‘Ikigai’ Is Japan’s Secret to Living a Long, Happy Life

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By: Anna Meyer for Shine

hile 2016 was all about hygge — the Danish obsession with coziness and comfort — 2017 is all about the Japanese art of ikigai.

Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) roughly translates to “the happiness of always being busy,” but it doesn’t mean keeping a schedule packed with mindless errands and activities. Rather, the thing that makes you want to get up in the morning, makes you want to work hard, and colors your life with purpose — that’s what makes up your ikigai.

“Having a clearly defined ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness and meaning to our lives,” explain authors Héctor García and Francesc Miralles in their new book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

“Having a clearly defined ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness and meaning to our lives.”

For their book, García and Miralles interviewed the residents of Ōgimi, a village on the lush Japanese island of Okinawa. Only an estimated 3,024 people live in the village — but it has the highest percentage of 100-year-olds. For these people, ikigai shapes their lives.

“As we conducted our interviews with the eldest residents in town, we realized … an uncommon joy flows from its inhabitants and guides them through the long and pleasurable journey of their lives,” the authors write.

And in Japan, a strong sense of ikigai persists throughout a person’s entire life. The authors explain that many people in Japan never really retire — there isn’t even a Japanese word for it. “They keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows.”

As Japanese individuals reach old age, García and Miralles point out that it’s often ikigai that shapes their lives later in life. It’s the spark that gives them energy to live a fulfilling life to the very last minute.

“Our ikigai is hidden deep inside each of us,” the authors write. “Finding it requires a patient search.”

Finding Your Ikigai

For some of us, our ikigai might be so obvious that we don’t need to second guess it. We might already have it on a sticky note, pinned to our mirror or set as our phone background.

Perhaps your ikigai is aiding patients as a nurse, teaching the next generation, or raising a child as a parent. Think of it as the activity or purpose that you could see yourself doing passionately until the very end of time.

But if yours is still a bit cloudy, or maybe you have many ikigais (ikigaies?) fighting for the spotlight, know that’s totally human. It’s not always easy to find one ikigai.

García and Miralles offer one way to help you narrow it down. Their tip: Ask yourself the following four questions:

1. What do you love?

2. What are you good at?

3. What can you be paid for now — or something that could transform into your future hustle?

4. What does the world need?

Whatever activity or passion answers each of these four questions — they say that’s your ikigai. It’s something that can combine your passion and your talents, something that can one day become your life’s work, and something that’s needed in this world.

If you’re still feeling ikigai-less, here are some more ways to discover what matters to you — and live with purpose and happiness:

Follow Your Curiosity

Let your gut feeling be the lighthouse that guides you to your ikigai.

“Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai,” the authors write. When you follow through on things you enjoy and limit the things you don’t, you’re taking steps towards pursuing what’s important to you.

Start to take note of what you love doing — and ask yourself, “Could I be doing more of this?”

García and Miralles also point out that following through on your ikigai doesn’t require a grand gesture. If you find meaning in sharing music, you can try things ranging from organizing a local concert in your neighborhood to simply sharing a Spotify playlist to a friend. There is no ‘right’ way to follow through on your ikigai.

Balance Your Ikigai With Other Feel-Good Habits

Alongside discovering and pursuing your ikigai, long-term happiness requires other healthy lifestyle changes, too.

García and Miralles learned the residents of Ōgimi turned to more than just ikigai to feel happy. Some of their other habits include staying active, smiling more, connecting with nature, living in the moment, and surrounding themselves with good friends.

While Taylor Swift has her #squad, Okinawa residents have a moai, “an informal group of people with common interests who look out for one another.” Consider forming your own moai, a group you can bond closely with and rely on when things get tough.

Reframe How You Seek Meaning

Although these steps and more can lead you to happiness, García and Miralles say there’s no “perfect” strategy to find your ikigai. And they learned an important lesson from the Okinawans: Don’t worry or stress about finding your ikigai if it feels missing.

What’s most important: Doing what you love, whether it’s one thing that defines your ikigai or a variety of things that just make you feel good.

Life is not a problem to be solved,” the authors write. “Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.”


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