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In the words of the late actress Katharine Hepburn, a fierce personality known for her spirited honesty, “Life is hard. After all, it kills you.” The reality of Ms. Hepburn’s opinion, though blunt, is undeniable.
Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction adds another degree of difficulty to the human experience. However, within our day-to-day struggle, having a passion and purpose in life creates a shelter from the incoming storm.
The Japanese word that translates to “a reason for being” is ikigai. It’s a concept that suggests finding one’s purpose provides fulfillment and brings meaning to life.
Dan Buettner is National Geographic Fellow and bestselling author of “The Blue Zones,” a book about areas of the world where people are more likely to live past 100 years old.
One of the biggest factors to a long life, suggests Buettner, is a strong sense of purpose.
Why is a Sense of Purpose Important?
In a seven-year study, researchers surveyed 43,000 Japanese adults. Mortality risk factors, such as alcohol consumption, tobacco use, exercise, gender and education were taken into account for each participant.
Among this population, the 60 percent with a healthy sense of ikigai had lower levels of stress and better health.
Other research has linked a sense of purpose and well-being to some of the following:
- Better relationships with family and friends
- An increased ability to cope with physical pain
- Decreased risk of heart disease
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
- Live longer
Finding meaning, passion and purpose in life, however, is often easier said than done. Battling the disease of addiction comes with symptoms that alter the brain’s chemistry, which when treated, takes time to heal and return to a normal balance.
Mental health issues – depression, anxiety, bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorders – can also cast a dark shadow over a person’s ability to have a passion for something or feel a sense of purpose.
The simple beauty of ikigai is that it’s fluid. A person’s sense of purpose in life should evolve as their life unfolds. And anyone can have more than one sense of purpose or reason for getting up every morning.
For those new to recovery, a modest first step is, developing, perhaps, a passion for staying sober and using tools, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, as a means to change the way they used to think and behave.
That purpose might develop into repairing any damaged personal and professional relationships. Farther down the line, mentoring others can enrich anyone’s sense of meaning in life.
What are Examples of Ikigai?
Ikigai is anything a person wants it to be, including:
- Time with their family and children
- A fulfilling job
- Experiencing the outdoors
- Volunteering for a cause close to their hearts
- Reading or writing
- An infinite number of hobbies
The truth is most people don’t arrive in the world with a clear-cut path to a passion and purpose. With ikigai, exploration is part of journey.
Most people know it when they find it, and having a clear sense of purpose comes with increased energy and drive, and an excitement of getting out of bed every day with a positive outlook on life. Pursuing a purpose on a daily basis gives lasting fulfillment and meaning to life.
Yes, life is hard as Ms. Hepburn said so candidly. But finding a sense of purpose adjusts the importance of life’s nuisances and provides anyone willing to find their ikigai better health, happiness and overall well-being.