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Hector Garcia, Francesc Miralles: Ikigai; The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life



The Japanese concept which translates roughly as “the happiness of always being busy”.

Nurturing friendship, eating light, getting enough rest, and doing regular, moderate exercise are all part of the equation of good health, but at the heart of the joie de vivre that inspires centenarians to keep celebrating birthdays and cherishing each new day is their ikigai.

The art of staying young while growing old

Many Japanese people never really retire – they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows.

Blue Zones are the geographic regions where people live longest. Okinawa holds first place among the world’s Blue Zones. Others as identified by Dan Buettner The Blue Zones are Sardinia, Loma Linda in California, The Nicaya Peninsular in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece. Three of these regions are islands, where resources can be scarce and communities have to help one another. For many helping others might be an ikigai strong enough to keep them alive.

Japanese signs for Ikigai combines life with worthwhile.

Hara hachi bu – Japanese for “fill your belly to 80 %”. Okinawa people consume between 1.800 to 1.900 calories in the U.S. this number is between 2.200 and 3.300.

A moai is an informal group of people with common interests who look out for one another.

Little things that add up to a long life

Some biologists assert that our cells stop regenerating after about 120 years.

Having a youthful mind also drives you toward a healthy lifestyle that will slow the aging process. Israeli neuroscientists Shlomo Breznitz argues that the brain needs a lot of stimulation in order to stay in shape.

Our neurons start to age while we are still in our twenties. This process is slowed, however, by intellectual activity, curiosity, and a desire to learn.

Many people seem older than they are. Research into the causes of premature aging has shown that stress has a lot do with it, because the body wears down much faster during periods of crisis. In the University of California, they found that stress promotes cellular aging by weakening cell structures known as telomeres, which affect cellular regeneration and how our cells age.

While sustained, intensive stress is a known enemy of longevity and both mental and physical health, low levels of stress have been shown to be beneficial.

Science has shown that sleep is a key antiaging tool, because when we sleep, we generate melatonin.

One study, conducted at Yeshiva University, found that the people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness.

Ogimi is the village that holds the Guiness record for longevity.

How to live longer and better by finding your purpose

Viktor Frankl explained difference between logotherapy and psychoanalysis: “In logotherapy, the patient sits up straight and has to listen to things that are, on occasion, hard to hear. In psychoanalysis, the patient lies down on a couch and tells things that are, on occasion, hard to say.”[1]

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedom – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Existential frustration arises when our life is without purpose or when that purpose is skewed. It is typical of modern societies in which people do what they are told to do, or what others do, rather than what they want to do.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. Frankl believed that one health depends on natural tension that comes from comparing what we’ve accomplished so far with what we’d like to achieve in the future.

We don’t create the meaning of our life, as Sartre claimed, we discover it. We all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things. The side of the equation we end up on depends on our decision, not on the condition in which we find ourselves.

Shoma Morita created his own purpose-centered therapy, in Japan.

The basic principles of Morita therapy:

  • Accept your feelings.
  • Do what you should be doing.
  • Discover your life’s purpose.

The four phases of Morita Therapy:

  • Isolation and rest (five to seven days).
  • Light occupational therapy (five to seven days).
  • Occupational therapy (five to seven days).
  • The return to social life and the “real” world.

How to turn work and free time into spaces for growth

We’ve all felt our sense of time vanish when we lose ourselves in an activity we enjoy.

The Seven Conditions for Achieving Flow according to Owen Schaffer:

  • Knowing what to do
  • Knowing how to do it
  • Knowing how well you are doing
  • Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
  • Perceiving significant challenges
  • Perceiving significant skills
  • Being free from distractions

Strategy 1: Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult).

Strategy 2: Have a clear, concrete objective. Having a clear objective is important in achieving flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind when we get down to business.

Strategy 3: Concentrate on a single task. The Pomodoro Technique recommends 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest for each cycle, but you can also do 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest. Divide each activity into groups of related tasks, and assign each group its own place and time. Bundle routine tasks and do them all at once.

