Dear Ken Mogi,
You have accomplished astonishing jobs over your amazing career so far. You wrote over 50 books and some of them have been translated also in English. Two of these books are The Little Book of Ikigai: The Japanese Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life and Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day.
Actually, The little book of ikigai and Awakening your ikigai are the same book basically with alternative titles, and these have not been translated into English. I wrote the books myself. The ikigai book (The little book of ikigai in the U.K., and Awakening your ikigai in the U.S.A) is the first English language book of mine. It has been translated back into Japanese by one of my colleagues for publication in Japan. : – )
What is Ikigai?
Ikigai is simply the reason you get up in the morning. Ikigai is something that makes you carry on. Ikigai is the source of joy in your life. Ikigai can be something private, or can have public significance. Ikigai can be something small, like taking your dog for a walk, or something big, like your life’s ultimate purpose.
What does “Joy” mean?
In terms of neuroscience, joy is associated with the brain’s reward system. In a process called reinforcement learning, any actions or experiences associated with joy (= reward) is reinforced in terms of the synaptic connections in the brain, so that there would be more joys of the same kind. In this sense, joy is your life’s compass, taking you to where you want to go. You follow your joys.
In Japan, Ikigai seems to be a natural life style to follow, something well rooted in the culture. How do we root this concept in the western side of the world where values and habits are so different?
Admittedly, Japanese culture is different in so many ways from the Western culture, which makes it so interesting. On the other hand, we are all humans, driven by the same fundamental instincts and behavioral patterns. Ikigai is not something genetic. It is something to be learned, and can serve as a source of inspiration for people in different cultures. Ikigai is a series of life hacks which can be learned by anybody from any cultural backgrounds.
Millennials are known for being a generation in searching for their full work-life balance in terms of complete personal satisfaction in life.
What led this generation to this point? How Ikigai can be of any help for this generation?
Human history is a constant struggle for more individual freedom and happiness. Because of technological advances and maturation of civilization, the millennials, perhaps for the first time in history, are able to pursue perfect personal satisfaction through work-life balance.
The concept of ikigai has likewise matured. For the Japanese millennials, the goals of life are not that different from those of Western millennials. The importance is the pursuit of personal freedom based on individual uniqueness. Principles of ikigai for the Japanese millennials would be most explicitly found in the popular manga and anime works, where the expression of individuality is perceived to be the most important aspect of one’s life.
It seems that when it comes to find our own way, one of the fundamental issues is to get to know ourselves. Living in a society that tends to make people follow wrong values rather than helping in discovering our inner values, how do we get to know ourselves?
That’s certainly a problem and searching your inner ikigai would be a great antidote to the problem that you mention. The key is to refer to others as your mirrors. Recent neuroscientific evidence suggests that in the human brain there is a “mirror system” which makes a cognitive comparison between you and others, serving as a foundation for self-recognition and acceptance. Ikigai can only arise when you accept yourself as the secure base for exploring in life.
Work-life Balance. How finding our inner Ikigai can support lack of work-life balance?
Ikigai encompasses both work and life in a continuous spectrum. From the perspective of ikigai, work and life can form an organic whole. With the advent of advanced technologies such as the internet and artificial intelligence, the boundary between work and life is starting to be blurred. What you experience in your life would benefit your work, and vice versa. Ikigai can be a guiding principle (in terms of giving joy in work and life) in this era of newly defined domains of human activities.
What is “talent” for you and how people can develop it?
Interestingly, genius (and talent in general) is perhaps not a heritable trait. IQ is known to be affected by genetics by 50%, but genius is typically born from ordinary people. And the offspring of genius typically becomes ordinary people. What this suggests is that the birth of genius is not a trait attributable to an individual, but a network phenomenon. When a unique individual meets the conditions of the time, and interact with other people through the network, sometimes a genius is co-created. The ethos of ikigai has a lot to do with this process of talent development.
What steps can people take to find their own Ikigai?
I suggest to reflect on your work, and find what things and activities give pleasure. It can be something very small, private, or trivial. Then you can start to rebuild your life from the very small beginning. Ikigai involves a lot of self-awareness and acceptance in this process. Ikigai has a lot to do with mindfulness, which is also a venerable tradition practiced in Japan, especially among Zen priests.
What is your personal Ikigai and how did you start working on it?
My personal ikigai is a rainbow of things from going for a 10km run every day to the ultimate goal of my life, to understand consciousness. I regard my everyday as a continuous flow of ikigai from early morning to night. I enjoy every second of it.
What have you planned for the next future?
I have one book planned on a subject related to Japan. I would also like to write a few books on artificial intelligence and consciousness. I love the tropics so I would dearly like to go south sometime and watch colorful creatures. I used to love butterflies a lot when I was a kid and still harbor that passion.
I wish to openly thank Ken Mogi for being available. Your answers are absolutely enlightening.
Ken Mogi on Twitter