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Five take­aways from Iki­gai

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FOOD & DRINK - Terra arnone Week­end Post

Ja­pan boasts the world’s long­est life ex­pectancy, beat­ing out Switzer­land, Sin­ga­pore, Aus­tralia and Spain for the top spot. This well- known fact is of­ten at­trib­uted to Ja­pan’s sea- de­pen­dent diet, ad­di­tion­ally rich in fer­mented food and whole veg­eta­bles. But tak­ing a closer look, au­thors Hec­tor Gar­cia and Francesc Mi­ralles found one Ja­panese is­land that not only blows away the na­tional av­er­ages, but seems to have nailed a multi-faceted MO for longevity that might just be im­itable by West­ern­ers, too. En­ter Ok­i­nawans and their iki­gai: a funky lit­tle word unique to the small Ja­panese is­land prov­ing one’s way of life can ward off their death, too. Here’s what we learned from the au­thors’ first book to­gether:

1. What is iki­gai? In essence it’s, well, just that: essence – the Ok­i­nawan’s joy­ful spirit ( their joie de vie, maybe), a way of liv­ing that’s pur­pose- driven in its pur­suit for joy. In Ok­i­nawa, joy is a con­flu­ence of day- to- day habits that make for over­all well- be­ing; help­ing others, eat­ing well and lead­ing a mod­er­ately ac­tive life­style. But that’s some­thing most West­ern­ers as­pire to, too, so what gives the Ok­i­nawans that ex­tra cou­ple decades of edge?

2. Bet­ter to­gether. Ok­i­nawans prize com­mu­nity, forg­ing close bonds with their neigh­bours and form­ing small, in­for­mal groups within their cities based on com­mon in­ter­ests and good­will. Called Moai, folks in the group agree sim­ply to sup­port one another – maybe keep­ing watch over other peo­ples’ chil­dren or do­ing the odd chore – and make nom­i­nal fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tions to par­tic­i­pate in group din­ners, board games and other lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. If Moai dues add up to a sur­plus, one mem­ber will re­ceive a por­tion of it to use at will; the ben­e­fi­ciary ro­tates monthly, but if some­one in the group comes on hard times, they can make an ad­vance on the sav­ings with­out penalty.

3. Flow go­ing. Per­sonal pur­pose is a pil­lar of iki­gai, and find­ing your in­di­vid­ual pur­suit is piv­otal for life­long ful­fill­ment. This pur­suit is how iki­gai’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­po­nents de­fine flow – the state of en­gag­ing in an ac­tiv­ity (work) so per­son­ally sat­is­fy­ing that you find your­self los­ing ex­ter­nal thought en­tirely, par­tic­i­pat­ing wholly and achiev­ing calm.

Flow-fo­cused re­searcher Owen Schaf­fer as­sem­bled seven re­quire­ments for nail­ing it: 1) Iden­tify: know what you should do 2) Fa­mil­iar­ize: know how to do it 3) Mea­sure: know how well you can do it 4) Look ahead: know where you’re head­ing 5) Check in (one): per­ceive sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges 6) Check in (two): per­ceive sig­nif­i­cant skills 7) Above all: do not be dis­tracted.

4. Menu mod­i­fi­ca­tion. There’s a com­mon say­ing in Ja­pan, hara hachi bu, that im­plores their peo­ples’ ba­sic di­etary prin­ci­ple – eat­ing only un­til you feel 80 per cent full. So, care­ful por­tion­ing ac­counted for, what’s on the plate? A study of Ok­i­nawan cen­te­nar­i­ans re­vealed they eat 206 dif­fer­ent foods on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and an aver­age of 18 dif­fer­ent dishes a day. Va­ri­ety, then is key, and what’s counted within that mot­ley crew counts just as much: Ok­i­nawans eat at least five serv­ings of fruit and veg­eta­bles daily with a healthy range of di­ver­sity there, too – all colours, kinds and shapes of the good stuff ap­pear on any given plate. 5. One in a mil­lion (or, at least, five). Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan is one of five global re­gions dubbed a Blue Zone, where the pop­u­la­tion ( and its women in par­tic­u­lar) live longer and have fewer dis­eases than any­where else on earth. Also on the list: Sar­dinia, Italy, where lo­cals eat a veg­etable-dom­i­nant diet and don’t skimp on wine; Loma Linda, Cal­i­for­nia, where faith might lend favour among Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tists whose Cal­i­for­nian clan are some of the long­est-liv­ing peo­ple in the United States; Ni­coya Penin­sula, Costa Rica, where na­tives keep ac­tive well past 90 years old, work­ing the fields and reap­ing crop well into their triple-digit age; and Icaria, Greece, where a bro­ken-in life­style dat­ing back to 500 B.C. has given rise to its com­mon nick­name, “The Is­land of Long Life.”

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