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What’s your Ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese term that translates to “a reason for being” or “a purpose in life.” It is the intersection of four elements: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. When these four elements are in balance, it is believed that people can experience a sense of fulfilment and happiness in their lives.

Ikigai has become increasingly popular in recent years as a concept that can guide people in finding their purpose and meaning in life. While it is rooted in Japanese culture, the concept has been embraced by people all over the world.

According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), purpose is a fundamental component of psychological well-being. This approach emphasizes the importance of living a meaningful life, and it offers a framework for understanding and cultivating purpose. In the context of ACT, purpose is defined as a sense of direction and meaning in life that is consistent with our values. It involves identifying what is truly important to us, and then taking actions that align with those values. When we are living a purposeful life, we feel a sense of fulfilment and well-being, even in the face of challenges and difficulties.

Numerous studies have indicated that having a sense of purpose is linked to better physical and mental health, improved cognitive function, and a longer lifespan. Ikigai suggests that those who have discovered their purpose are more likely to experience these benefits. In the Ohsaki Study, which followed a large cohort of Japanese adults over a 7-year period, individuals who reported a strong sense of ikigai had a significantly lower risk of mortality, even after controlling for other risk factors such as age, sex, and smoking status. This study provides strong evidence for the link between a sense of purpose and physical health outcomes (Sone et al., 2008). The relationship between purpose and health may be due to the stress-reducing effects of having a clear sense of direction in life. People with a sense of purpose are more inclined to engage in healthy behaviours like regular exercise and a balanced diet.

One of the key tools used in ACT to cultivate purpose is the Values Clarification exercise. This exercise involves reflecting on what is truly important to you, and then identifying specific behaviours that align with your values. For example, if you value connection with others, you might commit to spending more time with your whanau, or to volunteering in your community. While ikigai is a deeply personal concept, there are some steps you can take to explore and discover your own sense of purpose using the ACT values clarification exercise:

1. Identify potential values: Begin by brainstorming a list of potential values that are important to you. These might include things like compassion, creativity, wairua, whanau, career success, or social justice. Write down as many as you can think of, without worrying about prioritizing them yet.

2. Rank your values: Next, review your list and identify the values that are most important to you. Circle or highlight these values, and rank them in order of importance. Be honest with yourself about what truly matters to you, rather than what you think you “should” value.

3. Clarify each value: For each of your top-ranked values, clarify what that value means to you. What specific actions or behaviours would align with that value? How would living that value impact your life and the lives of those around you? Write down your thoughts for each value.

4. Identify actions: Finally, identify specific actions or behaviours that align with your top-ranked values. What can you do on a daily basis to live in alignment with your values? Make a list of these actions and commit to incorporating them into your life.

This exercise can be a powerful tool for people seeking to live a more fulfilling and purposeful life. By identifying your passions, strengths, and values, you can begin to develop a sense of direction and meaning in your live, and take steps towards living a life aligned with your true purpose.


By Ampara Bouwens

Ampara is an experienced Clinical Psychologist with over 19 years of experience, providing mental health services in private, governmental, and corporate sectors. She specializes in complex trauma, personality disorders, and other severe disorders, using a compassionate and non-judgmental approach to help clients regain control and autonomy over their lives. Since moving to New Zealand in 2016, Ampara has been running a successful private practice, offering personalised and effective treatment to individuals seeking to improve their mental health and well-being. Ampara is also the clinical lead and founder of MindGarage – a leading provider of psychological services, treatment, and assessment, with a team of skilled therapists who provide high-quality, personalised treatment via the same compassionate, non-judgmental approach. The MindGarage team takes a holistic approach to therapy, considering all aspects of a client’s life and offering tailor-made services to meet individual needs. MindGarage believes in empowering clients with the skills and knowledge needed to make positive changes in their lives, promoting long-term mental and emotional health.

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