Ikigai, the Japanese Art of Becoming a Morning Person—and Loving Your Life

Who says you can't wake up with a smile?

"Ikigai is a Japanese word for describing the pleasures and meanings of life. The word literally consists of iki (to live) and gai (reason)," neuroscientist and author Ken Mogi, explains in his new book Awakening Your Ikigai. But what sounds lofty and abstract might just help with something very concrete—getting up in the morning.

Ikigai is sometimes expressed as 'the reason for getting up in the morning,'" Mogi explained. "It is what gives you an ongoing motivation for living your life, or you could also say that it gives you the appetite for life that makes you eager to greet each new day."

It's kind of like a deeper, more focused approach to carpe diem. "If hygge is the art of doing nothing," the New York Post wrote, "ikigai is the art of doing something—and doing it with supreme focus and joy."

In other words, springing out of bed instead of slapping snooze—as eight out of ten people do—might just be a matter of connecting to what gives your life meaning. It could even lead to a longer life.

Okinawa is the original home to Ikigai, as well as dwelling place of the largest population of centenarians in the world. According to Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest, Ikigai is an idea embedded in other long-living cultures: "there might not be a word for it, but in all four blue zones such as Sardinia and Nicoya Peninsula, the same concept exists among people living long lives," he told Thrive Global.

"Your Ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing," says Hector Garcia, the co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

How do you put it into practice? And how the hell are we supposed to find time for our passion and purpose before our morning commute? It might be easier than you think.


A helpful chart


Seek Out Small Joys

Why save your daily square of dark chocolate for after dinner when it could help get you up in the a.m.? By incorporating some of your favorite things into the morning (almond milk latte, anyone?), you train yourself to anticipate pleasure, making your alarm clock the signal of more joys to come.

"No matter where you are in the world, if you make a habit of having your favorite things soon after you get up (for example, chocolate and coffee), dopamine will be released in your brain, reinforcing the actions (getting up) prior to the receipt of your reward (chocolate and coffee)," Mogi writes.

Make Meaningful Connections

You may not be enough of a morning person to have a pre-work coffee or breakfast date with your bestie. But why not start the day by shooting her a text, mailing a sweet postcard to your aunt, or calling your dad before you walk through the office doors?

"Although it is not impossible to have ikigai without social connections, it is easier to feel ikigai by creating social connections, perhaps because of the ingrained social connections Japanese society promotes and Japanese individuals are conditioned to seek,'" Ken dos Remedios told the Independent. In Japan, for example, commuters play "shogi" (Japanese chess) in the mornings to start the day off on the right food before the daily grind begins.

Connect Your Present Moment to Your Purpose

What's your reason for getting up in the morning? You might help identify it—and your Ikigai—by answering four questions:

1. What do I love?

2. What am I good at?

3. What can I be paid for now — or something that could transform into my future hustle?

4. What does the world need?

Help connect the dots between the blare of your phone alarm and what makes you feel alive. Label your alarm with a reminder for why you're rising with the sun. Hang a sign or picture that will be the first thing you see when you open your eyes. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself that this new day isn't another slog, it's an opportunity to be present, to do what you love, to engage with joy and gratitude, and to give the world what it needs.

"Ikigai is about finding joy, fulfillment, and balance in the daily routine of life," writes Chris Myers on Forbes. "It's all too easy to fall victim to siloed thinking, that our job, family, passions, and desires are all separate and unrelated aspects of our lives. The fundamental truth of Ikigai is that nothing is siloed. Everything is connected." And the little things are connected to the big. Waking up with an eye on your purpose might just wake up your whole life.