IKIGAI, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life I am not surprised that people are so intensely searching for love and happiness. I found happiness by believing that I was lucky at a young age and seeing everything from the positive side, but of course, taking into account the bad possibilities, in short, by taking refuge in God, trying to live according to His commands, establishing a beautiful family and living a peaceful life with them, making good friendships and achieving goals I made at work.
I think that’s why such searches seem a little different to me. In fact, I don’t read such personal development books; I generally stay away. You might think, “If I were as rich as you and grew up in a rich family, I would be happy too.” I can almost hear you say it.
Troll souls, please try; you, too, can achieve happiness! But if you’re happy to “make jokes,” go ahead. I wasn’t born into wealth; my father became rich while I was growing up. But I don’t think that happiness and feeling happy can only come from money and opportunities.
Books that teach you how to live happily sell well everywhere, not only in Turkey but all over the world. Urbanization, industrialization, modernization, and religions remain distant from today’s living conditions, not offering solutions to the new generation and today’s life problems… These push today’s people to various searches. The search is often based on another foreign way of life or philosophy of life. Ikigai is one of them. The book has sold 2 million copies worldwide; I just read it, and it’s not very thick… Take a look at my thoughts on it…
This book, written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles and sold more than 2 million copies internationally, tells about Ikigai, one of the Japanese life philosophies, and introduces us to the Japanese secret to a long and happy life. As an example, the book starts with the life secrets of the people living in Japan’s Okinawa archipelago, known to have the highest average age in the world. The secret of the Okinawa people, whose lifespan is higher than the average of 100 years, has now begun to carry its fame thousands of kilometers away from Okinawa. Ikigai. “Iki” means life, and “Gai” means purpose. Ikigai, in short, as a word, can be defined as “The Purpose of Life”. In fact, this philosophy, which can be translated as “the happiness of always being busy”, is practiced in Okinawa with healthy eating (where most of Japan’s shikuwasa, a fruit with an extraordinary antioxidant effect, comes from), a simple life outdoors, green tea and the subtropical climate. (The average temperature is like Hawaii’s) as well as one of the keys to shaping life.
The Japanese believe that everyone has an ikigai, a reason to get out of bed every morning. Some people are still searching for their ikigai, yet they carry it within them. This book, which aims to inspire these people, gives all the information you need to discover your own ikigai. The book recommends not acting in a hurry, discovering your purpose in life, revitalizing your relationships, and devoting yourself to your passions. The authors state that these recommendations, along with nutrition and exercise, can be seen as the key to long life in all five Blue Belt regions described in Dan Buettner’s book. These five regions, apart from Okinawa, include Sardinia (Italy), Loma Linda (California), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Ikeria (Greece).
The Japanese philosophy of ikigai is based on four elements: If you do something that you love, that you are good at, that serves humanity, and that makes money, you will reach your reason for existence.
It turns out that to help us live more mindfully and find our ikigai, we need to ask ourselves these four questions:
1. What do I like?
2. What am I good at?
3. What does the world expect from me?
4. What do they pay me for?
The word retirement does not exist in Japanese culture. They even have a famous saying, “If you want to die, retire.” No matter what happens, they continue to do their job with enthusiasm as long as their health allows. In short, the philosophy of “iron that works, shines” prevails. When we look at the demographic structure of the population, we understand that people live long, healthy, and happy lives in Japan. A long and healthy life is only possible when multiple factors come together. Living by following a healthy life philosophy, eating healthy food, doing sports, and doing your job with pleasure and without getting bored. If we are to have a long life, we can only spend the time we spend on earth in a meaningful and useful way with a purpose for living. If you are old, sick, or tired, the Japanese recommend that you do small things to keep yourself busy, even if only a little. In this way, people can stay vigorous and busy. Actions such as not retiring and living an active life, making good friends, leaving the table feeling full 80% of the time, exercising every day, expressing gratitude to everything that brightens our day, reconnecting with nature, smiling, and living in the moment also help us find our ikigai.
Sound Mind Sound Body
With the saying “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A healthy mind resides in a healthy body), it is explained that mental exercise is of great importance for the brain to stay in shape, just like physical exercise, which is a necessity of a healthy lifestyle. When faced with new information, the brain creates new connections and becomes revitalized. According to the book “Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom” by Collins Hemingway and Shlomo Breznitz, mental training, learning something new every day, playing games, and interacting with others are necessary for the mind’s anti-aging strategies.
1. Stress: the killer of longevity
At the University of California, they took data from 39 women with high-stress levels due to the illness of one of their children and compared it with samples from women with healthy children and low stress levels. They discovered that stress accelerates cellular aging by weakening the cell structures called telomeres, which affect cellular renewal and cell age. The greater the stress, the greater its damaging effect on the cells. Theoretically, stress is a beneficial response that enables survival in hostile environments. At the moment of alarm, adrenaline and cortisol are secreted, giving us the opportunity to face difficulties. However, it causes a corrosive effect over time. Constant emergencies can cause depression, irritability, insomnia, and anxiety, as well as high blood pressure.
