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Ikigai - The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

With more and more of us struggling with our mental health and wellbeing, it feels as though we are constantly bombarded with messages of how to improve our happiness and wellbeing as well as the latest research and quick fixes to enhance our physical and mental health. As much as I agree with many of these, I feel there has to be a simpler path to good wellbeing, happiness and having more balance and purpose in our lives.

Whilst doing some research I came across a wonderful book entitled “Ikigai - The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life”. Ikigai is a Japanese concept which means our “reason for being” and this book studies a small rural town, Ogimi on the island of Okinawa which has the highest life expectancy on earth.

According to the Japanese, “everyone has an Ikigai, however finding this requires a patient search, but it will be the reason we get up in the morning”. Having a clearly defined Ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness and meaning to our lives and in many cases the Japanese never retire, they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows. The last thing Einstein wrote before he passed away was a formula that attempted to unite all the forces in a single theory, he died still doing what he loved - his Ikigai bought him endless pleasure.

So how does this small town achieve such longevity for its inhabitants? There are a number of key themes that we should all take some time to consider:

  • Forming close bonds with local communities, a “moai is an informal group of people with common interests who look out for each other, for many serving the community becomes part of their Ikigai”.

  • An active mind and a youthful body, both mind and body are important and the health of one is connected to that of the other.

  • “Stress - Accused of killing longevity”, trying to prevent the impact that stress can have on our body is imperative and practising mindfulness can help to focus our mind and reduce stress.

  • Be less sedentary, this is relatively easy and just takes some small behaviour changes to your daily routine to have a more active lifestyle.

  • Celebrate each day, together, within your communities, no matter how big or small, always celebrate success.

A number of the eldest members of the Japanese community were asked about their life philosophies, their Ikigai and their secrets to longevity, here are some of their words of wisdom:

  • Don’t Worry

  • Cultivate Good Habits

  • Nurture your friendships every day

  • Live an unhurried life

  • Be optimistic

  • Keep learning

  • Live in the moment

Each of us will have a different Ikigai, but we can all find meaning in our life to enable us to live more fully; follow those things that you enjoy and move away from those that don’t bring you joy.

“Life is not a problem to be solved, just remember to face something that keeps you busy doing what you love”.

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