What is the meaning of life?
Zul Andra, Editor-in-chief
To me, the answer can be found in the question. A nod to René Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”. But before we strain our necks nodding, let’s visit the land of the rising sun where the meaning of life could either sway to a tea ceremony or to stabbing a knife in your own belly. Whatever rocks your philosophical boat, man.
There is a Japanese concept of living called ikigai— which means “a reason for being”. There are four fundamentals in this concept that one must attain. They are: what you love; what the world needs; what you can be paid for; and what you are good at. Imagine each of these fundamentals taking up four different circles to form a Venn diagram, the goal is to find your centre, your ikigai. Or the goal could even be to just google it because pictures.
To attain ikigai, you can’t half-bake your dance steps and go for, say, two out of four of these fundamentals. (Do you make a cup of tea with only water? No.) You can’t shortcut ikigai. If you are only about what you are good at and what you love, you have attained “passion”. This is a struggling artist working at Starbucks. If you are only about what you love and what the world needs, you have attained “mission”, and you’re either Andrew Garfield as a Portuguese Jesuit priest spreading the word in Japan ( Silence, 2016) or Garfield saving the world as Peter Parker ( The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012/2014).
I first came across ikigai when I was having drinks with an editor from another magazine. It was a rainy Monday evening. The magazine and newspaper industry is facing its most challenging era. The old guards have no idea what to do with the digital landscape and the new faces have opinions that could either inhabit Mars or kill us on the way there. I was finding answers from the bottom of a glass of whisky. Glass after glass, whisky after whisky. (Aside: my designer asked if it’d be easier to find the answers if the glass was smaller. Intrigued I was, but tequila shots on a Monday I will definitely not have.)
The editor brought up this spectacular concept of ikigai and all the lights reflecting on the wet surface of the road seemed to light up to me. Almost blinding me. Like, “Woah, man. Can we turn down these lights of epiphany for a second?” That bright. He knew his ikigai like it was a continental breakfast buffet at a cheap hotel. For him, it all pointed to a deep and uncompromising drive for selfishness. “It’s not very Ayn Rand,” he told me. “Ayn Rand’s position is selfishness for the greater good. I don’t care about the greater good.” He then mentioned his belief in the ideology and the philosophy of Satanism. For context, he’s an absolutely nice chap.
According to a BBC article, there are many books about ikigai “but one in particular is considered definitive: Ikigai-nitsuite ( About Ikigai, 1966).” The book’s author, Mieko Kamiya, posits that there’s a subtle difference in the meaning of ikigai which is similar to happiness. “Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in a more fulfilling life as a whole,” the BBC writer added.
Ikigai is an actionable concept. It’s no good writing it down in a notebook as part of a collection of “things to do”. That’s the difference. It isn’t a reason for becoming, it is a reason for being. To the people of Okinawa, Japan, where the concept of ikigai is said to have been founded, the reason for being is to get up every morning. It could be something as simple as that, but more often than not, it is the simplest things that are the hardest to attain. Find your reason for being and you will discover the meaning of life. Ikigai out.