Ikigai and Financial Independence: Which Comes First?

I recently read the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles and really enjoyed it.

In the first few pages of the book, I was surprised by the blunt command that if you want to live a long and happy life you should not retire.

It explicitly says “Whatever you do, don’t retire!”. Having Ikigai brings so much life satisfaction and meaning to your life that ‘retiring early’ may actually shorten your lifespan.

In terms of life spans, Okinawans are known to be one of the longest living people in the world. Japan has the longest life expectancy of any country, with life expectancy being 90 for women and 84 for men. There are over 400 centenarians (people over age 100) in Okinawa alone.

What’s their secret? In addition to strong friendships and relationships, many Okinawans incorporate Ikigai in their daily lives.

Of the 100 year old (and up) Okinawans surveyed, everyone had a vegetable garden in their back yard and many sold vegetables from their gardens. They keep active (not necessarily vigorous aerobic activity because at 100 years old running can be a bit difficult on the joints I imagine) but they don’t stop moving because they are busy tending to their gardens.

Here are additional Okinawa longevity lessons from Blue Zones.

What is Ikigai?

Ikigai, according to the Okinawans, is the reason that we get up in the morning.

It is your why.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”.

It can combine your passion, your mission, your vocation, and possibly your profession, but ultimately, Ikigai is combining:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What you can be paid for, and
  • What the world needs

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Ikigai and Financial Independence

What about Ikigai and “FIRE” or Financial Independence and Retire Early?

The authors of the book said “whatever you do, don’t retire early!”

I think that Ikigai can exist without being tied to your job or career. There are many people who have careers that aren’t exactly a true calling for them (or maybe more so careers that they dislike) but this work is a means to an end, and pays the bills. If all people absolutely loved their job, I don’t think so many people would be wanting to retire early.

On the contrary, I think that financial independence actually can serve as the stimulus to give you the confidence to combine what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.

Warren Buffett enjoys what he is doing and he doesn’t really view it as work, however, he pretty much could tap dance to work since he enjoys reading about companies and investing so much. He’s still working even though he is financially independent. He’s not retired.

This is why entrepreneurship and FIRE is an interesting concept, and why many people who FIRE seem to delve into entrepreneurship. Not because they are trying to trick the Internet Retirement Police or scam people and be disingenuous, but because they are trying to cultivate their Ikigai now that they have the financial freedom and time freedom to do so.

Ikigai= Passion

Having Ikigai also means being able to have the time affluence for things that you enjoy doing.

Do you have something that you enjoy doing so much that time just seems to fly by?

This is called being in your “flow state” according to Ikigai’s authors.

When you are in your flow state, you are creating, and you are almost at an enlightened level. The more time you can get to be in your flow state, the happier you will be.

As a personal example, I enjoy reading, learning, and writing about personal finance. If I didn’t enjoy it, I don’t think I would be doing it so long as I have been (since 2009, haha).

I did take a break here and there and transitioned to a freelance personal finance “writer” for a few years. I thought I might run out of topics to write about but that hasn’t been the case for the past 13 years apparently!

Usually, at midnight or 11:35pm I get into my ‘flow’ state and happily lose track of what time it is while working on the website.

Financial Independence vs Retire Early

This is why I think people should be aiming for Financial Independence rather than simply “FIRE” or Financial Independence Retire Early (see the FIRE recipe here).

Once you reach financial independence (this is where your passive income streams covers your annual expenses, often called the ‘crossover point’), you have a sense of power over your current job and current employment.

You can say “F-U” to your employer if you want.

You have the ability to quit your job and work on your passion projects (your true Ikigai) if you want.

Just having the knowledge that you COULD do this if you wanted to really helps decrease the sensation of burnout from your current career.

Your job or career doesn’t necessarily define you even though when you meet someone for the first time they often ask “what do you do for work?”

For example, Matt Poyner was an emergency room physician for 13 years. He realized that he could have a simple life and be financially independent. His family (wife and 4 boys) packed up their things and travelled around the world for one year. They shared their experience on Big Family Small World. Then they came back to Canada, moved to small town Ontario, and he created a small wood working business with his wife in addition to selling a personal finance ecourse.

I wouldn’t call him retired but he has the time freedom to spend his time how he sees fit because his family is financially independent. He can work on his own terms without fear that he cannot pay his mortgage or bills.

Not Being True to Yourself Is a Regret of the Dying

Bonnie Wrare, a palliative care nurse who has spent a lot of time talking to the dying in their last days and hours, shared a popular piece on the 5 regrets of the dying.

One of the most common regrets of the dying is:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

If you have dreams, hopes, and goals you want to experience, you should go for them before it’s too late.

Once we are born, the sand in our hourglass starts to trickle down. We don’t know how long we have, our time on earth is finite, and we will die one day.

And that’s just talking about our own mortality.

More commonly, we don’t know how long we have before we become physically unable to experience these dreams, hopes, and goals with disability like chronic illness.

Unfortunately, health is something most of us take for granted, until we don’t have it one day.

Then we’d do anything to get it back.

So it’s important to be true to yourself.

Key Secrets to a Long and Happy Life

In summary, the secret to a long and happy life according to the authors of Ikigai is to:

Stay active and don’t retire. When you give up on the things you love doing, you lose your purpose in life. Making goals and progress, helping out others can provide Ikigai even if it’s not your vocation.

Leave urgency behind– Your quality of life won’t be high if you’re in a hurry all the time. Slow down.

Eat only 80% full– Try not to stuff yourself with calories and you’ll stay healthier longer. The Okinawans have a lower calorie diet full of complex starches (like sweet potatoes) and vegetables.

Have meaningful relationships– Surround yourself with good friends who will support you, cut out the toxic friendships that don’t serve you.

Exercise– Keep your body running well by maintaining it with exercise. As Warren Buffett says, “you only get one mind and one body. And it’s got to last a lifetime. Now, it’s very easy to let them ride for many years. But if you don’t take care of that mind and that body, they’ll be a wreck forty years later, just life the car would be. It’s what you do right now, today, that determines how your mind and body will operate ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.”

Follow your Ikigai– You have a unique talent and you should share the best of yourself until the very end. This will give you purpose in life to give you meaning.

Yes, I think that being financially independent can actually stimulate and encourage your Ikigai to come to fruition, unless you’re one of the few lucky enough to already earn a living doing what you love.

What gives you a sense of Ikigai?

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2 thoughts on “Ikigai and Financial Independence: Which Comes First?”

  1. Oh, I like that type of goal. It’s nice to wake when YOU want not because you HAVE to so you can earn another day of pay. It’s far more peaceful to do what makes you smile. One should be happy with just the basics, a home, food, family, friends, community. It’s just ego to have that $15M mansion or yacht. Too stressful to over-achieve and compete everyday. Less is more really is true.


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