Why get out of bed in the morning? Coffee, Mental Health and Ikigai

Why get out of bed in the morning? Coffee, Mental Health and Ikigai

The other morning, over my coffee, I allowed my gaze to lazily wander across the bookshelves where it rested on “Ikigai” by Hector Garcia and Francesca Miralles. It’s a beautiful book and one I encourage you to pop out and buy straight away. If it’s the only takeaway from this article, then I will consider it a win. I picked it up and started to wonder how with Mental Health Awareness Week next week we should revisit Ikigai and use next week as a reflection moment on how mental health and purpose are fused together.

Now the purpose of life is a profound and philosophical question that has been debated for centuries. And I warn you up front, not something I aim to solve here and now. It’s a question that often has different answers depending on one’s personal beliefs and perspectives. Some people find purpose in personal happiness, relationships, helping others, or pursuing their passions. Others may seek purpose through religious or spiritual beliefs.

Ultimately, the purpose of life can be a deeply personal and subjective matter, and it’s something that each individual may need to explore and define for themselves. From this perspective it is both liberating and daunting. It is also something that is often put off or seen as personal indulgence. But with so many people in both work and home life reporting distress one of the factors of this must be when we are acting out of step or incongruently with what we know or at least suspect is a deeper personal mission.

The Japanese’s concept of Ikigai can help structure further reflection. Pronounced Ick-ee-guy, it has been said to be the force behind living a long and prosperous life. It is difficult to translate but the best I have seen has been ‘a reason for being’. Many of us no longer respond to traditional western pursuits of material wealth and ‘things’ and arriving exhausted at retirement but seek something deeper. Ikigai might just have the answer. It suggests that we bring together passion, our talents and skills, what the world needs and what we can be paid for. The intersection of these four pillars is our life’s purpose. Our Ikigai.

What I find interesting is that Ikigai accepts and works between the conflicts that often arise in our lives between different aspects. Our passions, loves, professions, our wealth and what the world needs. Whilst it is a neat way to organise thoughts and feelings the conflicts don’t go away without action!

If we love something we can be passionate about it, but if it lacks impact in the world then it can give personal satisfaction but leave feelings of uselessness. An attachment to simple hedonic pleasure has been shown to be poor for our mental health.  Likewise we can be highly skilled a certain task and definitely be paid for it but it does not mean that we are passionate or it is even enjoyable. Now some might say…welcome to the world of work. Get into a job, keep your head down and one day it will be over and you can retire to do what you love….. I have been guilty of this in the past, but it sounds like a bad deal to me. Whilst we must sit with the reality of financial perspectives of life in capitalist metropolitan living we surely cannot be destined to go to work as an endurance or just to pay for new double glazing or faster broadband services?  Like all things it comes down to balance.

So maybe it’s best to find balance much earlier than as we step into the grave?  Discovering this balance can be difficult but it is the hard work that needs to be done to find our peace and purpose. Ikigai goes beyond our work though. It seeks balance in all aspects of live and connects with values and becoming more mindful and compassionate in our everyday lives.

So, let’s have a look at Ikigai in more detail and the case for it.

Uncovering Your Passions: What Lights You Up?

Passion is the fuel that ignites our sense of purpose and drives us towards our Ikigai. By identifying activities and pursuits that bring us joy and fulfilment, we can uncover our deepest passions and align them with our life’s purpose. Research has shown that pursuing our passions leads to greater happiness, engagement, and overall life satisfaction (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Discovering Your Talents: Leveraging Your Strengths

Talents are the innate abilities and strengths that we possess, which can be leveraged to make a meaningful impact in the world. By identifying our unique talents and strengths, we can align them with our passions and values to create a sense of purpose and fulfilment. Research in positive psychology has shown that leveraging our strengths leads to greater success, satisfaction, and wellbeing (Seligman, 2002).

Aligning with Your Values: Living with Purpose

Values are the guiding principles and beliefs that shape our decisions, behaviours, and priorities in life. By aligning our actions with our core values, we can live with authenticity, integrity, and purpose. Research has shown that living in alignment with our values leads to greater life satisfaction, resilience, and psychological wellbeing (Hayes et al., 2012).

