Ikigai: Are You Happy at Work?
Career | 13 Dec 2019 | By Guest Author
Ikigai: Are You Happy at Work?

We spend 30% of our lives doing work - around 90,000 hours. Since it’s such a huge part of our lives, it should be a no-brainer to do work that makes you happy. So before you send out your applications, design your CV, or even choose a degree, think about this: what makes you happy?

From Disney's short Inner Workings (2016).

What is happiness?

Without diving too much into philosophy (or science), workplace happiness is achieved when you’re comfortable with those you work with, you can trust them, and are recognized for your achievements. 

Other familiar terms might be “satisfaction” or “engagement”, which are great if you’re a manager or Human Capital specialist. Personally, I prefer a simpler definition:

“If you wake up looking forward to your day, you’re happy.”

If you like your job, you wake up in the morning looking forward to coming in, meeting amazing people, and doing what you love. If you look forward to work (almost!) as much as the weekend, then you’re happy.


Recently, I found out that my personal definition of happiness was already taken by the Japanese as ikigai (生き甲斐) which means “the reason you wake up every morning”. Oh well.

Ikigai diagram from Penguin Books UK at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMahVf97CdM.

From Penguin’s aesthetically pleasing video

Ikigai is the blend of its 4 tenets:

  1. What you love
  2. What you’re good at
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you’re paid for

To achieve ikigai is to have all 4 in your life - a purpose for being, fulfillment, happiness. Of course, it’s never that easy. Sometimes there are trade-offs, sometimes you just gotta survive. We’ll come to that later.

Ikigai is only one of many concepts in trying to explain happiness. We at Dreamtalent also have our own explanation of happiness, especially when it comes to working.

What makes work and happy?

Everyone defines happiness differently. Generally, it boils down to 3 things that make work bring you happiness.

1. Doing what you love

If you do what you love, you’ll love what you do. And if you love what you do, a dream job might not even feel like a job anymore. Pursuing a career that you’re passionate in is basically free motivation and stress-free income. The fact that you’re happy doing your job will help you deliver better results, which brings in recognition (and bonuses), which in turn makes you happier. Rinse and repeat.

Following your passion doesn’t have to be as dramatic as in 3 Idiots (2009), but it can be as rewarding as the joyful tears you shed at the ending. If you haven’t watched the movie, you absolutely must watch the movie after the end of this blog.

2. Personality and fit

Your personality is a very important factor in predicting workplace happiness. So important, in fact, that Dreamtalent recommends careers and companies that fit your personality, not only qualifications. If you’re open and flexible, you might thrive in agile startups. If you’re organized and disciplined, you might feel at home in established corporations. Imaginative people would be happier in creative careers, while realistic people would do better in analytical tasks.

Aside from culture and career, personality also determines your relationship with people you work with. Understanding personalities and treating people properly can build a pleasant environment, such giving space to introverted people. This helps you form meaningful bonds and even make some friends, which can be one thing to look forward to every morning.

3. Your values

It’s important to work in careers and companies where you can fulfill your personal values, which includes:

  • Self-development and growth
  • Compensation
  • Impact to society

...and some more. Our research revealed that work values is way more decisive than passion/interest in choosing careers. The job may be your passion, and the people may be like family, but what ultimately allures you and makes you stay is if it’s in line with your values, whether it’s freedom, solving social issues, or letting your creativity roam free.

Is it too late for me?

From Disney's short Inner Workings (2016).

Absolutely not! 

Maybe you don’t have the luxury of choice right now, but that can change. Following your passion and values and finding work that brings you happiness is a long term journey for many of us.

But wait!

That’s not to say you should drop everything and just do what you love right now like in the movies. Following your passion blindly would most likely lead you to falling to even less happiness. While the idea is romantic, it’s still important to stay realistic. It takes preparation, research, and hard work to set a clear path towards your ikigai.

  • Students

If you feel that you’re studying for the wrong degree, there’s lots you can do. Use this time to do what you love on the side, learn and build a footprint. Write for the student paper, cast for the campus production, take internships.

Once you graduate, don’t be afraid to apply to careers that’s different from your degree. Google, Apple, IBM, and other big companies don’t even need degrees anymore from applicants. They realize that degrees don’t necessarily account for skill and passion, which matters more than just title. If you’ve built a decent portfolio as a student, that’s strong proof for your passion and dedication in the career you’re pursuing.

Besides, lectures can’t prepare you 100% for your job. Everyone learns from the start anyway.

  • Professionals

If you feel that you’re not in love with your current job, there’s still lots you can do. Take some time on the side to pursue your passion. Be an online freelance writer, start a photography portfolio site, offer music lessons.

Build your personal brand by joining events, conferences, or talks. Get to know people and get known. Learn the industry and sharpen your skills. If it’s truly what you love, you’ll love pouring your time and energy for it.

Above all, keep your chin up. Things worth fighting for are never easy and certainly don’t come overnight. Many people have made it - not just famous people, but those around you, maybe your parents, uncles, or siblings. Certainly not impossible because your only limit is you, so stay strong. We’re all gonna make it.

Defining your happiness

If you’re still unsure about what you truly love, Dreamtalent is here to help. Learn your own strengths and what you’re good at. Discover the values you look for in your career. Find out what makes you happy, then it’s up to you to make it happen.

From Disney's short Inner Workings (2016).