How to be Happy at Work – 3 Steps to Increase your Fulfilment

– By Dr Jo Abbot, Horizons Careers

Japan is far from Zimbabwe – 8,000 kilometres away and a 7 hour time difference. Japan has the oldest population in the world.  Zimbabwe has one of the youngest.

So how is Japan relevant to happiness at work in Zimbabwe?  Well, research into why Japanese people live so long may hold clues for workers of all ages, in Zimbabwe and globally.  Key, it seems, to a long life is the Japanese concept of ikigai, finding your life purpose or “reason for being”.

We spend at least a third of our lives at work so perhaps it’s not surprising that researchers found links between fulfilment at work and living a long life.

Ikigai has four elements:

  • Doing something you are good at
  • Doing something you love
  • Doing something the world needs
  • Doing something you can be paid for

The holy grail of careers is finding work that meets all four elements, that is finding your purpose, illustrated at the centre of the ikigai picture below.

Where we can find work that meets these four elements, we live our life’s purpose; we make our life worthwhile, and if we are happy in work that taps into our deepest motivations and values, we are likely to perform better, and have the energy and personal resilience to cope better with challenge and change.

Ikigai – finding your sense of purpose iki= life, gai = worth or realising your hopes (Richards 2016)

So what are the best ways to find your ikigai?

  • Know yourself – there is no shortcut to deep reflection on who you are and what motivates you.  I often ask clients “what would you (or do you) get out of bed for?”.  Engineer Arthur Bobo who came in to talk to students of FutureReady, a careers programme for young people, put it another way.  He asked the students: “how do you know if you have found your purpose?  Ask yourself, would you do this without being paid, if you would, you have found your purpose”.  That’s a great description of ikigai, working with the grain of who you are.
  • Are you up for change? –  Are you ready for a quest to move from where you are now to something closer to your ikigai.  People are changing careers more times in their lives than ever before –recent Australian research shows the new average is 5 to 7 careers in a lifetime…..But the same research also shows how career changes are often driven by negative experiences, such as stress, boredom, redundancy, job insecurity and not feeling valued. Managing your career towards your ikigai is a more positive motivator, providing a positive framing of who you are and who you want to be using all four ikigai elements.
  • Being deeply thoughtful about each element. – It may be tempting to ‘cherry pick’ or rate one element more than others.  But ikigai is about balance.  It’s not about blindly pursuing pipedreams but rather taking a hard look at what you love and are good at AND reality checking if the world wants or needs this, and is willing to pay you (specifically you) for it.  You need to be as hard nosed about the financial element as the passion element.  As an example, I may love golf, but the world wouldn’t pay me to play golf, I am not good enough, but a professional golfing career does work for thousands of people.  You need to ask, am I or can I be that person?  If not, can I find another ikigai which would have golf as my passion or hobby and something else as my life purpose.

 Ikigai can help people unlock how they can be fulfilled at work.  Clients often get an ‘aha’ moment when they reflect on each element and use it to understand what is in and out of balance.  By taking time to understand ikigai and how it relates to your career, you can be more fulfilled by doing the work you are best suited to, you love doing and can make money at.  And, like the Japanese, you may get to live a long life too.

Written by – Dr Jo Abbot is founder and CEO of Horizons Careers, and a professional member of the International Association of Career Coaches.  If you would like help to find your ikigai, please see or call 0785 416687 to find out more about career coaching.  Fresh Horizons – helping women get back to work starts 2 July.  

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