Ikigai, according to Wikipedia, “is a Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living.” It is most commonly explained by invoking some version of the diagram reproduced above. The common center of all four circles is considered to be the state of ikigai.
Back in 2017, I wrote about ikigai in a post discussing personal satisfaction in one’s vocation or avocation. I’ve continued to see references to ikigai in various news features, often in the context of assessing one’s life at middle age.
Last year, I decided to add a session on ikigai to my law and psychology courses at Suffolk University Law School, which introduce students to the intersection of legal and psychological insights through the lens of therapeutic jurisprudence. “TJ,” as it is often tagged, is an interdisciplinary school of legal thought and practice that examines the therapeutic and anti-therapeutic properties of laws, legal systems, and legal institutions.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that certain that a discussion around ikigai would resonate with a group of law students, most of whom are well short of their middle years. To my pleasant surprise, however, these discussions have been lively, thoughtful, and interactive. And, in a way that is capturing a recurring Generation Z theme, many students have folded into ikigai the importance of work-life balance. In their student evaluations, some have identified the ikigai discussion as being among their favorite parts of the course.
Sometimes an engaging, relatable concept captured in a simple diagram can yield interesting exchanges and valuable insights. I think that the ikigai diagram serves that role. My revised impression of ikigai is that it prompts important discussions and contemplations at many stages of one’s life. And, with some minor hacks and tweaking — such as taking into account vital uncompensated tasks such as parenting and caregiving, as well as meaningful avocations and hobbies — it has something to offer just about everyone.
Note: For an introduction to the field of therapeutic jurisprudence, see my 2021 law review article, “Teaching Therapeutic Jurisprudence,” published in the University of Baltimore Law Review; go here for a freely downloadable pdf.)
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