of 100 or more people, managing multi-million budget or winning the Tour.

So here it is, I fixed the first picture. The first circle is the love of doing things, which is the source and CAN lead to other circles, but not necessary. Which is, according to ikigai, just fine.

This is just my personal understanding of ikigai, which is probably as subjective as other western interpretations. If there are any japanese readers, please comment it.

Can you find the elements of ikigai in your work / hobbies?

Further reading

You are invited to read also other blog posts.