The Equation for Why blog series is about the idea of ikigai, or “the happiness of always being busy”. In it, I talk to inspiring women writers who honour their joy, one word and one story at a time.
On the island of Okinawa, in Japan’s south, there’s a community of people who live to be older than anyone else, anywhere in the world (some even up to age 100 years or older). There’s lots to be said about the way they eat and the way they move, but there’s even more to explore about the way they live.
These people have found their joy, their purpose, their ikigai. They’ve solved their equation for why.
We ask ourselves things like: What is the meaning of my life? Is the point just to live longer, or should I seek a higher purpose? Why do some people know what they want and have a passion for life, while others languish in confusion? ...
According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai… Some people have found their ikigai, while others are still looking, though they carry it within them. Our ikigai is hidden deep inside all of us, and finding it requires a patient search… our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning.
It’s a beautiful concept, and I want to believe it… but! Can it really apply it to our lives, when the pace and priorities of the modern world feel so far removed from those of the gentle centenarians of Okinawa? If finding your why is simple, why don’t more of us have answers to those huge—sometimes haunting—questions?
Why am I here, and why does it matter? Why do certain tasks lift me up while others weigh me down? Why don’t I bounce out of bed in the morning?
No, really: why?
The question “why?” is so broad, so undefined, so complex—and the answers so elusive, so transient, so diverse—that it can feel too difficult a task to tackle at all. But here’s an exercise that might help: find your why using the ikigai Venn diagram. For reals.
I’m fascinated by the idea that there’s an equation for why, a formula that can help us shift closer to that ‘thing’ that gives us purpose. It feels almost absurd to want to fit such a soulful concept into a mathematical construct, but it can be done and I gave it a go…
And when it was in front of me in black, white and grey (just the way I like things) something inside sang out: “Yes!”
The next brilliant thing that happened was this: I finally understood the feeling of discontent I’d been sitting with for such a long time – that persistent voice that nudged me for years to do more, try more, be more. I realised it was (past) time to stop putting things off, doubting my choices and distracting myself with “more important” things. It was time for me to write stories.
The fictional kind. The print-it-in-a-book-and-put-it-on-a-shelf kind. The yes-I’m-an-author-thank-you-for-asking kind.
Once I started writing my stories, I couldn't move past this beautiful phrase from the book:
As soon as you take these first small steps, your anxiety will disappear and you will achieve a pleasant flow in the activity you are doing. Getting back to Albert Einstein, "a happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future."
Feeling a resonance with this truth is how I knew for certain I'd found my ikigai.
And that's why I'm here! On top of the novel writing (because that plus my nine-to-five plus the kiddies leaves me with so much spare time), part of my commitment to living my why has been to start this blog, to share the many stories (in their many forms) that fill my world.
I’ll also be featuring women writers who inspire me, asking them to reflect on their paths to joy through stories, and pass on the tools they used to find their why.
And I’m going to add stationery to the mix because, you know, I’m a writer and I can’t walk past a nice pen or a pretty notebook (or twelve, at last count) without wanting to give it a new home. And… it’s just… stationery, ’kay?