The secret to a long and happy life? In Japan it’s called ‘Ikigai’

The concept focuses on what gets you up every day

In Japan millions of people live by the concept of ‘ikigai’ (pronounced Ick-ee-guy) – a reason you jump out of bed each morning.

Translated to English, ikigai means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning”

Ikigai is individual to each person and reflects their inner values and beliefs. A quick Google search will find an image similar to the one below which helps describe what makes your ikigai – the source of value in your life or the things that make life worthwhile.

Ikigia model

In the UK, USA, Canada (and more) discovering your ikigai is all part of Occupational Therapy.

What does Occupational Therapy do?

Occupational Therapy is a healthcare profession similar to that of a nurse or physiotherapist. When specialising in mental wellbeing, Occupational Therapists focus on improving and maintaining mental health to ensure participation in meaningful occupations.

The ikigai concept in Occupational Therapy is neatly packaged into a model developed by Gary Kielhofner in 1980 – and is now used work wide. It is called the Model of Human Occupation (MOHO) and is shown below.

Model of Human Occupation developed by Gary Kielhofner

In this model, central to the person is their inner self and is made up of Volition, Habituation and performance capacity.

Volition refers to what motivates us and includes our values, personal causation and interests. This is the part of the model which focuses on ikigai – what gets us out of bed in the morning, what is it that we live for? In mental health this is incredibly important for obvious reasons – we all need a reason to live, after all! But it can be just as important when looking at our daily work lives.

Why is it important?

The MOHO model shows that if we lack ikigai we do not develop the skills we need to ‘do life’, if we don’t have the skills our performance is poor, and if our performance is poor we avoid participating in it.

A simple example could be someone whose ikigai (reason to get up in the morning) is being in the great outdoors – knowing you can spend your day with nature and feel you belong there. If this person works in an office their daily occupations are at odds with their ikigai. Their motivation, job satisfaction and general happiness will suffer and as a result will never develop an occupational identity with their job as it is in direct conflict with their ikigai.

If this person worked in a zoo, for example, it would obviously be more in line with their ikigai. When this happens a person is more motivated to develop new skills, improving their performance and participation in meaningful occupations. When this happens you develop your occupational identity and occupational competence.

So the people of Japan may live by ikigai but it’s a concept recognised worldwide by occupational therapist. If you think helping your employees to develop their ikigai, consider an occupational therapy programme. It can not only improve staff motivation, performance and general wellbeing but also improve your businesses productivity and growth. Time to give it a go?

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