Choosing a college major is one of those decisions that will stick with you for the rest of your life and probably afterlife as well. This question often brings lots opportunities to imagine and fantasize how your life in the future would look like. The truth is that nobody really knows! Would you choose the major that would maximize your future income? Do you even know what would that be? Or would you choose what you are good at? Or what makes you happy! It is really a complicated decision once you start thinking about what it takes to live a happy life ever after, all factors taken into consideration.

The Japanese principle Ikigai can help you choose your college major

Ikigai is a fairly popular Japanese concept that loosely translates into “the reason for being” or a “thing you live for”, and is based on the things that you wake up for in the morning. The concept of Ikigai touches upon 4 main questions you ought to ask yourself when trying to look for happiness.

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What does the world need?
  4. What can you get paid for?

These four questions that Ikigai revolves around are captured in the Ikigai diagram.

As a high school student looking to go into college and start your path to a life-long career, it is important to try to answer these questions to be able to choose a college major or study area that will make you happiest. Ikigai tells you that in order to live a happy life, your future college major should be based on some balance in between what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid well for. Only when you balance those four questions in your search for a college major you would be aiming to fulfilling balance life.

Each of the four questions, as depicted in the above diagram, represent an open-ended question. You find your Ikigai when all four circles intersect, or in other words, when you find reasonable overlapping answers to all of the four questions. The first two questions are internal and have to do with you and your passions in life, hence easier to find answers for within yourself, while the other two questions are external and relate to the world around you.

Let's look at each of the 4 question and explore what type of answers we can get.

Happy Student

What do you love?

It’s important for you to identify what you love and what your passions are. Those are the thing that bring you happiness when you do them. We are not talking about school subjects here. Rather, they could be your hobbies or the things you enjoy doing. Your passions usually start shaping up at an early age but they become clearer to you as you progress to your teen years.

For example, do you love or enjoy arts or music? Or are you more of a social animal who loves being around people? Is there a specific sport you love watching? Are you into cars, fashion, technology, literature? Try to identify the things you do in order to feel happy!

Computer Engineer

What are you good at?

Is there something you are exceptionally good at? Are you good at writing? Debating? Something that you have a knack for and can do it like no one else. Do you fix things easily? Are you good at puzzles? Math? Physics? Those are your skills, abilities, talents, or academic subjects that you are naturally good at. You may love what you are good at, but it is not necessarily. You might be good at debating, but you might not have the desire to debate. Similarly, you might be good at accounting, but you might just not like it!

By the same token, there is a good chance that you are good at something you actually love or enjoy doing. If you have been good with computers, for example, and you have a passion for solving with software or hardware issues, a major in computer engineering or computer science might be good for you. These majors will most likely guarantee that you spend the rest of your career working with computers.

Don't be discourage yet about the things you are not good at but you love. There is a great chance that you can train yourself and develop those skills if you are really passionate about. However, natural talents and abilities are far more powerful than acquired ones because they are more innate to your nature.

In summary, the first two questions can go hand-in-hand, but it is not a must. If there’s something you’re good at, you probably love doing that thing in particular. But if you love something, it is not necessary that you are good at it. You still can teach yourself things that you love but not very well at. However, the things that you are naturally good at are more valuable to align your future career with.

Environmental Conservation

What does the world need?

This question and the next one relate to the external world around you, as opposed to the first 2 questions which relate to yourself, your passions and talents.

Knowing what the world needs might not be as easy as answering what you love or what you are good at especially for sixteen or seventeen years old who might not be fully familiar with what the world needs.

To answer this question, you might need to do some research or consult an educational or a career counselor. You can schedule a consultation with one of Studygram's counselor to guide you in this process.

Try to identify what makes the world as it is now a better place. There are endless opportunities out there for improving the world. From technology, to medicine, to food security and poverty reduction, or environmental conservation. Check our blog post Top college majors to consider in the post COVID-19 world to get some inspiration.

See if your passion can be used and developed into a career that helps give back to society. Don’t hesitate to ask professionals in fields that are closely related to your passion; you will be amazed at how useful insights collected from people around you, are to you.


What can you get paid for?

The last question in the Ikigai quadrant is as important as the first 3 questions. You clearly need to be able to get paid!

This question can be rephrased into the following: How can you do what you love and have a talent for at the same time it is good for the world and people value and are willing to pay for? In other words, you need to identify what people value and brings goodness to society and you are good at and you love.

For example, if you love arts and you are good at drawing, painting, or even math or geometry, you might want to consider majoring in sustainable or green architecture and design buildings and cities that are good towards nature and beautiful at the same time. Both people and nature would love it!

If you like to fix things and you have a talent for mathematics, engineering might be good for you. What field of engineering is good for you would depend on answering the four question fully over and over again in different ways. If your passion lies within languages and writing, a major in journalism or communications may give you a great career.

Ikigai is about aligning your inner self with world!

Take some time alone to contemplate about the four Ikigai questions. Write on a piece of paper any ideas or keywords that would fall within each of the four Ikigai circles. Write close and far variations of these keywords, and reflect on how they are connected and you can combine them in different ways. Leave this paper on your desk and take a walk. Go meet your friends, your mentors, and do your things. Then, come back to this piece of paper and revise, re-write it, change it if you wish, and start over again. Ikigai is not a linear process. You need to go back-and-forth over your options. Identify your strong points and try to develop them as you progress in life. Ikigai is about aligning your inner self with the world. It is a great piece of wisdom to use in identifying your college major and future career.

Answering two or three questions is good but finding the answers to all four questions should be your goal. Choosing the right college major would make all the difference in finding your Ikigai as it may mean a long, meaningful and happy career life.


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