Ikigai: Destressing, the Japanese way
With so many uncertainties, instabilities and surprising changes that have been happening in this world, accumulating with our personal and professional volatility, stress has been surrounding our lives from different corners. But what is stress? And can we avoid it? The word “stress” was first mentioned in explaining elasticity in Hooke’s Law of 1658, “the magnitude of an external force or stress, produces a proportional amount of deformation, or strain in malleable metal.” Accordingly, and after years, in 1936, Hans Selye, defined stress as “the non-specific response of body to any demand for change.” After many laboratory experiments that he did on animals, he noticed that animals who were subjected to different physical or emotional stimuli lead to developing diseases similar to the ones people face every day such as heart attacks and strokes.
Consequently, there are mainly three types of stress; acute stress which is directly related to demands and pressures we face in our daily lives. Episodic acute stress this is the result of frequent acute stress and it is characterized by a disordered and chaotic life. And chronic stress which is when a person thinks he is in an interminable period and he will not find a way to escape what he is feeling.
Just like hunger, shelter and security, humans tried to face the stress threat. Every group of people designed a solution relative to its culture. In this regards, Ikigai, a Japanese concept came as a solution to all the pressure we face. Ikigai is a Japanese world originating from the word “ikiru” which means to live and “kai” which is the recognition of ones hopes.
For them, every person has an Ikigai that lies inside, yet in order to reach it, one should answer the following questions: What do you love? How can you make the world better? What can you be paid for? And what are you best at? Thus reaching the essence of Ikigai which is the reason for being. However, they continue explaining that Ikigai is not found in the answer of only one of these questions, it is found in the interconnectivity of these four dimensions. It is the ability to do something where you are satisfied financially, excited to do more, delighted with the impact you are drawing and feeling comfortable.
Hence, at first when the concept was discovered, it was used as a way to escape the stress caused by work and thus reaching a happy working life. After applying this concept, most of the Japanese workers were characterized as team players, hard workers and motivated because most of them have found their Ikigai.
Ikigai may help us in overcoming our everyday stress because it gives us a reason to live. It helps us put ourselves on the right track in order to overcome the difficulties we face in life. But what we should always keep in mind that even Ikigai is a changing factor. What is our source of living today may change tomorrow and thus we will be searching for our new Ikigai in order to reach certainty again and overcome stress again even if for a specific period in our life.
Nahla El-Zibawi Project Coordinator – Outreach and Leadership Academy, Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email: email@example.com