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Finding your Ikigai

Succulent and lightbox that reads Find Your Ikigai on a blue table.

Finding your Ikigai

Finding your Ikigai

By Dr. Jeanne Rosner, Founder of Soul Food Salon

Ikigai (pronounced "ic-kee-guy") is a Japanese word that quite literally means your “reason for being,” (iki means life and gai means worth → life’s worth). Said differently, it means “what motivates you when you get up in the morning.” Studies have shown that when one lives with a sense of purpose and meaning, one can live significantly longer with less chronic disease and lower levels of heart disease and cancer. Evidence also supports that having a sense of purpose is very important for long-term brain health. In fact, researchers at the Rush University Medical Center found that higher levels of purpose in life reduced the dangerous effects of plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease.  A sense of purpose helps one live with more energy, satisfaction, fulfillment, peace, gratitude, and resilience. And living with a sense of purpose encourages other behaviors for a healthy lifestyle.

Ikigai originated on the island of Okinawa, Japan, which boasts one of the longest-lived populations in the world. There are more centenarians there (people living to 100 years or greater) than anywhere else. Many Okinawans live by the strongly ensconced culture of ikigai.

During these times, when things can be uncertain, many people feel anxious and overwhelmed.  Consider using ikigai as a guide--it may help you discover balance and focus. I have found the concept of ikigai to be a helpful guide for me. I use it often as a tool to help reassess where I am and where I am going. I offer you these tools in your own journey, in whatever way they may be useful.

There are four principal tenets or questions to address in relation to ikigai: 1) What do I love? 2) Where do my strengths lie, and where do I excel? 3) What does the world need? What social good can I contribute? What is my mission? 4) What services can I do and get rewarded for? When these four tenets overlap, that is ikigai. Let’s consider each one.

What do I love, and what is my passion? What would your ideal day look like to you? What activities bring you the most joy? What inspires you and sparks your sense of curiosity? There are many books that can help you delve deeper into these questions. One that I have enjoyed is My Little Ikigai Journal.

Perhaps try making a vision board. It is a super easy and fun activity. You simply take a piece of poster board, cut out words, pictures, and phrases that speak to you from magazines or newspapers, and then adhere them to the board. A vision board may help you to see things that mean something to you that you hadn’t thought about before. I created my first vision board nine years ago when I was working with a friend and life coach, Kathy. The result was incredibly eye-opening for me.

You will see that I mention teaching, eating healthy, living authentically, and living my best life. At the time, I was working as a pediatric anesthesiologist. I enjoyed my work, my colleagues, and my patients. I was constantly challenged and I was continually learning, yet it was also very stressful – too stressful for my health and peace of mind. While working with Kathy, we spent time evaluating my vision board and what it was saying to me. We came up with some ideas on how I could implement what I envisioned. I decided that I would approach my son’s then-fifth-grade science teacher and ask if I could begin teaching some health and wellness classes in his class. She consented, and that set me off on the path I am currently on today. I have thoroughly enjoyed my new journey and have never looked back.

Where do my strengths lie? Where are your strongest talents? Are you more creative, more analytical, or more strategic? Do you like to work more with your hands or use your brain to figure out difficult questions? Do you prefer to work alone or with groups of colleagues? For me, I believe one of my strengths is that I am a doer. I like progressing toward a goal. However, I don’t mind or fear failing. Rather, I try to learn from each experience. I love learning new things, and in turn, I enjoy sharing and inspiring others with these teachings. I began the venture of SOUL Food Salon (SFS) with the idea of educating and empowering us all to be healthier. When I had my first event, I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in attending. I figured that if one person showed up then at least I would be educating one person (I had a very low bar!). As it turned out, more and more people kept showing up – for the salons and on social media. SFS has been a wonderful learning experience for me. I am eternally grateful for the journey.

What does the world need? What social good can you contribute to? What change do you want to see in this world? It doesn’t matter what the problem or issue is that you want to focus on – that is a very personal matter. There are so many problems in the world today: big and small, local and global. Think about what and who you would like to impact. Spending time on an issue important to you will give you a strong sense of purpose and a deep feeling of satisfaction, and you will likely develop amazing relationships along the journey.

I have used the SOUL Food Salon platform to raise awareness of many local non-profits that share SFS' mission of educating and empowering us all to be healthier. We have partnered with The Edible Schoolyard Project, The Teaching Kitchen Course at Stanford Medical School, FoodCorps, and, this year, we are collaborating with Fresh Approach. We are helping bring fresh and seasonal produce to a local at-need community in the Bay Area through a mobile farmers’ market.

What services can I do and get rewarded for? How can I be rewarded for my work? It’s important for your sense of satisfaction to earn some reward, however you define that. It could be financial and that is just fine because we all have to use our skills and energy to support our families. Or you could ask that your services be rewarded through voluntary contributions to worthwhile non-profits. Or, you might benefit most from the psychic reward of knowing that others value and appreciate your work.

Some ways of cultivating ikigai daily are:

1. Living in the present, with no regrets about the past and no worries about the future

2. Finding flow, where you are totally experiencing life, every day

3. Nurturing important existing and new relationships

4. Living without a personal ego

5. Being optimistic, smiling, and laughing every day

6. Feeling and expressing gratitude for all of the good things in your life

7. Exercising daily

8. Cultivating healthy habits around nutrition

9. Thinking less and living with a clear and open mind

10. Being in nature, living life slowly

Famed psychiatrist David Viscott said, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

I wish you all a happy journey as you explore your own ikigai. My hope for you is that it will serve as a roadmap to a long, happy and meaningful life.

Jeanne Rosner, MD

About Jeanne Rosner

Jeanne Rosner is a board-certified anesthesiologist who practiced pediatric anesthesia at Stanford Medical Center for nearly 20 years. In 2011, she began teaching nutrition classes in her son’s 5th-grade science class. It was an “aha” moment for her. She realized that learning and teaching about nutrition, health, and wellness in her community was her destiny. 

Since retiring from anesthesia, she has been a nutrition educator at local middle and high schools throughout the Bay Area. She teaches students about the importance of eating food closest to the source, making good food choices, and eating in a balanced and moderate way. 

Jeanne started SOUL (seasonal, organic, unprocessed, local) Food Salon in 2014. SOUL Food Salon’s mission is to educate and empower people to be healthier. She holds events (salons) at which experts in the health and wellness community share their knowledge on how to lead a healthier life.

Instagram: @soulfoodsalon