The Japanese island of Okinawa is home to the most centenarians in the world per capita, and the lifestyle that’s thought to be the reason for this can be summarised as ikigai. Roughly translated, this would be similar to the French raison d’etre, or put simply, the reason for being.
In the book ‘Ikigai - The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life‘, authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles examine the lifestyles of the people that the top 5 places for longevity have in common, and share how the rest of us can take on some of these behaviours so that we too may find our own ikigai.
The book begins with an interesting diagram (see below), showing the intersections of what we love versus what we’re good at versus what the world needs, and lastly, what you can get paid for. The intersection of any two of these may help define our passion, mission, profession or our vocation, but it’s said that only when all four of these things intersect that we truly find our reason for being.
The authors make the point that although the Okinawa islanders are extraordinary in their longevity, it’s as much technology as lifestyle that is driving all of us towards longer lives. At some point in the future, there’s likely to come a time where we’re advancing longevity faster than we’re outrunning life itself, which means that one day, we may live eternally, and become immortal.
On a personal level, I’m all about finding ways to outwit disease and live a longer, healthier life, free from the seemingly universally accepted maladies that seem to come as we age, and if this idea of ikigai can help me focus on the things I need to do to become closer to my ideals, then I’m ready to apply as much of the theory as possible to get there.
Concepts to live by
Early on in the book, a few concepts are mentioned that summarise some of the reasons it’s thought so many centenarians live so long. Some of these include:
- Healthy food in smaller quantities
- Moderate, regular exercise
- Keeping the brain active
- Never retiring in the traditional sense
- Being part of a community that helps each other out
With respect to the last in the list above, a new concept we’re introduced to is moai, which involves a small set of people with the same interests coming together in a sort of collective, and pooling their money, resources and support to help each other through tough times whenever needed. As part of this, each member makes a small monthly contribution and if one of the members later needs financial help, they can call upon the pooled funds to help fix their situation. This type of arrangement sounds like it could take the worry out of paying for unexpected healthcare needs or becoming lonely or alone, which can be common as we get older. In reading this section about the moai, I pondered if there was anything remotely similar in the Western world, but the closest I could think of was a religious community where the members live as one big family and support each other throughout life. But in today’s modern society, could a group of like-minded friends set up a moai?
The more I read of the book, Ikigai, the more I’m drawn in by the ideas being presented, and the more I wonder what we in the fast-paced, technology-driven world away from these idyllic islands can really do to get anywhere close to living the lifestyle that will enable us to live past one hundred years old.
Finding my own ikigai
Sitting out in the back garden reading this book, I feel calm and happy, which I’m sure are qualities that can only serve to extend life. I haven’t finished reading this book fully yet, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the exact lifestyles of these communities that seem to have found their ikigai, including what they eat, how they exercise, and the proverbs and traditions that keep them going. I don’t know if it’s possible to find your ikigai in the world most of us live in, but I’m going to have a good go at implementing as many strategies from the book as possible – it can only be a positive thing, right?
If you’re interested in reading more about ikigai and the lifestyle factors that may lead us to live our best and longest lives, check out the book on Amazon. I’d recommend the hard copy rather than the Kindle as it’s so beautiful to hold in your hands, and you may have a better experience with the diagrams that are included in the book too.
May you find your ikigai!