The people of Japan have a unique talent for creating new technologies while preserving artisanal traditions and techniques. The Japanese are skilled at bringing nature and technology together. There are those who say that the Shinto value of being connected with nature is vanishing.

Can someone really retire if he is passionate about what he does?

Our ability to turn routine tasks into moments of microflow, into something we enjoy, is key to our being happy, since we all have to do such tasks.

Life is inherently ritualistic. We could argue that humans naturally follow rituals that keep us busy.

The happies people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.

Words of wisdom from the longest-living people in the world

The term supercentenarians – people who live to 110 years of age or more was coined in 1970 by Norris McWhirter. Today estimation of their number is between 300 and 450.

  • Misao Okawa (117). Eat and sleep, and you’ll live a long time. You have to learn to relax.
  • Maria Capovilla (116). I’ve never eaten meat in my life.
  • Jeanne Calment (122). Everything’s fine.
  • Walter Breuning (114). If you keep your mind and body busy, you’ll be around a long time.
  • Alexander Imich (111). I just haven’t died yet.

The sense of community, and the fact that Japanese people make an effort to stay active until the very end, are key elements of their secret to long life.

Traditions and proverbs for happiness and longevity

Food won’t help your live longer. The secret is smiling and having a good time.

The main religion in Okinawa is known as Ryukyu Shinto. Ryukyu is the original name of the Okinawa archipelago, and Shinto means “the path of the gods”.

Every person has an essence, or mabui. This mabui is our spirit and the source of our life force. It is immortal and makes us who we are.

Washington Burnap: “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”[2]

Some ideas from the eldest members of Okinawa about life philosophy, their ikigai, and the secrets to longevity:

  • Don’t worry
  • Cultivate good habits
  • Nurture your friendships every day
  • Live an unhurried life
  • Be optimistic

What the world’s longest-living people eat and drink

Bradley J. Willcox and D. Craig Willcox joined Makoto Suzuki’s research team and published a book The Okinawa Program:

  • Local eat a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables. Variety seems to be key.
  • They eat at least five serving of fruits and vegetables every day. 30 % of calories daily comes from fruit and vegetables.
  • Grains are the foundation of their diet.
  • They rarely eat sugar, and if they do, it’s cane sugar.

Okinawans drink more Sanpin-cha, a mix of green tea and jasmine flowers – than any other kind of tea.

Exercises from the East that promote health and longevity

Studies from the Blue Zones suggest that the people who live longest are not the ones who do the most exercise but rather ones who move the most.

Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting.

It might seem basic, but in our modern lives, we can spend days without raising our arms above our ears.

How to face life’s challenges without letting stress and worry age you

One thing that everyone with a clearly defined ikigai has in common is that they pursue their passion no matter what. They never give up, even when the cards seem stacked against them or they face one hurdle after another.

But resilience isn’t just the ability to persevere. Go beyond resilience to cultivate antifragility. Sooner or later, we all have to face difficult moments, and the way we do this can make a huge difference to our quality of life.

Resilience is our ability to deal with setbacks.

Since their inception, one of the objectives of both Buddhism and Stoicism has been to control pleasure, emotions, and desires. Though the philosophies are very different, both aim to curb our ego and control our negative emotions.

To practice negative visualization, we have to reflect on negative events, but without worrying about them.

In the words of Epictetus: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.”[3]

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”[4]

How to be more antifragile:

  • Create more options.
  • Bet conservatively in certain areas and take many small risks in others.
  • Get rid of the things that make you fragile.

Ikigai: the art of living

The ten rules of ikigai:

  • Stay active, don’t retire
  • Take it slow
  • Don’t fill your stomach
  • Surround yourself with good friends
  • Get in shape for your next birthday
  • Smile
  • Reconnect with nature
  • Give thanks
  • Live in the moment
  • Follow your ikigai

[1] In the book on page 37

[2] In the book on page 111

[3] In the book on page 169

[4] In the book on page 174

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