George Bailey & Ikigai

Through the help of his Guardian Angel, Clarence, George Bailey, the protagonist from It’s a Wonderful Life, ultimately sees how his actions positively impacted the lives of the Bedford Falls residents. After evaluating his life, he concludes that “no man is a failure who has friends.” But, is his method of evaluation the best? If not, what is?

Growing up, Home Alone and Die Hard were the Christmas staples in my household. It was not until I became a father (nine years ago), that I began to appreciate George’s selflessness, and all that he sacrificed for his community and family. I get choked up every time I watch him lose his temper with his family when the stress of life seems to have finally broken him. But, in the end it all works out as the townsfolk rally around George, repaying him, literally and figuratively, for all that he’s contributed to Bedford Falls.

Then, I read Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.

Ikigai Simply Defined

  • Your purpose
  • Your passion
  • What gets you out of bed
  • Your inspiration
  • What gives you value

Because there’s nothing better than a clear and simplistic visual.

Image courtesy of

You reach Ikigai when you are able to do what you love, you’re good at doing it, the world needs it, and you are paid for it…the ultimate quadfecta!

Hard to accomplish, but simple enough to understand.

With a quick glance, one would think that everyone should be striving to achieve Ikigai. But, was our iconic movie hero, George Bailey, on a path to Ikigai?

George Bailey’s Ikigai Grades

  • Getting Paid for What you Do: C+
    • George makes a living wage.
    • His family has what they need to live comfortably.
    • George uses his own funds to support/save Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.
    • The Baileys don’t have the money to travel as George once hoped they would be able to.
  • Doing What the World Needs: A
    • For this story, the world means Bedford Falls, and Bedford Falls needs George Bedford.
    • As we see in an alternative timeline, without George, Bedford Falls, now Pottersville, is a rundown, crime-ridden, and sleaze infested slum.
  • Doing What you’re Good at: B-
    • Bailey Park is a wonderful addition to the Bedford Falls community.
    • The citizens trust George, making them comfortable to do business with him.
    • Bailey Brothers Building and Loan always seems one mistake away from catastrophe.
  • Doing What you Love: D-
    • George enjoys helping people, and his job allows him to help lots of people.
    • George would love to travel, but never gets the chance.
    • George was unable to plan cities or build airfields, skyscrapers, and bridges.
    • The dreams of his youth slowly die over the course of the film.

Which leaves George with an abysmal 2.425 Ikigai GPA. Maybe our Ikigai categories should have been weighted like AP classes?

Unanswerable Questions

  • Who determines the weight of each Ikigai category? The individual? Those whom they are serving? Or, are they all equal?
  • How is George feeling two months down the road? Is he still living on the high from the town stepping up for him? Has he come crashing down again, realizing he’ll never get out of Bedford Falls?
  • At what point in your life does the “Doing What you Love” category start to diminish? When your financial obligations get too great? When you get married? When you have kids?
  • What’s the feasibility that a majority of people reach Ikigai?

I don’t have any answers, and if I did, those answers wouldn’t apply to everyone, or my answers would change tomorrow based on today’s events. I do know that it’s important to reflect on the components of Ikigai to check in on yourself. Not to see if your obtaining perfect balance, but maybe just to recalibrate or revisit a neglected area. You might not be able to obtain a wonderful life, but perhaps a pretty great life will suffice.

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