I read with interest an article by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about human longevity in Japan on the CNN website.

The main focus was on a word, and as so often happens in linguistics, also a concept:


Ikigai has been drawn in books and articles as the center of a Venn diagram in which your answers to these questions all overlap:

• What do you love?

• What are you good at?

• What can you be paid for?

• What does the world need?

When you find the answer that fits all four questions, that's your ikigai. Another way of defining your own ikigai is to simply ask yourself: Why do you get up in the morning? Or, what motivates you?

Like anyone here, I would love to have a productive life beyond the 70s. So the meaning of ikigai is very interesting and relevant.

Is there a better word or phrase or idiom that expresses the idea beyond..

“purpose in life”


raison d'être” “

  • 2
    Presumably, the reason people use the term "ikigai" in English is because they think there isn't any existing English word that has the same meaning. But some similar words/phrases are given in the Venn diagram in the following post, which also mentions the Japanese word: Difference between Vocation and Mission
    – herisson
    Jun 20, 2019 at 23:56
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    Ikigai (生き甲斐) simply means what you've already suggested, and an examination of the individual kanji yields not much more (Japanese words usually being more than the sum of their parts). I don't think there's anything in English that circumscribes the nexus of the four lobes of your Venn diagram exactly. Which may be why Gupta reached for the Japanese term.
    – Robusto
    Jun 20, 2019 at 23:56
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    A very nice English word (out of French) is métier, which the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2010) defines as follows: "1. An occupation, trade, or profession: ... 2. Work or activity for which a person is particularly suited; one's specialty: ..." This more or less takes care of the "what do you love," "what are you good at," and "what can you be paid for" parts of the equation; but admittedly it doesn't address the "what the world needs" facet.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 21, 2019 at 5:26
  • @Sven: Another French term suddenly comes to mind: raison d'être.
    – Robusto
    Jan 28, 2020 at 1:44

2 Answers 2


A person's calling in life - "a strong inner urge to follow an occupation, etc; vocation"

Source: TheFreeDictionary


Fortunately for us, concepts in Japanese tend to be expressed in compound words. As an example, the word in question here, ikigai, is a compound word, composed of these parts:

生き - iki - living, being alive, vitality
甲斐 - gai - worth, use, effect

As ikigai is a concept that pertains to one's reason for living we could take into consideration some of the literal meanings for iki and gai separately to understand that the possible more accurate translation is what gives your life worth.

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