Ikigai is a Japanese concept of achieving a life’s purpose. In their book Ikigai:The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Garcia and Miralles visited Okinawa and a small village on the island, Orimi, to find out why this small community has the greatest number of centenarians in the world. By the end of their visit, they realized that there are things that we could all do to find our ikigai and live rich and fulfilling lives.

Garcia and Miralles (2017) distilled from the wisdom of the long-living residents of Ogimi ten rules of ikigai. When reading these ten rules from the perspective of an EFL teacher and teacher of young learners for over 20 years, I noticed that the ten rules of ikigai are closely related to what happens or should happen in the EFL classroom every day. If we implement the ten rules in our teaching practice, perhaps we can set our learners on the right path to achieving their ikigai and finding their life purpose. The following are the ten rules of ikigai by Garcia and Miralles and how they can be implemented in the EFL classroom.

“Stay active; don’t retire. Those who give up the things they love doing and do well lose their purpose in life. That’s why it’s so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out, and shaping the world around you, even after your “official” professional activity has ended.”

Primary school learners need to see aging as a normal part of life. It is crucial for them to see elderly people represented in course materials with lots of positivity and normality. We can see too often that elderly, retired people are represented as inactive, ailing, and bored/boring. Cunnigsworth (1995:94) found that “most characters are youngish teenagers. Adults, where they appear, tend to be shadowy creatures who exist solely in their role as parent, youth group organizer, police officer, and teacher. There is the occasional elderly professor, pensioner castle proprietor.”

Learners need to be shown that there is life after retirement, that you can have a purposeful and fulfilling life even after you stop working. Not only should they see it in the materials being used but they should also be encouraged to spend more time with their grandparents or elderly neighbors and experience firsthand that life doesn’t end with retirement. You could set up a community project (with parents’ permission) and get learners to volunteer an hour or two a week just visiting and chatting with the elderly. Then they share their experiences in the classroom.

“Take it slow. Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes, “Walk slowly and you’ll go far.” When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.”

 We tend to forget that numerous things in our lives take time, especially when learning new things. Learners should be allowed enough time during lessons to absorb the information, process it, and incorporate it into their existing knowledge. They should be allowed to spend sufficient time working on collaborative projects. Not only should they be taught to leave emergencies behind in their academic work, but also when they’re in their lunch line or waiting to enter the classroom.

“Don’t fill your stomach. Less is more when it comes to eating for a long life, too. According to the 80 percent rule, in order to stay healthier longer, we should eat a little less than our hunger demands instead of stuffing ourselves.”

Usual vocabulary lessons on food include lexical categories of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, etc. but we can rarely see lessons on nutrition and healthy eating. Yes, we can find lessons on healthy food, but eating healthy food is not the only part of eating healthy. As teachers, we should help our students understand the importance of a balanced diet, how to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat.

“Surround yourself with good friends. Friends are the best medicine, there for confiding worries over a good chat, sharing stories that brighten your day, getting advice, having fun, dreaming . . . in other words, living.”

Accepting others, embracing differences, diversity, spending time with friends and family is essential to becoming a fulfilled person. As teachers, we can encourage this behaviour by promoting collaboration, group and pair work, mutual support and assistance. Also, we should encourage activities that promote sharing personal stories and experiences so that learners can get to know each other better and create personal connections.

“Get in shape for your next birthday. Water moves; it is at its best when it flows fresh and doesn’t stagnate. The body you move through life in needs a bit of daily maintenance to keep it running for a long time. Plus, exercise releases hormones that make us feel happy.”

Primary age learners are not supposed to sit still for hours and hours. Movement is as much a learning opportunity as any book or materials used. Physical activity is excellent for stress release, focus, cognitive processing, building social connections (teamwork), self-esteem, leadership skills. According to Erickson et. al (2015) “there is promising evidence that merely a modest amount of moderate intensity physical activity (PA) is necessary to take advantage of the brain’s natural capacity for plasticity, resulting in improved cognitive performance, better academic achievement, and reduced risk for dementia.”

