10 min read…
Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.
What is the purpose of our lives? Or, do we have one? How do you find if you are leading a meaningful life? Do you follow your passion or are you trying to find yours? On the island of Okinawa in Japan, there are 25 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants, far more than the global average. How do they manage to live long and active? Ikigai attempts to find an answer to one question: What is the secret to a long and happy life?
WHAT IS AN IKIGAI?
The Japanese concept Ikigai means “the happiness of always being busy.” Is this the key reason – other than a healthy diet, active life, and green tea – for Okinawans‘ longevity? Authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles decided to study the secrets of these Japanese centenarians. It didn’t take them long to realize that an uncommon joy flows from the inhabitants, leading them through a pleasurable journey of their lives. They seemed to have discovered their Ikigai. But what is it?
According to the Japenese, everyone carries an Ikigai inside and finding it requires a patient search. Some have found it already, while others are still trying to discover what they love. Simply put, Ikigai is the reason we wake up in the morning. Many Japanese people don’t have the concept of retirement. Retiring means leaving the workforce for good but these people love what they do and so, they continue doing it as long as their health allows. The idea of retirement just doesn’t exist. Amazing, isn’t it?
Blue-zones are regions where people live much longer than average. There are five such blue-zones in the world and Okinawa holds the first place among them. Recent medical studies of the centenarians from these zones reveal some interesting facts –
When the authors explored several factors that could be the key to longevity across the blue-zones (especially Okinawa), they found similar patterns. For starters, there is a strong communal bonding and people like helping each other. Other key factors include diet, exercise and finding a purpose in life. Also, members of these communities manage their time so well, thus reducing stress. More importantly, everyone practices some form of gardening. Whatever factors they attribute their happy life to, fall into one of these 4 broader aspects:
1. FIND THE FLOW IN EVERYTHING YOU DO:
Imagine playing your favorite videogame. You start steady and soon catch up with the pace. You have found the right tempo and rhythm, your fingers handle the joystick with such finesse, your eyes are fixed and you attain an equilibrium state. You seem to be on autopilot. You forget what surrounds you. That noise coming from your neighbor’s house or the dog that is barking somewhere, you do not hear anything. You are totally in the present. You become a part of what you are doing.
Get it? Sometimes, we enjoy an activity so much that we lose every sense of time. We start talking to our friends and don’t realize how the time flew, or we swim all day and don’t realize how tired we are until our body aches the next day. This is what psychologist Milahy Csikszentmihalyi calls the flow state. It is described as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life. The opposite can also happen. When you have to sit in a boring class, every minute feels like an hour, or when you hate your work, you cannot wait for the weekend. But, when we are in a flow, we do not have any distractions. Our mind is in order. There are various strategies discussed in the book to achieve this flow.
Use this flow to find your Ikigai. Make a list of activities you enjoy doing. Then, find why you enjoy doing them. What do they have in common? Do you like to do it alone or with friends? Do you find your flow when the tasks involve physical activity or just when you need to think? In the answers to these questions would you find the underlying Ikigai that drives your life. If you haven’t found flow yet, but have a list of activities you like, keep exploring and sooner or later, you’ll find the answers.
We cannot spend all our time only doing tasks we love. Daily, we also have to perform mundane tasks like cleaning the house, washing dishes or drying clothes. When the tasks are not challenging, it is easy to become bored. But we can make all these routines tasks enjoyable using a concept called microflow. We have been doing it all along without realization. Remember doodling on your notebook during a boring lecture or singing/dancing while folding clothes? That is the secret. Add a little layer of complexity to these easy tasks to make it engaging.
2. A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
The moment the authors landed in Okinawa, they could sense the friendliness among its people. Okinawans follow a principle of Ichariba Chode which means “treat everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before.” One of their specialties is the strong sense of community. They believe in teamwork and nurturing friendships.
This communal bonding could be attributed to the fact that three out of the five blue-zones are islands, where resources are scarce and people have to help each other. Okinawans’ philosophy includes Maoi – a close-knit group of friends. A group of people comes together to save money together and it is used to help when one of its members is in need of help. For the inhabitants, serving the community has become a part of their lives.
