As humans we all share a common goal in life, to live happily. Our innate desire to embrace pleasure and reject pain is so strong that we spend our entire lives in the pursuit of happiness. The secret, however, may be found in ikigai.
Sure, perhaps not a constant euphoric feeling 24/7 mind you, but rather an overall arc in life. One in which, despite the ups and downs we all go through and the circumstances that surround us, we feel good about ourselves.
For happiness is one of life’s most sought after feelings. It is what we want most in life. Our desires are meant not only for ourselves but, also others. Extending beyond selfishness, it is in our nature to wish everyone else to be just as happy.
Of course, happiness is not the same for everyone. It is subjective, meaning that, what makes you feel good could possibly make others feel less so. Furthermore, how you bring happiness into your own life and into the lives of those around you also varies from person to person.
It all comes down to what you find enjoyable and how you express it. Mahatma Gandhi said:
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
The pursuit of happiness through purpose
If the pursuit of happiness is unique to us all, it is worth finding out if there is common ground in our ability to find it. Is there a secret formula for finding it that will work for me? Do we share any talents that if practiced would eventually bring us the euphoria we desire? Or, is it so subjective to each of us that any advice on finding it can only be spoken in wise old quotes? Can we be practical about our decisions?
Indeed, we can. Although there are many paths to happiness, a direct correlation between living a meaningful life and happiness can be made.
Studies have shown that people who are satisfied with their lives feel a high level of enjoyment. They are furthermore, more productive in the work they do and are readily helpful and giving.
Those living a purposeful life tend to be more active and have more social interactions between friends and in the community. The total sum of these parts is the formula for happiness.
To those familiar with the Japanese concept known as ikigai, the formula is clear as day. There is no doubt that happiness can be found in a meaningful life as ikigai embodies the pursuit of happiness.
Three simple attributes to find joy
Yes, the answer to happiness can be found in a life of purpose and meaning. First, however, you must realize that following your ikigai is a deliberate choice and happiness builds over time. It is not a sudden burst of magic or an epiphany of sorts.
You must make a concerted effort towards finding it and growing it. Keep in mind all the while that happiness is not a constant high. It is fluid and influenced by both the external events around you, and more importantly, what is going on internally.
Pay attention to what is enjoyable
The next sensible step beyond self-awareness, and continue a positive outlook is to begin paying attention to what is around you and how it makes you feel. Think about how your life or the lives around are you better off for it. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, give yourself the opportunity to really seize the moment you are in.
Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the moment last. – Simon and Garfunkel
Failing to notice the little things in life is a wasted opportunity. More often than not, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s too late. It would be such a pity to miss out on what might be literally before your eyes.
Take notice of the details in what you are doing and let it occupy your mind fully. If it has a smell, then smell it – a taste, then taste it. Pay attention to the details and let all of your senses overwhelm you for that moment. By doing so, you will begin to internalize its beauty and enjoy it, not for what it isn’t or should be, but rather what it is.
This type of mindfulness is essential to understanding what you believe in. It clears your mind of clutter and allows you to take in all aspects of life. Mindfulness helps to reveal your passions from which you may make it your mission in life.
So again, we see a striking parallel in the pursuit of happiness to ikigai.
Next, don’t be shy about being on cloud nine. If you are excited about something new, share it with your family and friends. Let them know that you are happy and more importantly, tell them why you are ecstatic. Tell them not only what you did or what you saw that amazed you, but how you are making an effort to pay attention to the details.
Your friends and family will want to learn about your journey. They will be glad that you are finding happiness.
In turn, you too provide them with an opportunity to let you in on their aspirations. Give them encouragement, lend them an ear, even learn from them. Empathize with them and understand what it is like to walk in their shoes.
If you are open about the things you appreciate and are grateful for, you will build unstoppable energy about you that overflows onto others. Like a chain reaction, your enthusiasm builds others’ wills to explore their own lives. Happiness is contagious.
Gratitude is the key of all keys to happiness
The first step in the art of living happily is to understand that gratitude is the key. It can readily prod your actions and affect your emotions more than any materialistic object ever will.
Case in point is wealth. How often do you hear stories about people who seem to have everything except a sense of happiness? Compare that with what you hear about those who have none of the material riches in life, but are still happy? Why is this?
The answer is simple, gratefulness. In its simplest form, gratefulness is the highest level of appreciation you have for someone who did something for you, most often freely and unexpectedly.
When you feel grateful, you experience a flood of positive emotions and in many cases, a sense of spirituality, calm, better health, kindness, friendship, cooperation, reciprocity, etc., etc. This list goes on. All thoughts and feelings pointing to one outcome, happiness.
Of course, not every moment is a happy moment. Surely it is unfathomable to be grateful for the sadness some events cause in this world. Sometimes our experiences do not go well and we often face difficulties. We fail on occasion.
In times like these, we must not retreat to hiding nor curse the world for making it so. Acceptance may be hard, but we should try to do our best to move on. Embrace adversity, not because it will make us happier, but because it will make us stronger. It is said that only through hardships in life can we get a finer understanding of appreciation and what it means to us.
Part of the culture surrounding ikigai is to build this level of appreciation through self-awareness. Considerations towards life and how you got to where you are common aspects to reflect upon. The more appreciative for who you are and what you have, the more you will find that life is enjoyable. It is a positive cycle of reinforcement.
The pursuit of ikigai
Actions produce results. By doing the things you are passionate about and earnestly putting your efforts into making the world a better place, you are creating an enjoyable life.
Over time as you become more engaged and grow with your purpose, you will begin to notice the little things in life. You will appreciate them and all your social interactions in between.
This may come in the form of renewed excitement in your work or advocacy about something you are passionate about. It may mean spending more time with your family or even volunteering in your community. The options are infinite.
You will surely find yourself to be more helpful and be more giving. Your actions may surprise yourself and those around you. A lasting sense of appreciation and delight goes a long way.
At the end of the day, you will be more grateful for the opportunities you both give and take. Over time, it will become clear to you that you are not only in pursuit of happiness but indeed you are living a happy life.