Therefore, take every opportunity to stress the importance of physical activity, but don’t just say it. Set up a pre-class routine where you and your students do some simple physical exercises before starting your academic work. When you see your students acting tired during the day, ask them to stand up, stretch for a moment, or walk around the classroom and wake them up. It’s fun and useful for them AND for you. 

“Smile. A cheerful attitude is not only relaxing—it also helps make friends. It’s good to recognize the things that aren’t so great, but we should never forget what a privilege it is to be in the here and now in a world so full of possibilities.”

Model kindness and positivity. Create an Act of Kindness pocket and put an act of kindness in it every day or week. This act of kindness can be a simple thing such as “Write a positive message on the sidewalk. Use colourful chalk.” or “Make a feel-good playlist on Spotify for your best friend.” Your students do the act of kindness then share their experience with the rest of the class. It is an activity that can make them feel good about themselves and over time they will see kindness as an essential part of what they do.

“Reconnect with nature. Though most people live in cities these days, human beings are made to be part of the natural world. We should return to it often to recharge our batteries.”

If you have a chance, bring some plants to your classroom or plant some with your learners. Talking about the importance of nature and the environment is sometimes not enough for our young learners. We need to get them to connect with the world around them.

According to the Department of Conservation, New Zealand  “the studies show that regular direct access to nature can:

  • Increase self-esteem and resilience against stress and adversity.
  • Improve concentration,learning,creativity, cognitive development, cooperation, flexibility and self-awareness.
  • Prevent childhood obesity.”

Not only this but children will also “develop their love of nature and a foundation for the development of responsible environmental behaviour.”

If you have a schoolyard with a patch of green, then you have a perfect place for a lesson on why we should care for nature. Ask them to touch the grass, flowers, leaves, soil, and tell you what they feel like. Ask them to smell them – does the smell remind them of something (I am sure you’ll get some really funny answers). Activating their senses is the best way to get them to connect with nature. Involve their parents and ask them to take their children for a walk in a park or a forest and recreate your lesson – activating senses.

“Give thanks. To your ancestors, to nature, which provides you with the air you breathe and the food you eat, to your friends and family, to everything that brightens your days and makes you feel lucky to be alive. Spend a moment every day giving thanks, and you’ll watch your stockpile of happiness grow.”

Morning meetings are an excellent opportunity to do this. During these morning meetings, students share what they are grateful for that day. Some of them might be grateful for a ride to school from their parents or simply having breakfast that morning. Hearing what others are grateful for can make you more grateful for what you actually have. Students have different personal stories and by sharing them, we can create a group of kind and empathetic young people.

“Live in the moment. Stop regretting the past and fearing the future. Today is all you have. Make the most of it. Make it worth remembering.”

All that matters is what you are doing at that particular moment in your classroom. Even when your students fail at something, don’t treat it as a negative, regrettable experience but as a learning experience. What can you do about it now, how can you incorporate that experience in today’s work?

“Follow your ikigai. There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet, as Viktor Frankl says, your mission is to discover it.”

Give your students the freedom to express themselves, explore, and discover. Show them they all have their own light that the world needs. Finding their ikigai is a life-long quest but if we can give them that initial push, then we have done our job.

*The article is based on a blog post first published for IATEFL YLTSIG available at https://tinyurl.com/y2g5hxza


Cunningsworth, A. (1995). Choosing your coursebook. Oxford: Heinemann.

Department of Conservation: Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature  https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/getting-involved/students-and-teachers/benefits-of-connecting-children-with-nature.pdf

Erickson, K. I., Hillman, C. H., & Kramer, A. F. (2015). Physical activity, brain, and cognition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 4, 27–32. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2015.01.005

Garcia, H. and Miralles, F. (2017). Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. New York: Penguin Books