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Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (2017)

ISBN: 9780143130727

Reviewed by Douglas Balzer

Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years. – Japanese Proverb

The timeless questions – What is the meaning of my life? Is the point to live longer, should I seek a higher purpose? Why do some people know what they want and have a passion for life, while others languish in confusion?

Garcia and Miralles examine these questions in light of the Japanese philosophy of life called Ikigai. The rough translation of the Japanese idea of Ikigai is “the happiness of always  being busy.” Together the authors examine this way of life that has contributed to the longevity of the people of Okinawa Japan. Okinawa is noted for having a level of extraordinary longevity amongst its population. Who isn’t interested in learning about the secrets of living longer and happier from a group of people who experience it? The Okinawans are onto something, and we can all learn from them.

In the United States, people find themselves trapped in the never-ending need to do everything faster, better, and harder. Finding Ikigai will help us slow down and enjoy life more. Also, identifying your life’s purpose will help you live longer, better, and happier, as well.


Ready to learn how to live longer, healthier, and happier? Here are just three of the lessons I learned from Ikigai.


First, if you want to be happy and live longer, discover your Ikigai, or reason to wake up in the morning.


Ikigai, ‘iki’ which means life, and ‘gai,’ or value. Finding your own Ikigai can be as simple as asking four basic questions:


What are your strengths?

What does the world need?

What are your passions?

What can you earn a living doing?


Your Ikigai might take you a short time to find, or it could take much longer. If you see it, however, you may realize that you never want or need to retire, which would give you plenty of time to identify your reason to live. Aside from being made up by the Germans, retirement is associated with an increased risk for many health problems. Searching out your Ikigai is the perfect way to never retire and thus avoid deteriorating faster in your old age.


Now, your Ikigai doesn’t have to be connected to your job. Your purpose may come from a hobby or your family relationships. Do whatever you find gets you up in the morning, just make sure that you never give it up. Okinawans forced into retirement continue to stay active with their hobbies and in their community, which helps them live longer. Research has shown the elderly people of Okinawa have remarkably lower rates of dementia and heart disease as a result of their purpose and activity level.


Second, Okinawan elders know a thing or two about wellbeing, and we should follow their advice if we want to live as long as they do.


Seniors have so much wisdom to share with the world from their years of experience. Those of us that are young might sometimes pretend like we know everything, but we should learn a thing or two about life from the generations before us.


One tip from Okinawan centenarians is to worry as little as possible. It helps to slow down, take your time, and realize that you don’t have to have it all figured out right away. Anxiety has a myriad of adverse health effects. Focus on enjoying life for what you have, instead of being afraid of what might go wrong. A great way to do this is to connect with everyone around you, even strangers.


Okinawan seniors suggest smiling and having an open-heart towards everybody you meet. Your friendliness will help you develop many friendships throughout life. They also recommend maintaining those relationships as well. When you become a grandparent your replacement of worry with friends may also help your grandchildren visit more often. Japanese centenarians also endorse eating healthy, waking up early, and making sure you have enough movement throughout your day.


Third, a key component of staying healthy is to keep moving throughout the day, no matter how little.


Residents of Okinawa suggest that you don’t always need to play a sport or go running to be healthy. Longevity and health are more about finding simple, consistent ways to move more through the day. Intensity may deter consistency, so Okinawans strive for simplicity in their forms of exercise. A walk around the neighborhood, day in the garden, or singing karaoke are just a few simple ways they maintain movement frequently.


Radio Taiso, which was once broadcast on the radio, is a typical Japanese exercise habit that has been around for years. Large groups of Japanese would tune into the radio station and listen to directions for how to exercise. In the present day, most watch online or on the television, but the practice still continues throughout the day in Japan. With simple exercises, like lifting your arms above your head and bringing them down again, Radio Taiso is an easy to repeat form of exercise for the Japanese.


Even without Radio Taiso, you can find ways to add small, consistent amounts of movement

in your day. Ikigai is an incredible concept that can benefit many people. Whether you feel stuck in your job, want to live longer, or just desire a deeper level of happiness and meaning, finding your reason to live will help you.