Finding One's Ikigai And The Road To Lasting Health And Happiness
Lessons from the authors of the bestselling self-help book that took the world by storm
Ikigai, the Japanese word for ‘a reason to live’ or ‘a reason to jump out of bed in the morning’ is a concept that took the world by storm in 2017 when it was introduced by authors Francesc Miralles and Héctor García in their book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. This idea of ‘the happiness of always being busy’, they found, could be one way of explaining the extraordinary longevity of the Japanese, especially on the island of Okinawa in southern Japan, where there are 24.55 people over the age of 100 for every 1,00,000 inhabitants—far more than the global average.
Miralles, a writer of self-help books and García, an engineer who lived in and wrote about Japan, interviewed more than 100 villagers in Ogimi, Okinawa together, to explore how these people live such full and fulfilled lives and bring these lessons to the rest of the world. From ichariba chode—a local expression that means to ‘treat everyone like a brother, even strangers’—to a healthy lifestyle, here are some of the secrets this life-changing book shares.
Ikigai in a nutshell (Photo: Shutterstock)
Okinawa inhabitants maintain a healthy diet with lots of green tea. Following the Japanese government’s recommendation of eating less than 10 grams of salt per day, locals partake an average of 18 different foods, with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. Says Miralles, the easiest way to check if there is enough variety on your table is to make sure you’re “eating a rainbow” of vegetables. Rice, cane sugar, potatoes, legumes and soya products, such as tofu, are also some of their dietary staples, along with fish a few times a week. All in all, they consume an average of 1,785 calories per day, compared to 2,068 calories in the rest of Japan. “This brings us back to the Japanese policy of hara hachi bu—eat only till you’re 80 per cent full. One easy way is to skip dessert or just reduce portion size,” Miralles explains.
Movement and Flow
Okinawa is the only province in Japan without trains, so residents must travel by foot or cycle when not driving. While going to the gym for intensive, structured exercise is rare; each person, even octogenarians, is almost always on the move, never sedentary. They also practice yoga, qigong and tai chi—gentle exercises that seek to create harmony between a person’s body and mind.
Mental balance and calm is another aspect that requires care. When confronted with a big goal or obstacle, for example, try to break it down into parts and then handle each part one by one. Focus on enjoying your daily rituals, using them as tools to enter, what the book calls ‘a state of flow’—immersing oneself in a task through concentration so completely, that thoughts, worries and even time pass by unnoticed.
Developing a passion, no matter what, is another pursuit of the people of Okinawa. “We’re talking about resilience, which isn’t just the ability to persevere—it is an outlook we can cultivate to stay focused on the important things in life, rather than what is most urgent, and to keep ourselves from being carried away by negative emotions,” says Miralles. The Japanese concept of ichi-go ichi-e, translated as ‘This moment exists only now and won’t come again’, reflects this philosophy of living in the moment, being present, surrendering our worries about the past or the future.
The practice of ikigai enables one to enjoy their old age freely. (Image used for representative purposes only. Photo: Shutterstock)
Based on these concepts, Miralles offers me these daily habits, when I speak to him, that can help you find your ikigai:
- Spend an hour every morning in quiet thought. This may bring uncomfortable questions to the surface—don’t avoid them; deal with them.
- Write down the activities that help you ‘flow’. Do you like doing them alone or with others? Do you flow more when doing things that require you to move your body or stay still? In the answers to these questions you might find the underlying ikigai that drives your life.
- Most people these days are ‘infoxicated’—intoxicated by information. Spend some time in the park or forest regularly, where you can just switch off and enjoy nature.
- Meet your friends or family weekly—staying close to people who believe in you is crucial.
- Try and ‘liberate’ time for trying new things. Procrastination is the enemy of ikigai.
- Follow your passions and prioritize your life. Figure out what or who is important to you.
- Recognize the things that help you and show your appreciation—a friend whose company made you feel better or reading a great book or listening to some music.
“We all have an ikigai. It’s the place where your needs, desires, ambitions, and satisfaction meet. A place of balance … Read the book slowly. Absorb each chapter and think about it for a few days. This will help you work out what your own ikigai really is, and equip you to change your life. You have a purpose in this world: Your skills, your interests, your desires and your history have made you the perfect candidate for something. All you have to do is find it,” says Miralles.