What the Japanese concept of “ikigai” could teach you about living a long life

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In the Japanese village of Ogimi in Okinawa, there is a small stone sign with a message that roughly translates to: “At 80, you are merely a youth. At 90, if your ancestors invite you into heaven, ask them to wait until you are 100 – then, you might consider it.”

The citizens of this village, and the rest of the country, certainly seem to take this to heart. Indeed, the average life expectancy in Japan, according to the World Population Review, is 84.95 years in 2023.

Japan also tied for fourth place on a list of countries with the most citizens over the age of 100.

In comparison, the Independent reports that the average life expectancy for men born in the UK in 2022 is 79.4 years, while women born the same year can expect to live to 83 years.

Life expectancy is a complex topic and there are countless reasons why people live longer in certain places. However, many Japanese people believe that they live longer because they build their lives around a concept called “ikigai” – a sense of purpose or meaning in life.

Read on to learn how adopting the principle of ikigai could help you live a longer, happier life.

Ikigai means your “reason for being”

In Japanese, “iki” translates to life and “gai” means value or worth. As such, your ikigai describes the pursuits that bring value to your life.

Finding your ikigai means finding a wider purpose by considering the things that bring you joy, and the value you can offer to the world. Often, people refer to this as finding your calling in life.

It is said that you can determine your ikigai by pursuing activities that fulfil four key criteria:

  • What brings you joy?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need?
  • What can you be paid for?

This is often the approach that people take to identify their ideal career. Instead of only thinking about what you are good at, or what pays the most, you also consider whether you enjoy it and what value you provide to the world.

Ultimately, this means you can find a purpose, rather than simply finding a job to pay the bills.

You can also apply the concept to activities outside of work. For example, ikigai is a prominent concept in martial arts. Practitioners often find joy in their training and believe that they are offering value to the world by passing the skill on to their students.

As such, you may find purpose and meaning in your own hobbies and interests, as well as your professional life.

Many Japanese people believe that having a strong purpose in life is the reason why their citizens live longer than people in other countries.

Having a clear purpose can increase job satisfaction, improve relationships, and reduce stress

Knowing your ikigai and having a strong sense of purpose in your life can benefit you in several ways.

If you apply the concept to your professional life, for instance, you may be more likely to be satisfied at work. Considering you likely spend a significant portion of your time at work, this can have a big effect on your overall happiness.

In this way, you may be less likely to experience excess stress and anxiety about your job. This could contribute to longevity as it is well-documented that stress increases your chances of developing a range of serious health problems.

People who have an ikigai outside of work often spend more time engaging in active, social hobbies. According to Age UK, having strong social relationships could slow cognitive decline and reduce your chances of dementia, meaning that you stay healthy for longer.

You may also be more likely to get out and stay physically active if you have a purpose that drives you to engage with the world. As a result, having an ikigai could help you stay mentally and physically healthy for longer, and this may contribute to increased longevity.

There is a strong relationship between ikigai and your financial plan

As you think about your ikigai, it is important to consider how your financial plan fits into this.

Your wider goals are a crucial part of your financial plan. While short-term goals like saving or making investments are useful, it is often more important to consider your overall values and your priorities in life.

Some of the key aspects of ikigai, such as finding something that brings you joy or thinking about what value you offer to the world, can help you build a picture of your ideal life. You can then create a financial plan that helps you make that vision a reality.

If you find your ikigai, and this ultimately means that you live a longer, happier life, you may need to fund your retirement for longer. Consequently, you might need to adjust your retirement saving goals or change the way that you draw from your savings. Your financial planner can work with you to help ensure that you create a sustainable income throughout retirement.

Having a robust, adaptable financial plan could mean that you are able to pursue your ikigai without worrying about depleting your savings too quickly.

Get in touch

We can help you assess your goals and create a financial plan that aligns with your ikigai.

Email enquiries@blackswanfp.co.uk or contact your adviser on 020 3828 8100.

Please note

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.


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