Discovering ikigai at 82
He was 82, sickly, and depressed. He hardly stepped outside his humble home in the countryside of Japan. He spent most of the day in bed doing nothing. His past as a skilled mechanic seemed far away. He had no purpose, joy, or a sense of fulfillment in his life. He was tired, bored, and waiting for death.
One day, his daughter asked him to repair her sewing machine. He dragged himself to check it out. After a minor fix, he slid a piece of cloth under the presser foot for test sewing. As he stepped on the pedal, the needle ran through the fabric with a musical sound. A few seconds of work yielded neat stitches in the same length and pitch. He changed the sewing mode and stepped on the pedal again. The machine quivered with the joyful sound, leaving a dancing zigzag line.
He got hooked.
He tested the next sewing mode, the next, and the next. Time disappeared. Nothing existed except for the sewing machine, cloth, and stitches. He forgot about his aging body and depression. He couldn’t stop sewing.
He found his ikigai.
Ikigai is a uniquely Japanese concept. It means bliss or passion that makes life worth living. Life purpose sounds serious and stoic, while ikigai is fun and effortless. Someone’s ikigai may be her children. Another one’s ikigai could be his lovely garden. Finding purpose is lifetime work, but ikigai is right around the corner. Anyone could discover ikigai if they want — and you had better have it because ikigai is a happiness generator. It will put a smile on your face when you feel lonely, weak, or joyless.
The man who found ikigai at 82 quickly learned sewing techniques. He was soon making wallets, coasters, and bags. No one asked him to make them, but he did it just for his own pleasure. He was not the same man who would stay in his pajamas all day long, waiting for another long day to end. The joy of sewing made him forget about his physical discomfort. He started smiling and talking to his family. He now had something to look forward to — the finished sewing project and the next one.
One day, his daughter posted a photo of his handmade purse on Twitter. It went viral. Inquiries and orders flooded in. He was stunned. After years of living like a ghost, he was suddenly doing what he loved and was making income from it.
Today, his online store (g3sewing) is a thriving family business run by him, his wife, and his daughter. G3sewing and his recently published book, ８０代で見つけた 生きる幸せ (The Happiness I Found in My Eighties) were featured in media and encouraged many Japanese people, especially seniors, to find their ikigai.
“I’m happiest now in my whole life,” he beams, holding up his purse.
What is your ikigai?