What can the Japanese concept of Ikigai teach us about parenting


You might be wondering, what is Ikigai? Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to your ‘reason for being.’ In Japanese, ‘Iki’ means life, and ‘Gai’ means worth or value.

Your Ikigai represents your life’s purpose, bringing you contentment and moments of bliss. It acts as a roadmap, guiding you to discover aspects of yourself that lead to a meaningful life. When you find your Ikigai, you can share it with the world and teach your kids to find theirs.

True purpose and contentment arise when your life encompasses all four areas of the Ikigai model. Finding your ikigai is finding a balance between what you love, what you excel at, what the world needs, and what you can be compensated for. Parenting using the Ikigai model can help empower your children to find their purpose and reason for being as they begin to step into adulthood. 

A slight adaptation to the Ikigai model recognizes four crucial aspects of life: 1) How you choose to love yourself (your inner critic or inner voice), 2) Who you choose to love and be loved by (your social circle), 3) How you choose to earn money (your job), and 4) How you serve the world (your life’s work and legacy).

Teaching this idea to children early and modeling it can better prepare them for adulthood. Parenting is challenging, and incorporating the Ikigai model can serve as a roadmap. It’s a valuable resource alongside others, recognizing life’s complexities. Let’s explore the four essential life areas. 

Helping Your Child Learn to Love Themselves

First, how you choose to think about yourself. The word “choose” is very important here. We as humans have the power to control our thoughts. You can train your brain to think a certain way. You can also retrain your brain to think differently if you have been stuck in negative and unhealthy patterns due to childhood, abuse, trauma, etc.

If you can work with your child or teen on shifting negative (unhelpful) thoughts to more positive (helpful) thoughts in their everyday life, this will help mold their brain to innately think more positively about themselves, others, situations and the world. This is easier said than done. Reaching out to a professional therapist may help you or your child if you identify they have a negative self-view. Your mind and thoughts can be your best friend or your worst enemy, so it’s important to have a healthy self view.

Helping Your Child Choose Who To Be Loved By

Second, the people your child chooses to love or be loved by hold significant importance. The individuals surrounding them can profoundly impact their life’s path, especially during the crucial years of identity formation (ages 13-21). In his book “Will” (pg 96), Will Smith wisely expressed, “I knew that my dreams would be made or broken by the people I chose to surround myself with. Confucius had it right: It’s nearly impossible for the quality of your life to be higher than the quality of your friends.”

Empowering your child to make thoughtful choices about their social circle is crucial. Striking a balance between guidance and allowing them to navigate independently is key. Encourage your child to associate with positive influences, emphasizing the value of friendships that uplift, support, and share similar values.

Focus on the positive aspects of choosing friends wisely, fostering relationships that contribute to personal growth and well-being. Initiate a dialogue about the qualities they appreciate in friends, guiding them toward choices aligned with their values. Establishing a respectful and open relationship with your child, where they value your opinion and guidance, is essential.

Helping Your Child Learn How To Choose a Career

Third, assisting your kids in discovering their career aspirations is crucial. Distinguishing between ‘work’ and a ‘job’ is essential—work embodies life’s purpose and serves the greater good, while a job provides financial support. Striking a balance between a job that sustains financial freedom and aligns with one’s life’s work is key to a fulfilling life.

Given that a significant portion of life is spent at work each week, choosing a job that contributes to both financial stability and personal fulfillment is paramount. Unfortunately, there’s often a lack of mentorship during high school years to guide teens toward the right career path for college and beyond.

Encouraging your teen to envision their future and exposing them to various careers through visits to your workplace or discussions with friends, family, and neighbors can provide valuable insights. This exposure sparks curiosity about careers that can bring both financial stability and a sense of purpose, aiming to achieve two goals with one career choice. Usually if you are passionate about something you are more likely to be good at that thing. So career success often comes when someone is passionate about what they are doing.

Helping Your Child Learn How to Serve Their Community

Fourth, guiding your child to discover ways to contribute to the world can extend beyond a career. As humans, we inherently feel fulfilled when assisting others, thriving on connection and community. Encouraging your child to identify moments of bliss while helping can guide them in finding meaningful ways to serve the world.

mom and kid watching ocean sunset

Whether their passion lies in pets, animals, grandparents, friends, younger siblings, babies, plants, education, or the environment, there are diverse avenues for making a positive impact. For instance, if their interest leans towards animals, involving them in volunteering at an animal shelter or exploring a career in veterinary studies could be enriching. Similarly, if they are passionate about younger siblings or babies, volunteering at a YMCA, boys and girls club, hospital, or daycare center can instill a profound sense of purpose.

In summary, as we guide our children towards purposeful careers and instill values that encourage meaningful contributions, we lay the foundation for a fulfilling and well-rounded life. Our role as parents and mentors extends beyond vocational guidance; it involves nurturing their inherent drive to create a positive impact on the world.

Through fostering compassion, community spirit, and self-discovery, we equip our children to navigate life with purpose, resilience, and a genuine commitment to making a difference. In supporting our children’s aspirations, we play a crucial role in shaping a future generation that is healthier and more content in life. 

If you want to learn more about Ikigai we recommend reading; The book IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret To a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles.

You don’t have to go set your child up for success alone. An experienced child, teen or young adult counselor can help.

Feel free to contact us at 916.740.6424 or info@thedavisgroup.org.

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