3. THE IKIGAI DIET
Japan has the highest life expectancy (85 years for men, 87.3 years for women) and the highest number of centenarians in the world – over 520 for every million. Also, the mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases is lowest in Japan. That is why the Okinawan diet is so famous around the world. What do these world’s longest-living people eat and drink? Is Shikuwasa – a citrus fruit rich in antioxidants – the secret ingredient? Or is it the pure water used for their morning tea? Read along to find out.
The 80% Diet: In Japan, the saying “Hara Hachi Bu” is repeated many times before and after eating. It means “Fill your belly to 80 percent.” They stop eating when their stomach reaches 80% capacity. This helps them avoid overeating and prevents them from wearing down the body with long digestive processes that accelerate cellular oxidation.
There is no way to objectively find if we are 80% full but the idea is to stop when we start to feel full. The dessert that we order, or the chocolate we munch on after food or the extra side dish – these could be avoided. That is the reason the Japanese eat their meals on many small plates. Okinawans consume an average of 1800 calories a day compared to 2200 in the United States. Also, their BMI is 18-22 compared to 27-27 in the United States. Serving in smaller portions could be a trick to consuming less.
When you notice you are almost full but could have a little more, just stop eating. The idea is to still be a little bit hungry when you finish.
But, how do we avoid malnutrition if we eat less? The key to staying healthy while consuming lesser calories is to eat foods with high nutritional value (called “superfoods”). Also, avoid foods that add to our overall caloric intake but offer less or no nutrition because, if we eat too much, our body becomes lethargic as it has to expend most of its energy in the digestion process. Fasting is also an alternative as it cleanses the digestive system and allows it to rest.
Caloric restriction reduces IGF-1 levels in the body. It is a protein that plays a significant role in aging process. Eating less with adequate nutrition also protects us against obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension and inflammation.
Cardiologist Makoto Suzuki, along with Bradley Willcox & Craig Willcox revealed the Okinawa’s miracle diet after intense research:
- Locals eat a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables. They consume 18 different foods on a daily basis. Compare this with the nutritional poverty of fast-foods.
- They eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. More than 30% of their caloric intake comes from eating veggies and fruits.
- Grains are their staple food. They eat white rice every day and occasionally add noodles.
- They rarely eat sugar and when they do, they prefer cane sugar over the refined ones. They also consume very little salt (less than 7 grams) a day.
- Consuming fewer calories is common among all the blue-zones.
4. EXERCISE (NOT NECESSARILY GYM OR CROSSFIT)
Studies from the Blue zones suggest that the people who live longest are not who do the most exercise but rather the ones who move the most.
In the village of Ogimi (the village of longevity) in Okinawa, older citizens are highly active. They don’t stay at home. Rather, they walk a lot. They also have a habit of getting up early in the morning and as soon as they’ve had breakfast (or even before that), they step out to weed their gardens.
They don’t go to the gym or exercise intensely, but they almost never stop moving in the course of their daily routines.
A LOT OF SITTING WILL AGE YOU:
Many of us live in cities and we don’t have natural or healthy ways to move every day, so we can focus on exercises that have proven to be good for the body. Yoga, Tai Chi, Radio Taiso and Qigong are some of the practices suggested in this book. All these exercises create harmony between a person’s body and mind. They combine physical exercises with an awareness of our breath.
These two components – movement and breath – help us to bring our consciousness in line with our body, instead of allowing our mind to be carried away by daily worries.
The idea is to make exercise a part of your life. It need not be just the 60 minutes of intense workout in the gym or our CrossFit session. We could do ourselves a great help by moving regularly throughout the day and have an active life.
Our Ikigai could be different for each of us, but we all search for meaning in our lives. When we do what gives our lives a purpose, we live fully. Only when we lose this connection do we feel disconnected and dejected. Modern factors like money, power, and success distract us. Modern lifestyle takes us away from our true nature and as a result, we live a life that lacks meaning. But, don’t let them take your life.
The message from the Okinawans is simple. Do the things you enjoy, avoid anything you dislike. Nurture curiosity and keep busy by performing activities that give you happiness. It need not be a huge thing; it doesn’t have a size. There’s no perfect formula to find your Ikigai so don’t worry if you don’t know yet. Keep exploring and you’ll soon find it.
Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by people who love you.
We hope you liked this blog. What is the ONE takeaway for you from Ikigai? Please leave your comments or send us a private message with any feedback. Your suggestions would help us write better. Follow us for more. Until next time, ciao.
– Kavi & Ninja
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