Call it the tale of two epiphanies.
Tim Tamashiro was 20 years old when the first hit.
The jazz singer and former radio host was lying in bed when he decided he would go to music school, ignoring what had been a long ingrained impulse to do something more traditional or practical. Fast forward 30 years and Tamashiro was watching a reality show on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. It was a competition series that pitted furniture designers against each other. Tamashiro chose it because he thought it would eventually lull him into a Sunday afternoon catnap.
“One of the competitors had made a couch and had embroidered four circles in a diamond pattern,” says Tamashiro, in a phone interview with Postmedia. “All these four circles came together in a confluence in the middle. The host asked ‘What’s this design?’ He said ‘That’s the design for Ikigai and it means your life’s meaning.’”
Tamashiro thought it sounded Japanese. While he didn’t speak the language, he was intrigued enough to look it up. Sure enough, it referred to an ancient philosophy that originated from Okinawa, which is where his grandparents were from. It was a different type of epiphany this time around. It wasn’t one that led to a significant change in his life, but rather the realization that he had been unknowingly following this philosophy for most of it already. Still, since leaving CBC Radio, where he was the long-time host of the nightly jazz program Tonic, his search for his own personal Ikigai became a main focus.
“I thought ‘Maybe this is part of my DNA, maybe this is what is pushing me,’” says Tamashiro. “So I delved deeper into it and started learning more about it. I found some great connections to positive psychology. Next thing you know, I was doing a TED Talk. That was last June. As I was writing the TED Talk I was delving deeper and deeper and deeper into the research and I said to my daughter ‘Yeah, I think I want to write a book about this.’ I’m not kidding you, the very next Monday at 9 o’clock in the morning I got an email from a book scout . . . he said ‘Would you be interested in writing a book about Ikigai?’”
That eventually turned into Tamashiro’s first book, How to Ikigai: Lessons for Finding Happiness and Living Your Life’s Purpose (Mango Media, 198 Pages), where he shows how to use “positive psychology, habit building and mediation” as the path to finding your own Ikigai. The philosophy is built around four seemingly simple planks: Do what you love, do what you’re good at, do what the world needs and do what you can be rewarded for.
The philosophy sprang from female pearl divers in ancient Okinawa, who would swim into the ocean and find sea urchins, shells, sea cucumbers and pearls.
“These women just loved doing this because it was a social connection,” says Tamashiro. “It was an opportunity for them to go out and be good at something. There wasn’t a lot of things that women were quote, unquote ‘allowed to do’ in society in those days. These women would go down and really enjoy themselves.”
While perhaps an ancient philosophy, Tamashiro saw a number of connections to modern positive psychology.
“As opposed to mental illness, this is mental wellness,” he says. “There’s a great movement in positive psychology now to help people understand that life’s work is something that has to be pursued as opposed to just forgotten about or not understood.”
Tamashiro has never been shy about chasing his own path to happiness, even if he didn’t have a word for it originally. Growing up in Blackfalds, he began teaching himself piano at his family home. He would eventually go onto a career that has included playing in rock bands, working as a rep for MCA Records, playing jazz and becoming a radio host.
“I’ve always had a feeling that there was something driving me towards finding things in my life that I wanted to do that were just fun and interesting,” he says. “That’s literally what I boiled it down to.”
It may date back thousands of years, but the Ikigai philosophy holds lessons that seem particularly relevant to modern times, he says.
“I think we’ve lost our ability to include wonderment as part of our day,” he says. “Sure, we love to go on vacations… but there are all sorts of stuff that happens in day-to-day life where we just don’t take the opportunity to go and enjoy ourselves. A lot of it has to do with the rudimentary needs that we need every day. We want to go out there and make a lot of money and the money is going to solve all of our problems.
“But psychological studies show that your job title and your perfect body and your assets and perfect home do not have an overall impact on your base-level happiness. What has a greater impact in overall happiness and actually grows well-being in people — this is according to a lot of studies but is taught in Yale University at a course there — is mindfulness, meditation, spending times with friends and family and something called time affluence, which means you get to do all the things you want to do with your time.“
How to Ikigai: Lessons for Finding Happiness and Living Your Life’s Purpose can be found at Chapters Indigo at Crowfoot, Chinook and the Core and at mango.bz.
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