I came across this book name “Ikigai” on a social media platform. Apart from being a bestseller, what aroused my interest about the book was its spiritual essence and the life improvement ideas that it promises to provide the reader. My honest opinion after going through the book is that it tries to put together many of the best practices required to lead a lengthy and a purposeful life.
The authors of the book are Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles from Spain. The former is an IT professional and an author of many books who has lived in Japan for over a decade, while the latter is an award winning author. The name of the book is a Japanese word “Ikigai” that literally means “reason for being”. If you put in your effort on something and it pays off, you say that it was worth the effort. This is what is meant by “Kai ga aru” or to be worthwhile. If you combine the word “Kai” with “Iki” or “to live”, the combined word “Ikigai” would mean something worth living for. As per the author, those who discover their Ikigai have everything they need for a long and joyful journey through life.
The author explores the life of people in the blue zones, especially Okinawa that holds the first place among the blue zones, known for its highest life expectancy in the world. Even in Okinawa there is a village called Ogimi that boasts of the highest life expectancy. Based on discussion with the local residents, the author says that more than the natural resources and diet, an uncommon joy flows through its inhabitants ,i.e, their Ikigai. Certain longevity studies also suggest that a strong sense of community and a clearly defined ikigai are just as important as the healthy Japanese diet. The Okinawans live by the principle of “ichariba chode” and “yuimaaru” that means “treat everyone like a brother even if you have not met them before” and “teamwork” respectively. One common saying in Japan is “Hara hachi bu” or “Fill your belly 80%”. This ancient wisdom advises against eating until we are full.
Just as lack of physical exercise has a negative effect on our body and mood, a lack of mental exercise is bad because it causes our neurons and neural connections to deteriorate. Our neurons start to age while we are still in our 20s. This process is slowed down by mental workout activities like learning something new everyday, playing games, interacting with others etc. One more factor that affects the neurons is stress. These days people live at a frantic pace and in a constant state of competition to which stress is the natural response of the body. A sustained state of stress affects not only the release of certain harmones but also is the cause of irritability, anxiety and other ailments. Mindfulness is an effective tool to reduce stress and helps us live longer. One more habit that affects longevity is a sedentary lifestyle. Being concious of our daily routine to detect harmful habits and replacing them with healthy and active lifestyle will renew our bodies and minds.
In the subsequent chapter the author mentions about therapies that were popular many decades ago like the logotherapy and Morita therapy. As mentioned in one of my earlier book reviews, Vikor Frankl’s logotherapy helps you find reasons to live. Discovering one’s purpose in life helps an individual to fill the existential void. While, Morita therapy focuses on teaching patients to accept their emotions without trying to control them, since their feelings will change as a result of their actions. Morita therapy’s basic principles are, accept your feelings, do what you should be doing and discover your life’s purpose. Next the author quotes a few questions that may help us discover our Ikigai, what makes us enjoy something so much that we forget our worries? When are we the happiest? etc. On the importance of flow the author says that, 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. Furthermore, concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow. Examples are takumis/artisans, inventors and otakus/fans of anime who flow with their Ikigai all the time.
As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, most of the successful people meditate everyday. One of the main reason behind their success is cited as meditation. This makes sense when the author here says, training the mind can get us to a place of flow more quickly. Meditation is one way to exercise our mental muscles. In the subsequent chapter the author writes about his learnings from the interview with the longest living people in the world. Some of the words of wisdom from the elders are as follows; don’t worry, cultivate good habits, nurture your friendships everyday, live an unhurried life, be optimistic, keep your mind and body busy.
In the following chapter, the author writes about the diet followed by the longest living people. The Okinawans diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains that they have everyday. They have fish and pork twice or thrice a week. Other notable points are, they consume less sugar and salt compared to the rest of Japan. A common point across all of the blue zones is low calorie intake. Everyday intake of antioxidant rich food is also considered to be the keys to Okinawans vitality. A few of the antioxidant rich foods found in Okinawan diet are Jasmine tea, green tea, shikuwasa, tofu, Miso, Nori etc. However, antioxidant rich food recommended by experts in other countries are broccoli, citrus fruits, berries, dry fruits, oats etc.
What the author discovered in the village of longevity, Ogimi is that people almost never stop moving in the course of their daily routines. If we live in a city it might be hard to move in natural and healthy ways everyday, but we can turn to eastern exercises that have proven for centuries to be good for body, mind and soul. In Japan many people start their day with a short workout, radio taiso that has been around since ww2. Yoga from India, Qigong and taichi from China are also popular in Japan and around the world. In the final chapter, the author highlights the common nature of people with a clearly defined ikigai. They pursue their passion no matter what. Resilience is what makes us to pick ourselves up and get back to what gives meaning to our lives. Proper training of mind, body and emotional resilience is essential to confront life’s challenges.
Buddhist and Stoic philosophies teach us to control pleasure, emotions and desires. Both these philosophies, at their roots, are methods to practice well-being. Regarding resilience, these two philosophies remind us that the present is all that exists, and it is the only thing we can control. A similar Japanese concept called, ichi-go ichi–e teaches us to focus on the present and enjoy each moment that life brings us. This is why it is so important to find and pursue our Ikigai.
Next the author mentions the word antifragile and its importance. The term antifragile was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, Antifragile : Things that gain from disorder. Taleb says that ” Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” If we are to apply this concept to our lives, we need to create redundancies in terms of having a secondary occupation or having friends or any personal interests. This is required to overcome adversities in job or relationships. The next point point required to be antifragile in our lives is to be conservative in certain areas and take many small risks in others. The final point is to get rid of things that make us fragile like certain people, things and habits that generate losses for us and makes us vulnerable. If we have an antifragile attitude, we will find a way to get stronger with every blow, refining our lifestyle and staying focused on our Ikigai.
Though the title of the book is ikigai, the focus is on improving the longevity. Here ikigai is just a part that contributes to longevity but is also very important. There is no perfect strategy to connect with one’s ikigai. Though life is not a problem to be solved, the focus should be to have something that keeps us busy doing what we love, while being surrounded by people who love us.
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