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What’s Your Ikigai?

Published on October 26, 2020

The island of Okinawa, Japan, boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the world, with inhabitants living on average 7 years longer than Americans. There are also 5 times more centenarians in Okinawa than in the US. Why might that be?

In addition to living healthy, social lives, there is one more concept that is believed to contribute to Okinawan longevity: Purpose.

In the US, we divide our adult life into two phases, work and retirement (I can’t stand the word retirement, with its connotation of fading away into the woodwork)—but there’s not even a word for retirement in the Okinawan language. Instead, there is one word that encompasses everything: Ikigai, which translates to “a reason to get up in the morning”—essentially, a sense of purpose. The Japanese believe that everyone has an Ikigai, at all stages of life, and revere the personal search for one’s reason for being.

Having a sense of purpose has been shown in research to be critical to our well-being. It protects our health and helps us live longer, happier lives. When we’re connected to something larger than ourselves, we’re more hopeful and positive, we’re better able to cope with life’s challenges, we’re using our brains and connecting with others, we’re staying physically active and more likely to take care of ourselves.

So how do we discover our purpose?

Sometimes purpose finds us, often as a result of a personal crisis. I have interviewed hundreds of people who have reinvented at 40 or later in my interview series and have heard amazing stories of determination—and purpose—in the face of unexpected challenge.

More often, we need to seek purpose out. This is no easy task, but it’s a critical search and well worth the effort. In my Discover Your Purpose groups, I take clients through a proprietary process to identify their purpose—so they experience the joy and meaning we all so desire—and deserve.

My own purpose is to challenge, empower, and inspire women to purposeful and transformative action. I can’t begin to express how powerful this feels for me. It’s who I am and why I’m here. The clarity that comes with declaring my purpose compels me to make choices that express my true self and align with my mission. It helps me prioritize how I spend my time, energy, and money. I now have total focus behind my passion.

YOUR TURN: What’s YOUR ikigai?

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Hélène Stelian, the Midlife Empowerment Coach

I’m Hélène, the Midlife Empowerment Coach. I help women who are struggling in midlife—who wonder if their best years are behind them and what’s next for them. I show them how to put themselves first, reclaim their identity, figure out what’s next, and feel excited about their future.


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