“Ikigai: Finding Your Bliss”

Today, I would like to introduce you to The Carpenter. You may personally know someone like this…it may even be you.

Some years ago, a newly qualified carpenter began to work for a smallish company in his hometown. He was determined to build a good career for himself and to dedicate himself to his craft so that he could become a master craftsman and support his family.

To this end, he devoted much of his time to his career and, over time, he achieved his goal, much to his satisfaction. However, he had paid a heavy price – becoming increasingly disengaged from his family and friends, as well as his hobbies and interests. 

Eventually, his disengagement caused him to experience less and less happiness and fulfilment, triggering a personal crisis in his life. The time had come for him to reflect on his life so far and to re-assess what he really wanted out of life.

He realised that his single-minded pursuit of his career had created a lack of balance in this life and that he had lost his way. While thinking through the problems he was now facing in his life and how best to deal with them, he decided to take some time off from his career to make important changes in his life.

So, he approached his employer and explained the situation and the decision he had made. He was leaving the company. The employer was stunned; it was the last thing he expected. He tried very hard to get the Carpenter to change his mind, continually reminding the Carpenter that he was risking everything he had worked so hard for.

Finally, the employer realised that the Carpenter was determined to follow his heart and create a different destiny for himself. With great reluctance he accepted the Carpenter’s resignation, but asked for a single favour from the Carpenter before he left the company. He asked the Carpenter to build him one last house before the Carpenter left, to which the Carpenter willingly agreed.

However, as this last project started to unfold, it became increasingly obvious that the Carpenter’s heart was not really in the task. He resorted to inferior materials, quick-fixes and shoddy workmanship to complete the project as quickly as possible so that he could be free to pursue the rest of his life.

The Carpenter completed the house for his employer and was relieved to be able to hand it over to his employer and called the employer to come and inspect the house. As the employer walked through the house, he was somewhat saddened because he noticed the flaws in the Carpenter’s workmanship. However, he accepted that the Carpenter had met his obligations.

Having completed his inspection of the house, the employer then turned to the Carpenter and thanked him sincerely for his many years of loyal service and hard work, and for building the house. He then handed the keys of the house to the Carpenter and said, “This is YOUR house; it’s my gift to you.”

The Carpenter was devastated and responded, “Oh no! If I had known I was building my own house, I would have done things very differently.”

I think WE are the Carpenter, and our life is the house we build. Just like the Carpenter, we must learn to build wisely because life is a D.I.Y. project. Also, much like the Carpenter, we tend to build our house without really paying attention to the quality of the decisions and actions we take, or don’t take, and how they impact on the standard of our house.

Until one day, something happens, and life forces us to sit up and pay attention to our house. Suddenly we realise that our house is disappointing because it really doesn’t represent the best in us. It is not our ‘best life’. It is not compelling. Why? Because we are too busy being busy.

Carl Jung points out that until we make the ‘unconscious’ conscious, it will direct our lives, but we will perceive what happens to us as ‘fate’. Now, let’s tackle the concept of the ‘unconscious’.  Some people also refer to it as our ‘sub-conscious’.

I’m not a great fan of either of these labels because, to me, they suggest that either we are in a coma or we have this dark hidden room in the basement of our minds where we can hide things.  I think we are either consciously aware of something (our conscious mind) or we are not (our non-conscious mind).

Our thinking, both conscious and non-conscious, is what shapes our emotions. Our emotions in turn influence our behaviours, which includes our decision-making.

Our behaviours then ‘loop back’ and reinforce our emotions, which then reinforce our original thinking. It is a system. We also have a great gift for proving ourselves right – even though sometimes the results can be disastrous to us or others.

What does this mean for you and I? If we want to change the quality of our life, we have to first change the quality of our thinking. Many argue that we can implement change at any point in this system, i.e. at the level of thinking or emotions or behaviour. And this is true.

But I’m more of a ‘let’s get this done’ kind of person so I prefer to start at the source of the ‘problem’ (thinking) because this gives me the most leverage to achieve change for myself and others.

Change our thinking, our emotions change to align with our thinking. Change our emotions, our behaviours change to align with our emotions. Seems like a more logical process to me.

I also believe that all behaviour is purposeful. It is designed for a specific purpose, which is to meet our conscious and non-conscious needs. The real problem that people like you and I face in changing a behaviour is that we don’t always know what needs we are trying to meet through the behaviour.

So, when we try to change a behaviour we no longer want because it does not serve us well, we can’t sustain the change because the new behaviour is not designed to meet that underlying need.

Understand the need, design a more constructive strategy to meet that need, and the change will have a better chance of ‘sticking’.

Remember though that repetition builds skill so we have to practice the new behaviour long enough for it to become automatic and non-conscious, i.e. a habit.

Since our behaviour is purposeful, it always helps to have some overarching sense of purpose in our lives; some sense of destiny informed by the legacy we want to create in the different areas of our life. An answer to that age-old question, “What am I here for?”

As we know, this is not an easy question to answer. In searching for tools to help myself and others answer this question, I came across the Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’.  I’d like to share it with you today in the hope that it will help you to find your ‘bliss’ in life.

In the Japanese language, the word for Ikigai combines the symbols for ‘life’ with ‘to be worthwhile’, which then roughly translates into something like ‘the happiness of living a full life’.

I see Ikigai as ‘the art of living a fulfilled life’. I believe that when we live a fulfilled life, we have found our ‘bliss’ – the point at which the key areas of our life overlap and come together. This is what gives our life meaning and generates passion in us.

As Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps and author of the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, puts it: –

Here is a tool that I hope you will find helpful in helping you unearth your Ikigai, if you have not already done so. I use the word ‘unearth’ because your Ikigai emerges from reflection, it does not just appear in a flash of light.

Enjoy your voyage of discovery and may you live your bliss more often than not.

Please make it a point to visit Mind Matters @ Monzi regularly to check for new blogs.

To your greatness 🌼

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *