The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Life gets busy. Has Ikigai been sitting on your reading list? Learn its 10 rules now.
Disclaimer: This is an unofficial summary and analysis.
Introduction and Ikigai Meaning
Why is Okinawa referred to as the island of (almost) eternal youth? Why is it home to so many centenarians?
Ikigai is at the heart of Okinawan culture and is one key to its health and prosperity. Okinawa is an island to the south of mainland Japan, containing some of the world’s longest-living humans. On average, men live up to 84 years and women until 90. Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, lived among Okinawans and gained a first-hand account of why these people are healthier, happier and live longer than anywhere else in the world.
Researchers have identified that their diet, simple outdoor lifestyles, and subtropical climate are three reasons for their longevity. However, it is Ikigai that shapes their lives.
Iki means “to live,” and gai means “reason.” Therefore, Ikigai is a reason to live. Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values, and beliefs. It reflects the inner self and creates a mental state in which the individual feels at ease.
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About Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
Héctor García is a Japanese-Spanish author who has written several books about Japanese culture, including two worldwide bestsellers, A Geek in Japan and Ikigai. A former software engineer, Héctor worked at CERN in Switzerland before moving to Japan. He has now lived in Tokyo for over 16 years.
Francesc Miralles is a Catalan international award-winning author of self-help and inspirational books. His bestselling novel Love in Lowercase has been translated into twenty languages. Miralles too lived in Okinawa, Japan.
It was while living in Okinawa that Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles had the opportunity to interview more than a hundred villagers about their philosophy for a long and happy life.
Here are the 10 rules of Ikigai:
StoryShot #1: Find and Follow Your Ikigai
The Japanese word ikigai is a difficult word to translate. It roughly means “a reason for being” and is often translated as “a reason to live”.
In Okinawa, people view ikigai as the ‘why’ behind their daily life. It is important for them to find their ikigai, and they understand that doing so will bring them happiness and fulfillment.
Ikigai is the philosophy that blissfully gives them purpose until the end of their days.
In contrast, other cultures follow a path that society has created for them. We live by someone else’s standards and set aside our own desires. Because of this, we rarely find our purpose and passions in life.
As we all know, happiness relies on much more than just having a career and getting a paycheck. Likewise, only doing things we love or doing things we are good at is not enough to sustain us financially. Hence, one’s ikigai lies at the center of four interconnecting circles. Each of these elements helps contribute to our happiness; all four are crucial to our “reason for being.”
To help you live more mindfully and find your ikigai, ask yourself these four questions:
- What do I love?
- What am I good at?
- What does the world need from me?
- What can I get paid for?
Finding and embracing your ikigai is one of the first steps to a long, happy life. Without it, you’ll wander through life, holding on to material objects, memories from the past, or other people. You’ll jump from one goal to another, from one daily task to the next.
StoryShot #2: Take it Slow
Okinawa is known for its slow-paced way of life. The people here are passionate about everything they do, however insignificant it might seem. They strive to do their best in anything they do.
This is because they have an ikigai. But while this is the case, they don’t feel pressured by it and enjoy all that they do. They celebrate the time they have, even the little joys in life. Subsequently, music and dance are essential parts of daily living.
Ikigai helps Okinawa residents be more mindful in their daily lives. The concept of ikigai has its roots in Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment and keeping an open mind.
For most of us, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life and forget to slow down and be mindful. Technology has helped us save time, but we use our spare time to do other tasks instead of rest.
A slower-paced life means taking time to enjoy your mornings, instead of rushing to work in a frenzy. It means taking time to enjoy whatever you’re doing, to appreciate the outdoors, and to focus on whomever you’re talking to.
Slowing down is a conscious decision and not always an easy one. However, it leads to a greater appreciation for life and greater happiness.
StoryShot #3: Don’t Fill Your Stomach
The Okinawan Diet
Okinawa is home to the largest population of centenarians—people who have lived to the age of 100 or more. Okinawa has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world, with over 14 per 10,000 people.
So, what’s the secret to their longevity? One factor may be their diet.
The “Okinawa diet” includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, with small amounts of fish and lean meat. Typical items include tofu, miso, bitter melon, seaweed, soy sprouts, peppers, and green tea. They rarely eat sugar, and, if they do, it’s cane sugar. The average daily intake of an Okinawan is about 1,900 calories. This is significantly less than the average number of calories consumed by a typical American. They also eat almost half as much salt as the rest of Japan: 7 grams per day, compared to an average of 12.
Hara Hachi Bu
Okinawans also practice a Confucian teaching called Hara Hachi Bu. Hara Hachi Bu is a traditional Okinawan saying that means “eat until you are 80 percent full.” The idea is that you should stop eating when you are no longer feeling hungry, rather than continue to eat until you feel stuffed.
This philosophy of eating is based on the belief that it is better to stop eating before you feel too full, as it can lead to indigestion and other health problems. It also supports Okinawans with the highest percentage of centenarians in the world.
Ways to get started include:
- Eat slowly – Eating faster results in eating more. If we slow down, we will be mindful and allow our body to respond to cues, telling us we are no longer hungry.
- Focus on food – If you’re going to eat, just eat. This way, you’ll eat more slowly, consume less, and savor the food more.
- Use small vessels – If you choose to eat on smaller plates and use tall, narrow glasses, your brain believes it’s had more portions. You’re likely to eat significantly less without even thinking about it. Don’t believe me? Look at the size of your plate next time you’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet. You’ll see they’re a lot smaller than the ones in your kitchen cabinet.
StoryShot #4: Surround Yourself With Good Friends
Friendship is a close relationship between two people. It’s based on mutual trust and respect. It’s different from other relationships because it’s voluntary, and it’s built on shared experiences and common interests.
In small neighborhoods across Okinawa, the concept of friendship is deep and close. Okinawa is a small island, so people here know each other well. So, there is a strong sense of community and connectedness.
Okinawans believe true friends are those who stick by you through thick and thin. These close relationships provide support and stability during good times and bad.
As a result, Okinawans place a lot of value on maintaining strong relationships with their friends. This is reflected in the way they interact every day. For example, Okinawans often take the time to catch up with their friends over a cup of tea or coffee, and they are always willing to lend a listening ear. They also often go out of their way to help their friends, even if they are not asked to do so. This willingness to help others is one of the many things that make Okinawan culture so special.
And they do this for their community, called Moai. The term originated hundreds of years ago and traditionally meant a social support group for a village.
Originally, Moais were formed to pool the resources of an entire village for projects or public works. Today, the idea has expanded to become more of a social support network, a cultural tradition for built-in companionship. Traditionally, five young children were grouped together and committed to living as a Moai. As their second family, they regularly met with their Moai for work, play, and pool resources. Some Moais have lasted over 90 years.
Research shows that friends can affect your health even more than family. People with the most friends tend to outlive those with the fewest by 22 percent. Keep in mind that this means real friends. The authors point out that Facebook friends and Twitter followers do not count.
The key isn’t to try to have several friends. Superficial and distant relationships will only lead to feelings of insecurity and loneliness. These emotions increase your risk of illness and death, as much as obesity, alcoholism, and smoking. The key is to have three or four good friends that care for you the same way you care for them. The easiest way to develop close friendships is to think about what you can do to help the people closest to you be happier.
StoryShot #5: Smile
Being from Okinawa brings its challenges. The island is small and remote, which can sometimes make it difficult to access essential goods and services. And yet, the people of Okinawa are some of the most cheerful people you’ll ever meet.
Okinawans believe it’s wise to recognize the things that aren’t so great. For them, smiling is a way to stay positive and motivated. It’s also a way to show strength in the face of adversity.
One of the secrets of their long life is smiling and having a good time. This cheerful attitude is not only relaxing, but also helps them make new friends. There are no bars and only a few restaurants in Ogimi, a small village on the northern side of Okinawa. However, those who live in Ogimi enjoy a rich social life that revolves around community centers.
Smiling does more than tell other people you’re happy. Smiling lowers your heart rate and reduces blood pressure, while relaxing your body. A study from University College London found that cheerful people are 35 percent more likely to live longer.
We rate Ikigai 4.5/5. Comment below and tell us how you would rate Ikigai book based on this summary.
This article was first published in 2020. It was updated in July 2022.
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