Ikigai can be translated as life’s mission and understood as the reason for waking up every morning. The Spanish authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles paired their knowhow and skills to craft a bestselling, easy to read and follow manual to help yourself into a long life.
Built on the Blue Zones precept that people live the longest in certain places where their community, culture, the environment and the available high quality fresh food support health and happiness, ikigai develops on one of the Blue Zones, the Japanese island of Okinawa, where many of the centenarians live.
To be clear, ikigai is not only practised in Japan as the book’s slug might suggest, but having a purpose, raison d’être, la dolce vita in life is a vital component of a long life lived well.
Garcia has been based in Japan for over a decade and his curiosity lead him to Okinawa, the Southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, where the citizens of the already longest living country in the world, average the most centenarians. There he observed and interviewed daily and weekly activities, diet and their environment. Listing the possible super-ingredients that promote the longevity of the locals, with a strong accent on the supportive, focused and determined community factors, the authors elaborate on what we already know to be good for our well-being – from getting enough sleep, a plant-based not excessive diet, clean environment (air, soil and water), spiritual-connection, low stress and light to moderate low-impact exercise like gardening, walking, yoga and tai chi. If you frequent self-help and health-centric literature you might be familiar with the majority of the content, but some of you may be surprised by one factor expanding one’s life span – NEVER RETIRE. Making sure that “there is no tension between what’s good for someone and what they want to do” is essential for longterm well-being. If you garden using lots of pesticides and fertilisers you might die of cancer, if you aggressively play soccer well into your seventies, well you are lucky if you still can, in either cases your activity can discriminate you from living healthy until you are 110. That is why professional athletes face more challenges than artists, who are physically able to carry on doing what they love until their days are drawn to their final stop.
A SOUND MIND IN A SOUND BODY
Einstein had it, so does Jiro Ono, the octogenarian sushi chef who has never taken a day off. These artisans, passionate scientists and artists enter the flow of creativity with such a zeal that their purpose emerges through their work. Attention to detail and simplicity connects them all.
The mind and body connection has been scientifically proven to influence our health. A placebo effect can cure us without any potent chemical’s ingestion, since our thinking has the releasing power of reactions in our body that can heal without much if any side effects. Once you stop working, your mind starts to be occupied with unnecessary, potentially harmful thoughts. Lack of motivation, purpose, or feeling useless can lead to depression, anxiety and a chain of health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiac issues, and weight-gain associated with one’s downed mood. Remaining joyous therefore is the spice of life. Love is nice, but according to the ikigai philosophy one cannot be dependent on others in order to thrive on an individual level.
Encouraging you to do what you love and what the world needs intersects in the ideal life’s mission that one does not want and need to retire from. Doing what you are passionate about and what is being appreciated by others for as long as you can often relates to longevity.
Be antifragile, as Nasim Nicholas Taleb has coined it, like the Hydra get stronger with every setback (Hercules chopping its heads). Beyond resilience, adapting to the new challenge and improving oneself makes you stronger to survive. Just “concentrate on what you can control”.
HOW HABITS BENEFIT OR HARM US
Over the life’s course it’s increasingly challenging to remain open, to do things differently and to learn new things. Ingrained habits can potentially kill us and the autopilot mindlessly steers away our awareness of us doing such a harm. We can change our habits to more beneficial ones, but we must employ mindfulness. people like to do things as they’ve always done them, yet as Shlomo Breznitz quoted in Ikigai wrote: “the only way of breaking these is to confront the brain with new information”. By rewriting your story, you create the new you, and with it new thoughts, new brain circuits. Challenge yourself and “feed the brain” with the vegetables rather than processed junk food.
Beyond Japan, the authors list excerpts from interviews with some of the documented longest living individuals. Women tend to live longer. Often this is attributed to them being more sensitive about their nutrition and healthy bodies, but also attitude, as the author’s suggest. Jeanne Calment from Arles, South of France, was the longest living person (died aged 122 in 1997) verified by documentation. Although “she denied herself almost nothing, she stopped smoking at 120” she was positively tuned with her humour fertile until the very end.
The Japanese hold onto many secrets keeping them healthy and alive for ages, but I will not give out all that the authors so diligently researched, for that you must read the book yourself. It is worth your attention. For example animism, the religious reverence of the natural world or plainly respect for nature is in harmony with human happiness and longevity. The most recent catastrophic report by the UN on our climate changing in such uncontrolled scale that it can potentially trigger a massive, global-scale conflict, famine, droughts, extreme weather patterns, wars for resources, and other life-threatening evils, must alarm anyone interested in longevity. This is a factor that we as responsible citizens should all work hard for. We humans are nature.
Neglecting genes is a major failure of this popular book. Inciting healthy lifestyle is commendable, yet omitting such an important factor of longevity is heretic. This fairytale promises happy centenarian life to those who chase the tokens of longevity, yet destiny did not distribute evenly between all of us. Live happily in the now, feel good about yourself and what you do, have a positive impact, keep your health in check by seeing your physician frequently, get biological tests done regularly and seek balance in your everyday life. Long life is not worth chasing if you do not live well right now. As the authors conclude “be lead by your curiosity, and keep busy by doing things that fill you with meaning and happiness”, adding; “today is all you have, make the most of it”.
NOTE: My personal views intersect with the content of the book, however, most of these ideas were inspired by the book demonstrating how you personally may benefit form reading Ikigai.
IKIGAI The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is published by Penguin books, available on Amazon, and I bought it at the Golden Door spa in California.