Five Takeaways from Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles

I wonder why it took me four long years to reach ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’ by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. The book happened to me amidst the Covid-19 times, and instead of the paperback, I had the audiobook. My first ever audiobook experience!

When I started listening to the book, I didn’t commit to it fully…I had stumbled upon it by chance and the positive reviews around the book made me press the play button. I am not a keen reader of self-help or philosophical genres but listening to ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’ was simply comforting.

What is Ikigai?

‘Ikigai’ literally means ‘a reason for being’. The book promises to unravel the Japanese secret to happiness and longevity.

The life expectancy of Japanese people is the highest in the world. In 2019, there were over 71, 000 centenarians living in Japan! And, it isn’t just the longer life; longevity is paired with health and happiness. The older people in Japan are healthy, not dependent on others in their daily routine, and are active.   

The book begins by telling us about ‘Blue Zones’ in the world where people live longer and healthier. There are five regions in the world marked as ‘Blue Zones’ –  Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Ikaria in Greece, and Loma Linda, California in USA.

We get a sense of lives led by people in ‘Blue Zones’ and then delve deeper into Ogimi, a rural town in Okinawa, Japan. Ogimi, with a population of 3,000 has the highest life expectancy in the world, earning it the title of ‘The Village of Longevity’.

The residents of Okinawa were interviewed for this book – to understand first hand the secret of their longevity.

There are nine chapters in the book encompassing a wide variety of topics – Blue Zones, logotherapy, Morita therapy, Tai Chi, flow, Yoga, and even Wabi-Sabi. However, the personal accounts of centenarians and super-centenarians seem the most exciting part in the book.

It is interesting to know the older people from another country, happily going about their lives, engaged in daily chores and community celebrations. You see the joy in their simple living, away from the hubbub of the cities.

Five Take-aways from ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

1. Finding your ‘Ikigai’ 

‘Ikigai’ is a reason to jump out of bed each morning for the Japanese people. It is important to begin your day on a positive note. You need not have a plan to change the world. For people in Okinawa, their little community gathering, backyard kitchen gardens, and walks were reasons enough to make them look forward to their day.

2. Having a meaning and goal in life

A goal is important; else you would feel like the proverbial donkey tied to the pole, circling it. However, the key is not to stretch yourself too far in defining life’s goals. It is important to include as many things as possible that interests you/ what you enjoy to do. This is when you reach the ‘state of flow’, bringing you joy and happiness.

3. Living in the Present

Living in the present is an important art to acquire. Most of us suffer from regretting the past or being too afraid of facing the future. The key to a happy life is to concentrate on the present moment. We certainly need to slow down and enjoy the moments that matter in our lives.

4. Staying Active

Staying active does not necessarily mean having a strict exercise regime. The time devoted to walking and gardening have a positive impact, on both body and soul.

Secondly, it is important to ensure that the brain gets its exercise too. As one grows old, there is dependence on the existing knowledge, there is comfort in the routine, and hence a lethargy in gaining new wisdom. This is the reason why many Japanese people do not retire. The baseline is to remain active, work, and keep busy.

“Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.”

Japanese Proverb

5. Diet and Rest matters

What you eat matters the most. Many of the centenarians and super-centenarians revealed the benefits of two meals and the therapeutic effect of various teas. Staying closer to nature and eating locally sourced food, without added preservatives are essential for a healthy body.

In our modern lifestyle, we tend to think more on lines of productivity. Productivity is directly proportional to work hours that get translated into material wealth. On top of that, a healthy sleep pattern is further ruined by the deluge of online content. However, the routine followed by our ancestors of early to bed and early to rise seems the key to longevity and happiness.

I knew many of the things that ‘Ikigai’ spoke about, but then it was about the way it was told. It had an amazingly soothing effect on me. It put my mind into thinking about fragility and resilience and seeking beauty in imperfections. Have a spa for your soul session with this beautiful book!

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