Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “your purpose in life.” The Japanese believe that everyone has ikigai and we owe it to ourselves to find it. Most of us believers say that knowing and living yours will help you to enjoy every day of a long, meaningful life. We attest that ikigai is what gets you up in the morning. It is the driving force that starts and carries you through the day.
But is it really? Can we take that literally? Does ikigai help you to enjoy every morning? Even Monday mornings?
Well, I have found my ikigai and I can tell you that my mornings are bursting with eternal sunshine. I wake up feeling wonderful singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah with a smile reaching ear to ear. With energy and enthusiasm, I fix a well-balanced, healthy breakfast for me and my family, and help everyone get ready for the day. All before a drop of coffee! Why? Because I know that the day ahead of me will bring enough rainbows and unicorns that I don’t need anything extra to get me moving.
And if you believe that, I’ve got a Japanese proverb for you.
If you believe everything you read, better not read.
(Kotogotoku sho wo shinzureba, sunawachi sho nakini shikazu.)
The reality of getting up in the morning
Let me be clear. I have found my ikigai (more on that in a different post). But, if there ever was a morning unicorn, it would have run far away from this grouch. Any rainbow would have disappeared the moment it caught wind of the clouds in my head.
Waking up early is more of a necessity than a preference for me. I dislike the entire routine inexplicably. My usual mornings are often quite hectic and rushed. Fixing breakfast for myself and the kids, including the big one mulling around in the kitchen, making our lunches, and seeing everyone off before getting myself ready only provides me with an extra minute, if I am lucky, to finish – let alone enjoy – that cup of coffee I poured 15 minutes ago. That is the reality of it.
Of course, the weekends are worse. Trust me when I say that waking up before 9:00 am is purely habitual.
And, what is it about mornings anyway, especially Monday mornings, that drives us all insane? Why is waking up on the good side of bed and smiling at the morning sun so difficult? How come I don’t feel energetic and happy that it’s Monday? Instead, I dread the start of the workweek.
Was I always like this? Surely this couldn’t have always been the case, could it? As a matter of fact, I specifically remember enjoying every day of the week be it Monday or Saturday. Granted I was just a kid at the time, and truth be told, I especially enjoyed Saturday mornings the most. Generally speaking, however, I never disliked my mornings until I got older. Somewhere along the way, I changed.
Sadly, I was never conscious of this change. Had I been, I might have been able to prevent it. Instead, it just sort of happened. It was like, one day my life was fun and exciting with everything in the world to look forward to! The next day it was time to get up for work, pay the bills, change the diapers, and so on…
Until one day, I somehow managed to get everyone out the door with an extra ten minutes to myself. Wow! A whole ten minutes. Arguably the most time I had had to myself in a long time. It wasn’t long, but it was just long enough to notice a single, uneaten, strawberry in the dish on the table.
Admittingly, my first reaction was feeling disappointed because I hadn’t eaten any yet. A rush of sarcasm blurted out of me to an empty house, “Thanks for leaving me a strawberry.” But, I resigned myself and sat down at the table anyway.
Then, something invigorating happened to me. I guess it was an epiphany of sorts. When I picked up the strawberry, I noticed how nicely colored it was. A deep ruby-red that was just a little soft causing the juice to seep onto my fingers. I felt sheer delight upon noticing that it was evenly colored all around. Holding it close, I slowly inhaled and let the aroma flow through my nose to the back of my throat. Closer I brought it, anticipating its deliciousness, hoping this beautiful little wonder would not betray me. I popped the whole thing into my mouth.
Let me just say that there are no words to describe the taste that exploded upon impact. It was quite possibly the best strawberry I had had in years! Indeed, it was juicy and quite tasty, absolutely delicious.
For a moment time seemed to stop and all things seemed irrelevant. I had no concerns about getting out the door and heading off to the office on time. I just sat there, fully enjoying the taste bud jubilee that was going on in my mouth and was not disappointed.
My morning happiness
Then, I did something I usually don’t do. I gave myself permission to sit a little longer and finish my coffee. After a few minutes, I got up from the chair without much haste and finished getting ready for work at my own pace. I wasn’t being lazy or procrastinating. Instead, I was moving forward purposely without the usual stress.
There was no way to be sure of how long it took me to get out of the house or how long the drive was. I paid no attention to the clock. Sure enough, my habits failed me not and I arrived at work nearly the same time as always, but I felt invigorated.
Of course, that delicious strawberry was all I talked about throughout the day. I strolled into the office whistling show tunes, greeting everyone with a big smile and genuine, “Good morning.” All-day I told everyone how, because of one bite-sized morsel of delight, my entire day shifted from morning gloom to the best morning in a long time. I was so happy about it that my coworkers threatened me with the “paddy wagon” if I didn’t stop being so cheerful.
And just then, like a small bell going off in my head, the secret to my morning happiness that day fell into perspective. My friend turned to me and said, “That just goes to show you that, it’s the little things in life that matter the most.”
My morning, my day
Later that night I reflected on my day and was simply amazed at how something so tiny changed my life, even if it was for only that day.
To be honest with you, a simple strawberry is not my ikigai. I still, on occasion, have that dreaded Monday morning feeling of not wanting to get out of bed. But, that little piece of pleasure led me towards a realization that my days were too consumed with what was going on around me.
Always preoccupied with “life,” I never took the time to “live.” I needed to pay more attention to even the smallest things in life and give myself the opportunity to appreciate them.
From then on I made a commitment to myself to take notice of what is going on. Be in the moment – especially when feeling tired or unmotivated. By making it a habit to enjoy the little things in life, I may be able to repeat those wonderful feelings more often. I just may become more in tune with myself and my ikigai.
Ikigai doesn’t get you up in the morning and make every day beautiful and magnificent. Paying attention to the little things in life does. It is essential for appreciating yourself and the things around you. Doing so provides you with clarity and certainty that you are acting purposefully, which is necessary to live a meaningful life. Surely those things will help you get up in the morning with all the energy and motivation you need.