SHE Foundation - "la Caixa" Foundation
What is your ikigai? The great reward you get from social commitment


The word ikigai is used in Japan to mean a reason for living, the reason you get up and join the fray every morning. It is also a state of mind that combines feeling good with being part of a group; whoever achieves this state is not only healthier, but also lives longer. What do we have to do to find our ikigai?

The paths to happiness are many and diverse. But studies on the subject agree that real happiness is not found by acting like an ostrich, in other words, hiding your head in the sand to ignore the threats that lie in wait for you, but just the opposite. Happy people tend to be interested and committed to the people and things around them. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, for example, wrote The Conquest of Happiness (1930) and was at the same time one of the people most committed to human rights. Examples in which commitment and happiness are interlinked can often be found. Doctor Valentín Fuster states in his book El círculo de la motivación (The Circle of Motivation, in Spanish): ‘The scientific and social projects I lead are without doubt the main source of my energy, the fuel that sustains my enthusiasm and my great desire to carry on’.

However, is it possible to be happy and at the same time remain socially committed when this could lead to our having to take risks? We probably have to look for the answer in the capacity of each and every one of us and in the combination of a number of factors that make up the basic content of our emotional education: self-acceptance, self-esteem and emotional control, connected to social skills such as passion, commitment and vocation. Everyone uses these as their basis to take on risk.

Volunteering is good for your health

The effect of ‘feeling good by doing good’ is a feedback process that motivates people to do altruistic acts such as volunteering and being socially committed, which are also ways of creating and maintaining gratifying emotional links and also strengthen the feeling of belonging to a group.

To volunteer (a verb that does not exist in Romance languages) is good for the mind and the body. There are many studies which demonstrate that voluntary work helps combat chronic pain and depression. Another benefit of taking part in voluntary activities is that it enables us to share out our parcels of happiness. In the same way that investors do not risk all their capital in one business, it is a good idea to spread our sources of happiness across different activities and environments.

To sum up, it is difficult to achieve happiness if we are unconcerned and indifferent to the reality surrounding us. Happy people, those who have found their ikigai, are well informed and in many cases take on social commitments.

A person’s happiness depends in large part on his or her capacity to help others to become happy.

Sources and further information:

Corazón y mente (Heart and Mind, in Spanish), by Valentín Fuster and Luis Rojas Marcos (Planeta)
El Círculo de la motivación (The Circle of Motivation, in Spanish), by Valentín Fuster (Planeta)
Educación emocional y bienestar (Emotional Education and Well-Being, in Spanish), by Rafael Bisquerra (Wolters Kluwer)
Pura felicidad (Pure Happiness, in Spanish), by Albert Figueras (Plataforma)


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