books & writers
Five takeaways from Ikigai
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.”