‘Start your ikigai now’

HAPPINESS can be obtained simply by knowing yourself, doing the things you love, and making people smile but...

> Do you know yourself?

No one knows you better than you do. But let’s pause for a moment. You’d be surprised at how much you don’t know about yourself.

“You probably don’t understand yourself as well as you think you do,” as Steve Ayan wrote in his article 10 Things You Don’t Know about Yourself in Scientific American.

According to Steve, “your motives are often a complete mystery to you”.

Why did you choose your field of study? How about your career choice? These are the kind of questions you often don’t have a good answer for.

Fortunately, there are ways to get to know yourself better. Let me give you a personal example. Reaching my potential has always been important in my life. A psychological test discovered that one of my core values is “achievement”, which means to me “aiming for one grade higher”.

Then, I realised why I skipped a masters course and went right for a PhD programme, the highest level of an academic degree.

Knowing your values can help you make the right life decisions. This is similar to knowing what questions you’ll be asked in an admissions interview for college so you can prepare and perform well.

> Do you do what you love?

Do you have a reason to jump out of bed each morning? The Japanese people believe that everyone has one, which is your ikigai, and finding it is the key to happiness.

You’re happier if you do what you love (passion) and what you’re good at (vocation) while studying or doing what you can be paid for (profession) – the three elements of ikigai.

Values will help you focus on the things you love and are good at, helping you find the right programme (and job later) that meets your needs, desires and goals.

“What degree should I consider to nurture my maths and programming skills, love of learning and desire for success?”

Such a “values-led” question will help you to focus only on specific universities and programmes that are right for you, giving you an idea of what to look for in companies that hire recent graduates.

However, if you don’t know your values well, you won’t have known that with your love of gaming, your experience, skills and attributes make you a good fit for the gaming industry, for example.

> Do you make people smile?

Do you feel happy when you smile? Researchers at the United States National Institutes of Health found that you feel happy when you give to others, no matter how small the gesture is.

No wonder you feel great when you give up your seat to another passenger in need, or when you help a blind person cross the road. You feel good when you feel needed.

When I was a student visiting my sister in London years ago, I packed in my only suitcase everything I needed for the summer holiday, which meant that I had to carry this heavy thing on the train.

As I was lugging it up the stairs, a stranger who was going in the opposite direction offered to carry it up for me. Such an act boosted my mood immediately.

If a small effort can make a difference, all the more so can a larger one.

If you can create happiness in small things, imagine the happiness you can achieve by developing an app that can help the blind, raising funds to help flood victims, contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and so forth.

Making a change in others (mission) is an excellent way to boost happiness and is the last element of ikigai.

You don’t have to wait until graduation to start your ikigai; volunteering is a rewarding thing you can do while in college.

When asked his secret to happiness during the recent Global Happiness Forum hosted by Heriot-Watt University Malaysia (HWUM), Kuan Chee Heng replied “helping others” without hesitation.

Calling for volunteers, the social activist also known as Uncle Kentang encouraged students to take part in helping the needy: “Want to be happy? Help somebody.”

Crowdfunding offers another way of empowering students to help the needy by raising funds for them. The platform has also been successfully used by students for projects that are aligned with the SDGs.

You’re happier when you live life the ikigai way.


Director of Research and Enterprise


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