The authors underline the need to focus on the self as the mainstay of a stress reduction method. In order to be fully conscious of our reactions, even if they are conditioned by habit, we need to notice them; in a sense, we need to disable the autopilot. One way to do this is through meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga.
Anyone with a clear ikigai follows their passions no matter what occurs, resists stress, and focuses on their goals without losing courage. To provide emotional resilience, help can be taken from the philosophies of Buddhism and Stoicism aimed at controlling pleasure, emotions, and desires. The most important techniques are not to surrender to negative emotions and to know what we can and cannot control. Seneca, one of the richest men of ancient Rome, was an active stoic (*) who put negative emotions into practice and applied the principle of not surrendering to these negativities. It is necessary to remember that everything we have and everyone we love will disappear one day, but we need to concentrate on loving the moment without getting pessimistic. It is necessary to look for beauty not in perfection but in imperfect and incomplete things. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term that captures the beauty of the variable and imperfect nature of the world around us. That’s why the Japanese attach great value to a broken teacup.
Resistance is further defined as anti-fragility. To ensure this, it is necessary to create reserves in life. For example, it is important to try to earn money from hobbies and other jobs instead of earning money from a single source and to make room for backups in friendships and personal interests. While betting cautiously in some areas, it is also important to take smaller risks in others. Finally, it is necessary to get rid of the things that make you fragile.
2. Sitting too much ages you.
Sitting too much can lead to hypertension, unbalanced nutrition, cardiovascular disease, and even some types of cancer. The book suggests that with a little effort and change, you can easily start moving more. Suggestions for this include walking to work or taking short daily walks, using the stairs instead of the elevator, eating fruit instead of junk food, playing with children or pets, and sleeping well. Exercise and gaining the ability to cope with life’s setbacks are given as the secrets to a long life. Eastern disciplines, such as yoga, qigong, and tai chi, which balance the body, mind, and soul, provide strength, pleasure, and serenity. Again, Rajio Taisou (rajio comes from the radio because instructions were transmitted over the radio back then), which has existed since before the Second World War, is the warm-up exercise that the Japanese do in the morning. One of their main purposes is to support the spirit of unity among the participants. According to statistics, 30% of Japanese do these movements for 5 minutes every morning.
Melatonin, especially produced during sleep, helps us live longer, strengthens the immune system, contains a protective element against cancer, slows the onset of Alzheimer’s, and supports natural insulin production. We can compensate for the decreased melatonin production after the age of 30 by eating a balanced diet and calcium, going out in the sun every day, getting enough sleep, and staying away from stress, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.
3. Okinawa Diet
The “Okinawa diet” includes fish (three times a week) and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables. Typical items include grains, tofu, miso, tuna, soybean sprouts, pepper and green tea, and jasmine tea. They rarely consume sugar, and if they do, they prefer sugar obtained from sugar cane. The average daily intake of an Okinawan is about 1,900 calories. This is significantly less than the average amount of calories consumed by the typical American. They also consume almost half as much salt as the rest of Japan: 7 grams per day compared to an average of 12 grams.
In summary: -Less sugar, -Less salt, -Low-calorie intake, -Reduce portions and leave the table a little hungry, -It is necessary to rest the body by fasting from time to time.
Hara Hachi Bu
Okinawans also practice a Confucian teaching called Hara Hachi Bu. This is a traditional Okinawan saying meaning “eat until you’re 80 percent full.” The idea is that instead of continuing to eat until you’re stuffed, you should stop eating when you no longer feel hungry.
This food philosophy 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.
Here are ways to get started:
• Eat slowly – Eating quickly results in eating more. If we slow down, we are mindful and allow our body to respond to cues that tell us we are no longer hungry.
• Focus on food – If you’re going to eat, just eat. This way, you eat slower, consume less, and enjoy the food more.
• Use small containers – If you choose to eat on smaller plates and use tall, narrow glasses, your brain believes you are eating larger portions.
The lyrics of a song sung by Ogimi, who holds the Guinness record for longevity, are quoted as follows;
For a healthy and long life;
• Go to bed early, wake up early, then go for a walk.
• Eat small amounts of whatever you enjoy.
• Live each day calmly, and enjoy your journey.
• Get along with your friends.
• The secret is not to worry about how old your fingers are; if you keep them working, you will celebrate your centenary.
