Ikigai – The Sum of Small Joys in Everyday Life

Ikigai and Illness

Ikigai and Illness is on my mind. This makes sense as I love the subtlety and depth of this word and it plays a central role in my life. Last month I was part of the Speakers Series at Wellspring Calgary and invited to give a talk on this subject. This month  Nick Kemp in Australia, invited me to his podcast, Ikigai Tribe, and we had a lovely conversation (see the notes) on Ikigai and Illness. Nick is a western expert on Ikigai and a kind, generous and hospitable host.

One of the things I love about ikigai is its relationship to everyday life.  We can have many things that claim ikigai status. For instance, it might be hearing the birds when you wake on a spring morning, or your first cup of coffee while you do wordle, your family, gardens, sunsets, a walk in the park, or being part of a choir, running, cycling, poetry… for each person their ikigai is unique because we all experience joy in different ways. There is no list as to what qualifies.

Ikigai might be your work, as it is for me, but not necessarily so. Traditionally it is a much broader concept and is more focused on our daily lives so will include hobbies or a special group of friends who you love to spend time with, grandchildren, story telling…  It isn’t for another to describe your ikigai rather it is for you to become aware of what interests you, and what brings out the best in you. Where you experience delight and meaning is where you will discover your ikigai.

Reasons to get up in the morning

When we have a purpose in our lives, and reasons to get up in the morning, it strengthens our resilience during difficult times.  And since ikigai doesn’t rely on the peak moments in our lives it is always available and forms a significant part of our resiliency. We do not rely on just one thing but on many smaller things.

Ikigai also changes over time. We may do less of what was important in our forties and discover new aspects of ourselves as we live longer and experience the trials and tribulations of life. It can provide us with a soft and solid place to land. Things and people we can count on.

A call to action

I often say that ikigai is a call to action. It is something we do. If you love lying in a hammock it is still something you need to do. Get the hammock out and take the time to crawl in and read or nap. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to neglect things you actually like doing and fail to begin. It’s not a criticism, just human nature. It takes small steps and a little discipline to take the first step.


We can’t express certain words by a simple translation.  The word ikigai is made up of two parts: iki meaning life and gai meaning values/purpose/meaning. Simply put, a reason to get up in the morning. As much as each person’s ikigai is unique there is also a subtle meaning to how we use our ikigai to contribute to others. How do we connect with the outside world? I see my love of poetry as part of my ikigai and passing poems on to another is a contribution that brings me great joy.

It is easy to put our lives on hold when we get a serious illness or we are going through a difficult time. Or even when we have become comfortable and see no need to change the status quo. Yet, when we take steps to do something we may have yearned to do in our youth, or act on our secret desire to sing or play the piano and we actually do it – the side effects of this can be transformative.

I recommend staying curious. Be willing to try something you have longed to do and better yet, be prepared not to be good at it. Enjoy it for its own sake, because it is something you want to do. There are many ways to discover small joys in daily life even when the big picture looks bleak. Let’s not miss out on those small things. Those are often the things that when we look back on our lives bring coherence, ah-ha’s, love, meaning, and our reasons for living.

My ikigai friends in Japan have just had another hiking adventure. Most of the people in this photo came to Calgary in the summer of 2019 to hike in the Rockies. 13 in all. I smile when I see their delightful faces.


1:) Here is a link to Nick Kemp’s podcasts. Scroll down a little and you will find the Episode List with photographs” I am  # 039, the one in purple. These podcasts are long so you won’t want to listen to it all. I am not listening to myself since it is now written in stone and can’t be changed. Yikes! What’s done is done. For anyone interested in ikigai, however,  there are some amazing podcasts in this collection and I intend to make my way through several.

2:) Can you believe that my next blog is on June 1st. I am now working my way through the task of getting all my logins and passwords written out for my family. One day for sure they will need this list. Since I talk about this and resist doing an updated list myself, I am using  15 minutes a day to just do it. It is working, no matter how hard I resist. In fact, as soon as I publish this post my 15-minute task will get done.

3:) May you have a good last week of May. There are many things going wrong in the world. However, there are many things going right too, thanks to our fellow humans. Let’s never forget that. And take comfort in the vastness of the sea and sky and mountains. Look for beauty.

4:) A hundred thank-you’s to you all, dear readers. For certain, you are one of my reasons for getting up every Wednesday morning and beyond. With gratitude, Trudy

A Short and Sweet Holiday

Today is day three out of five in Vancouver and it has been three days of bliss, walking in one magnificent garden after another under perfect conditions.