Contributing to the World: Making a Meaningful Impact

Contributions are the ways in which we serve others and make a positive impact in the world. By finding opportunities to contribute our talents, passions, and resources to the greater good, we can create a sense of purpose and fulfilment that transcends individual achievement. Research has shown that altruistic behaviours and acts of kindness lead to greater happiness, satisfaction, and wellbeing (Dunn et al., 2008).

In their book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia and Francesca Miralles said “our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our Ikigai”.

Below you can find some exercises to explore how we might elicit our own Ikigai but also light our curiosity and the role of intuition and creation of space for deeper thinking. 

The other, lesser reported, and gentler aspect of Ikigai is also about accepting yourself, connecting with nature and those around you, working on being present and also seeking pleasure in smaller simpler things. Most importantly beginning with small steps not always focusing on massive step change but incremental differences. Moods and trajectory can be changed by the smallest of adaptions and the tiniest, simple joys.

Connecting Ikigai to Mental Health Awareness Week can be a powerful and sensible way to promote mental well-being and self-awareness. Spending time to understand why we have “a reason to wake up in the morning.” feels important.
During this Mental Health Awareness Week, Ikigai can be used as a framework to encourage reflection on your own sense of purpose and how it relates to mental well-being.

Just as Ikigai encourages individuals to pursue their passions and goals, it also emphasizes the importance of seeking support when needed. Mental Health Awareness Week can promote open discussions about mental health and encourage people to seek help if they are struggling. By connecting Ikigai to Mental Health Awareness Week, we can promote a holistic approach to well-being that encompasses both personal fulfilment and mental health support. It encourages individuals to live purposefully while also prioritizing their mental well-being and seeking support when needed. It is a gentle introduction to some pretty deep concepts.

Here’s how you can connect and explore these concepts further:

1. Ikigai Mapping Exercise: Create an Ikigai map by drawing four overlapping circles (like the diagram above) representing what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. This exercise helps visualise where your passions, talents, values, and opportunities intersect, leading to a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

2. Mindfulness Meditation: Incorporate mindfulness meditation exercises into your Mental Health Awareness Week activities. Mindfulness practices can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and inner experiences, allowing them to connect with their sense of purpose and well-being. Meditate actively on your Ikigai for 30 minutes. Notice where conflicts sit or where you spend time outside of your Ikigai. If you are not a natural meditator then grab a hot tea, sit outside quietly and think.

3. Gratitude Journaling: Keep a gratitude journal throughout Mental Health Awareness Week (and beyond). Each day, write down things you are grateful for, including aspects of your life that align with their Ikigai. This practice promotes a positive outlook and reinforces the connection between purpose and mental well-being.

4. Community Engagement Projects: Organise a small community project that allow participants to apply their Ikigai in ways that benefit others. This could involve volunteering for a mental health organisation, organise an awareness event, or providing support to those in need through a compassionate conversation. Working together towards a common cause fosters a sense of belonging and purpose. This doesn’t have to be a huge town fair just think of your immediate community in the workplace perhaps and then push out from here.. where might you apply your talent outside of work? Perhaps take this article and some blank copies of an Ikigai diagram and discuss it with people around you and share yours. This week I launched a community library in my front garden where we can exchange and share books.

5. Reflective Writing: Tell yourself a story- your story? You could write about moments when you felt a deep sense of purpose or times when you struggled with mental well-being because you were acting outside your Ikigai.  This exercise encourages self-reflection and promotes understanding of the connection between purpose and mental health.

6. Goal Setting:
 Go through a goal-setting exercises that align with Ikigai and mental health goals. I encourage goals related to personal growth, self-care, or contributing to the community. Breaking goals down into actionable steps help you take concrete actions towards fulfilling their purpose and improving their mental well-being. Think small steps but big change!

These exercises provide practical ways for you to explore your Ikigai, cultivate mental well-being, and contribute to the collective efforts of Mental Health Awareness Week. They promote self-discovery, mindfulness, gratitude, and community engagement, all of which are essential for nurturing a sense of purpose and supporting mental health. And what about my Ikigai as we approach Mental Health Awareness Week. What will I do I hear you ask?  I have a deep passion and a mission for learning and sharing knowledge that I believe can help others. So, this week I have written this article, as part of my Ikigai, as an offering to my community….and as for getting paid for it…well…. That might have to wait for another day. Best get myself another coffee and then take the dog out!