From logotherapy to ikigai
Viktor Frankl’s definition of logotherapy as a school of psychology is as follows: “It helps you find a reason to live.” During the logotherapy process, the person goes on a journey from feeling empty, angry, and anxious to discovering the purpose of his life step by step and overcoming obstacles and sadness with his newfound passion for life. According to Frankl, the existential anger we feel when our life feels purposeless is something positive and a catalyst for change. Logotherapy comes into play when a person needs help to change his own destiny: when he needs guidance to discover the purpose of his life and overcome conflicts accordingly. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl quotes one of Nietzsche’s famous maxims: “He who has a why to live will endure any how.”
Sartre: “We do not create the meaning of our life; we discover it.” The idea that excessive attention to a desire can prevent the desire from coming true just as the feared thing comes true, that we all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things, and that our own decisions, not the conditions, determine where we will be in the equation can be considered the main ideas of logotherapy. For example, when Frankl came to Auschwitz, the draft of his career work was confiscated, but he gained a purpose for living in the concentration camp with the motivation to write from scratch.
Shoma Morita created his own therapy in Japan during the years when logotherapy was introduced. A Zen Buddhist as well as a psychotherapist, Morita teaches his patients to accept their emotions without trying to control them because their emotions are the result of their actions. It does not eliminate the symptoms but instead teaches us to accept our desires, anxieties, and fears and let them go. In his book “Morita Therapy and the True Nature of Anxiety-Based Disorders,” Morita says that it is necessary to accept emotions: “If we try to get rid of one wave with another wave, we will find ourselves in an endless sea.” It is necessary to focus on the moment; the therapist’s task is seen as developing the patient’s character, keeping in mind the mantra “What do I need to do right now?” and looking within ourselves and finding our ikigai is key.
This therapy begins with the patient being isolated in a room without any external stimuli, continues with doing routine work in silence, moves on to the physical movement phase, and finally returns to social life and the real world. In these stages, the patient focuses on the three questions of Naikan introspective meditation: What did I take from person X, what did I give to person X, what problems did I cause person X?
Ikigai Philosophy What is needed to find our Ikigai is summarized as: -Catching the flow, -Eating a balanced and conscious diet, doing low-intensity exercise, and -Not giving up in the face of difficulties.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” flow is the state of being absorbed in an activity that one considers superior to everything else. According to researcher Owen Shaffer from DePaul University, the requirements for achieving flow are knowing what you are going to do, knowing how you are going to do it, knowing how well you are doing it, knowing where you are going, perceiving certain challenges, perceiving certain skills, and staying away from distractions. This model suggests that we take on tasks that are slightly outside our comfort zone and that we have a chance of achieving. The idea is to find a middle ground that is compatible with our abilities but a bit challenging. This is Ernest Hemingway’s quote, “Sometimes I write better than I can write.” It looks like he said. A clear, concrete goal is also important.
According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, the number one complaint of multinational company employees when asked about their bosses is that “the team mission is not clearly stated” and as a result, they do not know what their goals are. Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, and Jeff Howe state in their book “Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future” that a compass showing a concrete goal will yield much faster and more efficient results than a detailed map. It’s important to have a clear goal to achieve flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind once we get to work. If a person loses focus for a second while thinking about how proud he will be when he shows the medal to his family, it is inevitable that he will make a mistake at a critical moment and lose the race. We also spend all our energy changing things instead of focusing on doing one thing the best. Concentrating on one thing at a time can be the most important element in achieving flow. For this, it is necessary to stay away from distracting environments and constantly control what we do.
Studies show that working on several things at a time reduces productivity by at least 60 percent and our IQ by at least 10 points. In its research on four thousand adults aged 20-24 who are addicted to their smartphones, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research found that this group sleeps less, has less contact with their peers at school, and shows symptoms of depression. As the authors train our brains to focus on a single task, we recommend not looking at the screen in the first hour we are awake and the last hour before bed, turning off the phone before falling into the flow, doing a technology fast one day a week, checking your email only once or twice a day, trying the Pomodoro technique (such as working for 25 minutes and resting for 5 minutes), returning to the moment with techniques such as meditation or walking as soon as you notice that your attention is distracted, working in a place where there will be no distractions, dividing each activity into relevant work groups, doing routine tasks all at once, starting to work with a ritual you will enjoy and using a ritual that you will enjoy. He suggests ending with a reward.
Steve Jobs was also influenced and inspired by Japan’s craftsmen and philosophy. What Japanese craftsmen, philosophy, and even cuisine have in common is simplicity and attention to detail. This is not described as a simplicity resulting from laziness but as a sophisticated simplicity that seeks and finds new boundaries according to one’s ikigai, always elevating an object, body, mind, or cuisine to the next level. In the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” one of the apprentices tries to make tamago (a thin, light, sweet omelet) without getting bored for years until he says that he has become Jiro because making sushi is his ikigai.
