IKIGAI — The Japanese Secret to a Long Happy Life — Book Review

What is ”Ikigai”?

The term ”ikigai” is explained in various ways. You can describe it briefly as: the reason why you get out of bed in the morning. It is the reason for your existence. The French might say ”raison d’etre”. The book also links to certain Western therapies (such as logotherapy) and may also be a question, such as: ”why don’t you commit suicide?” That’s a harsh question, but it’s forces you to really think what’s important in life. And right there lies the secret to a long and happy life. In the answer to this question you will find your own ikigai. This is one of the reasons why the inhabitants on the Okinawa island are getting so extremely old. On this Japanese island, there are more centenarians than anywhere else in the world. Not only are they old, but they are still active and happy, up until a very high age.

”We find our ikigai by concentrating on what is important, rather than what’s urgent. By constantly keeping an eye on what feels good, we are able to discover what our passion is.”- Mundo Urano

In this book, the term ikigai is translated as the bliss of always being busy. Ikigai is actually a combination of your passion, your mission and your profession. Your ikigai can be very clear, but also something you’re still looking for (which on its own may be your ikigai).

The elderly of Okinawa never retire. The best thing about your ikiga is that once you’ve found it, you don’t want to retire. Some 90 year olds say they have so many plans and don’t think about dying. They always keep having a purpose for which they get out of bed in the morning.

How to get old and stay healthy?

On the island of Okinawa in Japan, the most centenarians live per 100,000 inhabitants. In this book they share their advices on how to stay and get old healthily.

  • Limit stress consciously: Stress has a negative impact on our health. The writers share some tips on how to better manage stress. Meditation is an example to reduce stress, but also living consciously in the moment during small daily tasks can help.
  • Stay physically active: The writers explain that a sitting existence is the ”enemy of staying young”. They share a few tips to move more on a daily basis. Walk to work or walk for fun for at least twenty minutes a day. Don’t use an elevator or escalator, but use your legs. The writers say: moderately intensive moving your body equals a longer life.
  • Sufficient rest and sleep is important.
  • Nutrition: A healthy diet is of course very important. The diet on Okinawa is also called the ”wonderdiet”. It’s for example important to eat a variety of foods and not to overeat. The centenarians eat hardly any sugar. Often only 1x per week and then they choose cane sugar. They eat a lot of tofu and sweet potatoes and about 300 grams of vegetables per day. They eat a variety of foods and mostly plant-based. They also eat grains on a daily basis and eat small portions of everything several times a day.
  • Strong social ties with family/friends/neighbors is important. On Okinawa, the moai groups were created to provoide a social network. The elderly in these groups spend a lot of time together by meeting regularly and supporting each other in difficult times.
  • Stay mentally strong: It’s important to keep using your brains. This can be done by brain training or by looking for new situations.
  • Go out in the nature, smile and be grateful.

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