I read it so you don’t have to: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. Meaning ‘a reason for being,’ Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) is a Japanese philosophy that many of the world’s oldest living people attribute to their longevity and happy lives. Your ikigai is your purpose or what brings you fulfillment.
Like many who experienced a turbulent childhood, I’ve always struggled to key in on a strong sense of self. As a result, the strongest traits I can name about myself revolve around serving others; how I can keep the peace at every family function, and how I can maneuver through thick situations with a smile, putting others at ease despite my own shaky foundation.
In searching for anything and anyone who can help me figure it out, I’ve become sorely familiar with self-help books like this one. I’ve tried every book, personality quiz, and therapeutic model you can imagine. As a result, my social media feeds are always pumping out suggestions for my next great read. Enter: learning about Ikigai through this book (and, admittedly, some hearty Google searching).
First popularized in Japan in the sixties by Mieko Kamiya in her 1966 book On the Meaning of Life, the philosophy of Ikigai has been researched alongside the five major ‘blue zones’ where people live the longest in Japan, Greece, Sardinia, Costa Rica, and a small section of San Bernadino county in California. In this research, Dan Buettner, a researcher and writer for National Geographic, traveled to each region, interviewing residents who live to be a hundred years old and longer along the way. Ikigai was a common theme.
In these ‘blue zones,’ elderly residents reported on their tips for longevity. Being community-oriented ranked at the top of the list, along with these lessons:
Eating: When eating, prioritize vegetables, ideally eating all colors of the rainbow. Cut out sugar as much as possible. The book also recommends eating until you’re only 80% full, a metric backed by research and tips from Harvard.
Movement and Mindset: Elders interviewed recommended moving your body as much as your mind, trying to find and enter a ‘flow state.’ A flow state is essentially being in a state of mind where you are so present and mindful in the activity you’re doing that nothing else matters – true focus and concentration. Another tip covered was aligning your body and mind through practices like yoga.
Some elders interviewed for the book reported never eating meat, gardening, and finding purpose through volunteering.
In the Westernized version of Ikigai, the philosophy is used to find alignment in creating your dream career. By intersecting what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for, you can find the work you’re meant to be doing, or your life’s purpose – your own Ikigai.
While I found this book to be standard in its recommendations and writing style, the philosophy of Ikigai itself is beautiful, and the themes are consistent with the countless others occupying my shelves:
- Stress less. Slow down.
- Find alignment in your work and your passion.
- Exercise and eat well.
Next up on my grand journey of self-discovery, I’ll be picking up a copy of Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit, and reading it alongside a hearty plate of legumes.
Amanda Huelskamp McGonigal is an award-winning communications consultant and the Principal of Beseder, a copywriting and communications agency based in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Amanda has spent her career helping small businesses and startups build their brand identities and marketing strategies with humor and empathy at the forefront. With a long-term goal of being the millennial Mr. Rogers and a strong sense of internet humor, you can count on Amanda to be kind-hearted and chronically-online.
The image in this article is owned by Asish Raz.