If you have aspired to live a long and healthy life, than the Japanese concept of Ikigai or ‘the happiness of always being busy’ is what you should seek. This life-altering book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hecter Garcia and Frances C Miralles is one of those breezy reads but with much wisdom packed in a 185 word novel.
As one evolves in life, there is a tendency to question its meaning and the purpose of our existence. The book focuses on a very basic but relevant desire to seek answers to the fundamental quest: What is the secret to a long and healthy life?
It does seem like the Japanese who live on the island of Okinawa have mastered the art of finding their nirvana on earth. There are 24, 55 people over the age of 100 for every 100, 000 inhabitants — far more than the global average.
So what is the mantra for longevity that the Japanese follow? It involves a healthy diet, a simple life in the outdoors, green tea, a subtropical climate and the most important factor — the Ikigai that shapes their lives.
We all need that raison detre that makes life purposeful for all of us. The Ikigai that makes us literally jump out of bed and dive into the day with vigour and passion. The inhabitants of Okinawa are paving the way for the rest of the world to follow. One prime factor that makes old age exciting is that the Japanese do not believe in the concept of retirement. In fact, working till their last breath and by this we don’t mean a frenzied hectic pace of life but keeping the mind and body active till we die is what contributes to longevity.
Medical studies done in the five Blue Zones comprising Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda, The Nicoya Peninsula and Ikaria — the regions where people live the longest, have thrown up some fascinating revelations.
People in these zones suffer from fewer chronic illnesses and higher level of sexual hormones in advancing years.
The book repeatedly highlights the importance of simple living, moderate exercise, healthy eating and bonding with friends as the keys to happiness and longevity.
While most people today attempt to follow healthy diets. the Japanese follow the concept of Hara Hachi Bu, which simply means fill your belly to 80 percent, the prime factor that aids weight loss and staying fit. Another factor is the importance of Moai — forming bonds with those who have similar interests and supporting each other.
The book also offers tips on how to prolong your life on earth by following simple mantras. One key factor lies in giving your brain a workout as you grow older. Israeli neuroscientist Shlomo Breznitz stressed on the need for brain stimulation in order to stay in shape.
The book also explores alternative methods to traditional psychotherapy and includes the concept of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy which helps you find reasons to live and Shoma Morita’s Morita Therapy which focuses on teaching patients to accept their emotions without trying to control them, since their feelings will change as a result of their actions.
While this book is an easy read, it needs to be savoured at a leisurely pace, enabling the reader to ponder over the uncomplicated philosophy, which we probably are aware of but often dismiss it for being so plain.
For instance, we have been told repeatedly on how important it is to go with the flow and we probably excel at it in short spurts, But, often we are dismissed as being un-ambitious or passive by social standards. Psychologist Mihaly Cxzikszentmihalyi talks about being completely immersed in what we are doing and called this state ‘flow’, which he believes, is vital to having an optimal experience. The goal is to focus on long term satisfaction as opposed to short term pleasure.
There are life’s little lessons offered in every chapter from first hand accounts of centenarians to the importance of resilience — which is a vital read, which shows you how to cope with sudden setbacks and emotional shocks by following the principles of Stoicism and Buddhism, that remind us that the present is all that exists, and it is the only thing we can control.