In Japan, merging with what they are immersed in has a special meaning. According to Shintoism, there is a kami (spirit or god) in forests, trees, and objects. Whether a painter, an engineer, or a chef, when one sets out to create something, the responsibility one takes is to use and respect nature while giving “life” to what one has made. For example, the craftsman becomes one with the object and flows with it; someone who makes ceramics says the same thing about clay. Hayao Miyazaki, the director of animated films produced by Studio Ghibli, who is the most important of those who say that the Shinto value related to nature has been lost, deals with the conflict of humans, technology, the dream world and nature and their coming together at the end of the film in all his films. In the movie “Spirited Away,” the most poignant metaphor is an obese soul covered in garbage, representing the pollution of rivers. In his films, the personalities of the spirits, the feelings of the trees, and the robots that make friends with birds attract attention. The passion with which he devotes himself to his job is the subject of documentaries. Likewise, it is a fact that all artists and scientists in the world have a strong and distinct ikigai and do what they love until they die. For example, before Einstein died, he wrote a formula in which he tried to unify the forces of the universe into a single theory.
So, when you take care of routine tasks like doing laundry, is there a way to make them enjoyable? This is called microflow. Bill Gates washes the dishes every night and says it relaxes him and clears his mind. He says he tries to do this better every day by following a routine he created on his own. Richard Feynman also enjoys routine office work. Another characteristic of the Japanese is to focus on enjoying daily traditions and using them as a tool to capture the flow. Traditions give clear rules and goals by which we can easily achieve flow.
Meditation is a way to train your mental muscles and find flow. Its main purpose is described as calming the mind, observing our emotions and thoughts, and focusing our attention on a single goal.
When asked to get information about the life philosophies of “supercentenarians” living in Okinawa, who are over 100 years old, a term coined by Norris McWhirter, the editor of the Guinness Book of World Records, in 1970, they say a stress-free, happy life, being grateful, keeping the body and mind busy, good sleep, avoiding alcohol and alcohol. A diet away from animal foods comes to the fore. The secret of long life is also noticeable in the artists who carry ikigai torches instead of retiring. For example, the first painting of the 100th-year-old painter Carmen Herrera, which she sold at the age of 89, is among the permanent collections of Tate Modern. (Died February 12, 2022, aged 106) Artist Ellsworth Kelly, who died in 2015 at the age of 92, is remembered for arguing that the idea that we lose skills with age is a myth because we develop a greater clarity for observation. 86-year-old architect Frank Gehry (born 1929, Guggenheim Museum, Prague Dancing Building) recommends being connected to the present and living in the moment.
According to the Japanese, the main conditions for happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. The book, which summarizes the Okinawa interviews, teaches us not to worry, develop good habits,
It presents friendships, living without rushing, being optimistic, and most importantly, being passionate in everything they do, no matter how trivial it may seem, as the secret to a long life.
Ten rules of ikigai
1. First of all, forget about retirement; stay active.
2. Take it slow. Slow down in a rush.
3. Do not stuff your stomach full.
4. Make sure you have good people and good friends around you.
5. Keep exercising regularly.
6. Do not forget to smile even in bad times.
7. Never put natural life in the background. Remember that you are also a part of it.
8. Know how to thank.
9. Live in the moment.
10. Follow your ikigai.
The authors of the book say: If you don’t know what ikigai is yet, your task is to discover it. One of the first things the Ikigai book asks you to do is identify your goals, big or small. It is important to accept all your dreams, no matter how insignificant they seem. In fact, when it comes to your physical health with intuitive eating and exercise and your mental health with meditation, even the smallest of your goals are just as important as your long-term ones. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we often forget to properly experience the moment we live in. The Ikigai book encourages readers to think about enjoyable activities, happy moments, and the present, saying that the real secret of happiness is a calm mood and a sense of togetherness.
In short, it motivates you to be at peace with yourself and your life. It allows you to focus on your inner peace and desire to live.
When I finished the book, I saw that I had already found my ikigai. You know closely #makehappybehappy. In fact, all of its principles are also in the Quran, which illuminates my way of life. I can’t say anything about food habits; we have the best cuisine in the world; let them come and experience this philosophy in Turkey. Other teachings and philosophies sound good and easy to implement, but at the end of the day, it is about the psychology of most people and the unpredictability and situationality of their behavior. Did I learn from the book? Can I enrich myself without harming my own lifestyle? Why not? Can I apply them all? That’s a bit doubtful, but I have no intention of retiring from working 🙂
(*) The Stoics argued that the universe was a balanced system designed for a purpose. They thought of the universe as a single living organism. As long as a person acts in accordance with nature, he can find peace in his soul. The most important virtue for humans is wisdom. (https://evrimagaci.org/stoacilik-nedir-stoa-felsefesi-fizik-mantik-ve-ahlaki-nasil-bir-arada-ele-alir-11799#:~:text=Stoac%C4%B1lar%2C% 20of the universe%20a%20purpose%20g%C3%B6re,i%C3%A7in%20en%20%C3%B6moist%20virtue%20wisdom.)
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