Imagine waking up three days in a row and spending hours simply exploring a beautiful city, with lovely people, and on foot. Moodling, oohing and ahhing, taking photos, sitting in the sun and smelling the salt air. Not to mention the amazing coffee and delicious food.

For the first time I am writing this short blog post on my phone. Of course, I have no idea how this will turn out, but I often suggest trying new things and made a conscious decision to leave my laptop behind. We will discover together how this goes.

Coincidentally, I am celebrating four years this week in May of weekly blog posts. Please allow me to thank you profusely for your care, kindness and attention as we accompany each other through the seasons and I share my musings.

“We are born and we die and in between we have the chance to keep each other company and that’s the thing that counts the most.” John Tarrant.

See you next week. In the meantime May you find and create moments of beauty and joy. Warmest wishes, Trudy

Making Sense of It All


Ottawa went from winter to summer in one fell swoop, which makes no sense at all. Suddenly, overnight, the trees leafed out, and the tulips were in bloom. Furthermore, the temperature is a high of 29 Celsius, which is 84.2 F and the next two days are 31C (87.8 F) This feels like summer to me. I suspect only Canadians love to talk this much about the weather.

There are always things that don’t make sense in our lives. Life is not fair. We can do everything right and still get cancer. We can be fit, get a clean bill of health, and end up at the Heart Institute three months later. Tragedy strikes every day: accidents, bankruptcies, loss of all kinds, early death, intractable mind/body illnesses. What about natural disasters? Not to mention wars. Some things are intrinsically senseless.

And the inconveniences: the car won’t start; a flat tire; internet down; misunderstandings;  a broken foot; a missed appointment; a wrong word. and of course the rule of three breakdowns (first the fridge; next the dishwasher, and finally the dryer, one following closely on the heels of the other.)

Every Morning

Yet, here is my truth: every morning when I wake up I am beyond grateful to get another day. I don’t fear for my life, personal safety, or going hungry. And I have many good things and wonderful people to see and be in touch with. Still, in spite of my gratitude, I, like you, need to deal with my own share of problems both large and small. They are my (you have yours) specific problems we try to make sense of. How did I end up in this particular situation, we might ask? We can compare and all we do is find people worse off and better off than ourselves.  But our problems remain and are sometimes accompanied by cognitive dissonance – the flabbergasting reality that X has happened to me. Unbelievable.

The making sense out of  X often goes unanswered. What we learn whether we like it or not is that we are not in control of our lives. Things happen. We absolutely can take preventative measures to reduce negative impacts and increase the favourable ones. But if you have lived awhile you know there are no guarantees. Life can change in a moment. Plans don’t always work in the end. Anything can happen to anyone at any time.

We know this when we look around at others. It’s harder to accept when it happens to us.

X, however, is a call to action, whether it makes sense or not, whether we like it or not, and whether we consider it fair.  There is usually something we need to learn, do, put in place, stop, start or continue. By focusing our attention on the what if’s and the why me’s and the unfairness of it all we simply increase our suffering and spend our limited energy on what we can’t do anything about.


As I was musing about these things a few days ago, sitting under a blue sky and looking up into the fresh, newly minted leaves on an ancient tree, I had every reason to be confident and hopeful. My life’s experience is proof enough that I have weathered many storms, just like you. We do not have to throw up our arms in despair when something doesn’t make sense. If nothing else we know that we can survive and our ancestors before us did survive adversity or we would not be here.

Coincidentally, I also got to listen to an interview with Dr David Sinclair, professor in the Dept of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, author of Lifespan. I found him totally engaging and fascinating even though I am personally not interested in living for 150 years. (For one thing, I would not be able to afford it.) Nevertheless, I liked him and was keen to learn more about his research on adversity as it pertains to aging, illness, and health throughout all stages of life.

“There’s no way to be successful without massive amounts of adversity, criticisms, failures, and mistakes,” claims David. Raised by his grandmother, who knew that life was unfair, yet encouraged him to make the world a better place. Grit; generosity, gratitude, and kindness while shooting for your goals and achieving them. Suffering many setbacks, criticisms, and failures during his career, he was listed in  Time Magazine as one of The 100 Most Influential People in the World. And again in 2018 as one of The Top 50 most important people in health care. (learned this from an interview with adversityadvantage.com)

Setbacks never stop.

Plans can go awry. Interruptions and disappointments happen and yet we never get to give up. The truth is, along with all the awfulness that can happen we can cultivate a practice of expanding our awareness to look for the good. The things that work; beauty; truth; joyful moments; loving people. One reason for having hobbies and going outside in nature is so we can lose ourselves in the fun and satisfaction of making something or being awestruck by the natural world. Just for the joy of it. Not for pay or prestige or reward of any kind. Just to enjoy. It fills us up.

