What Is Ikigai? This Japanese Wellness Theory Could Turn You Into A Morning Person

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If you're not a morning person, going to bed with a mental checklist of all of the things you have to do the next day certainly doesn't make getting up earlier any easier. However, there is something that can help. If you've never heard of ikigai, this Japanese wellness theory could potentially turn you into a morning person, or the very least make your mornings less awful. Pronounced ick-ee-guy, ikigai in its most basic form translates to having a reason to get up in the morning.

The concept is explained in Awakening Your Ikigai by Neuroscientist Ken Mogi and Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by author Hector Garcia. "Examples of ikigai are often related to aspects of social identity — including work and family life — but it’s often explained as something more than that," Elaine Mead reported for Darling magazine. "It’s the idea of seeking a purpose in everything you do in life. Hobbies, friendships, community, and travel all add to your ikigai."

Basically, filling your life with things you want to do in addition to things you have to do can make getting up in the morning a whole lot easier. Iikigai can be broken down into a matrix, and incorporating love, passion, your career, your personal mission, and what you're good at with the greater good of humanity and the earth can help you find your purpose in life. What's more, incorporating some of these things into your rise-and-shine routine can help turn things around for chronic morning haters.

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The concept is pretty simple. Beginning your morning with things you want to do instead of jumping right into things you have to do can actually make you look forward to getting out of bed. For example, if you're a yogi, set aside extra time in the morning to do a short yoga or meditation practice. Give yourself 10 minutes to actually sit down and enjoy your morning cup of coffee instead of chugging it as you run out the door, eat an actual breakfast, or jam out to your favorite music while you get ready for work.

I know it might not seem like it, but small adjustments can actually make a big difference. Because you are the person you spend the most time with, being kind to yourself in the morning can also change how you interact with others throughout your day. As a morning-hater-turned-early riser, I can attest that this is true.

"It is crucial to realize that moods can be changed through small joys,” Mogi is quoted as saying in Well + Good. "The fact is once the context is changed, your brain will adapt to that new context and moods can change in a short time." While ikigai is not a substitute for mental healthcare, it is an additional item you can add to your self-care toolbox

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Here's how to do it: Start small and focus on the details; accept yourself (self love); rely on others and ask for help; find joy in small things by appreciating your senses; and be fully present in each moment, which means not spending time scrolling through your phone when you're with others. It's probably also a good idea not to even pick up your phone right when you wake up.

Sounds simple right? Unfortunately developing true self love takes a lot of work. "The messages we receive from our culture, others, and ourselves become deeply ingrained, in part due to sheer repetition. It's not that we hear 'you're too quiet' once or twice; we hear it over and over again from many different sources," Dr. Barbara Markway wrote for Psychology Today. "Because these negative messages bombard us, and because we never stop to question whether they're true, we internalize the feeling that we are, indeed, defective."

If you struggle with accepting yourself, you're far from alone. I once read an interview with Lady Gaga where she said someone advised her spend 10 minutes every day looking in the mirror and saying things she liked about herself. She said she found it so difficult she could only commit to five minutes. Same? Ikigai can meet you where you are. And, if no one has told you lately — or ever, you deserve to start your day in a way that makes you feel good. In fact, it's the very least you deserve.

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Another important part of ikigai is maintaining your curiosity because the world is full of wonder, even if it sometimes feels like one big dumpster fire. "The problem for millions of people is that they stop being curious about new experiences as they assume responsibilities and build routines," Thomas Oppong wrote for Thrive Global.

It can be easy to get caught in your day-to-day "have tos." I get it. But, just because there are things you have to do doesn't mean you can't also treat yourself to moments of joy. For me this means blasting Lady Gaga while I'm struck in crushing Los Angeles traffic. If I'm going to sit on the freeway for eleventy-million hours, I might as well make it as enjoyable as possible hosting my own version of Carpool Karaoke.

If you dread mornings, I can't promise that practicing ikigai is going to turn you into Joey's cheerful neighbor on Friends — the one who sang to him every morning from across the air shaft. That being said, it's worthing giving ikigai a try to see if it does make your mornings more manageable. I tend to be stubborn, cynical, and skeptical of most everything, but focusing on doing what makes me feel good when I first wake up has helped improve my mornings, and therefore my entire day, immensely.