Today, for a few moments I lost myself in the sights, sounds, and smells of our verdant landscape. We can consciously remember highlights from our own history where we were successful and things worked out.  And times, when it seemed like the world was crashing down, and it was, but later on new doors opened and we entered a wonderful  chapter we hadn’t even imagined.  Remember that golden thread that is stitched through our days. It ultimately creates a tapestry and makes meaning from all the strands and frayed threads. It is a gift to take the time to recall those people who made a difference in our lives. Reviewing our personal triumphs where we stretched ourselves, struggled with adversity, and achieved our goals can give us a sense of meaning and coherence, no matter what else is happening.

There comes a time when it all makes sense: things do work out and we can step back and know why we are here. Our precious lives. “The full catastrophe” as Zorbra says. Let’s continue to respond to life with YES!


1:) The tulip festival begins this weekend celebrating its Platinum Jubilee marking the 70th anniversary with one million plus blooms of gorgeous colours and varieties. This festival began thanks to the Royal Family of the Netherlands who took refuge in Canada during the Second World War, and her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret was born here in 1943. Two years later Canadian troops liberated the Netherlands and in gratitude, the Dutch government has sent a gift of tulip bulbs every year since 1945.

2:) Gratitude is the capacity to stare doubt, loss, chaos and despair right in the eye and say, ‘I am still here.’ Diana Butler Bass

3:) Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I warmly send all my best wishes to you. See you next week. As always, Trudy

A New Word – Ajuinata – Never Give Up

My favourite Haiku, as many of you know

Little snail

Slowly, slowly

Climbs Mt Fuji – by Issa


Last month I learned a new word from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary May Simon. Her Excellency is Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.

The Word is Ajuinat

Ajuinat is an old Inuktitut word but brand new to me, and it “is roughly pronounced  aye-yoo-ee-nah-tah.” It roughly translates to “when you are confronted with adversity, or things that are difficult, you keep going.”

In the article I read in CBC news, they say that ajuinat means “you don’t give up and you need to make a commitment to continue to make changes.” Mary Simon uses this word to recognize the perseverance of those in the Indigenous community who persevere against the odds –  to right wrongs, and make changes.

She also uses the word for something she does – making random calls of kindness, to leaders and change makers who might be able to use a pick me up or a word of cheer.

Other languages

Like many of the Japanese  words I love and write about here: eg – ikigai, arugamama, wabi-sabi, ichigo ishie, sumimasen, they are so steeped in culture and the language of the culture that it becomes impossible to transmit the true essence with a simple translation. We only scrape the surface.

Another example is the German word gemutlichkeit. According to Wikipedia, “It conveys a feeling or state of friendliness, warmth and good cheer… coziness, peace of mind and a sense of belonging.” I heard the word often in Austria when someone suggested we go to a certain place for dinner or a coffee, or to someone’s home. It wasn’t about the food (food was always good) and it meant more than being cozy. Rather, it was an immediate sense of well being that you felt just being in that place. The atmosphere exuded something you couldn’t name in English, but you could feel it.

When I read about ajuinit I knew it was a word for me. Although it was associated with survival in the harsh climate of the Canadian north many situations came to mind where we can apply it today.  However, I will need to dig a little deeper to get the full import of what the word means and how to  work with it, in the right spirit. There is no one English word to convey the wholeheartedness of ajuinata.

CBC article:

In the CBC article written by Alistair Steele, he quotes Manitok Thompson, ED of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. “Today, it’s something that needs to be heard across the board for nurses, for doctors, for children, for youth, for our mothers, our fathers –  these words are very powerful in our culture because we are survivors.” 

I think we have important opportunities to pause and take in the meaning when we learn a word or a concept from another culture. Language is powerful and we can use words as gifts or as weapons. For myself, I have received many gifts from the language of others. And I will hopefully take the essence of ajuinata into my own struggles and dreams.

Thanks to CBC for publishing this article. You can read it in full  here.


1:) How other languages inform our own:People speak roughly 7,000 languages worldwide. Although there is a lot in common among languages, each one is unique, both in its structure and in the way it reflects the culture of the people who speak it.

Stanford professor Dan Jurafsky said it’s important to study languages other than our own and how they develop over time because it can help scholars understand what lies at the foundation of humans’ unique way of communicating with one another.

“All this research can help us discover what it means to be human,” Jurafsky said.

2:) Short video celebrating the Dawn Chorus Festival

3:) Wishing you a beautiful May weekend. It’s Mother’s day on this continent and with a little luck we will have sunshine and flowers. Even without we will have heartfelt warmth and love. Many thanks for stopping by. Warmly, Trudy