Ikigai, the Japanese secret to a happy life

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Book Author: Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia

My thoughts and what I learned:

The book explores the lives of people living in Okinawa, Japan which has the highest life expectancy in the world.

Ikigai: “There is a passion inside you, a unique talent, that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end.”

The western world has created our life’s purpose as something grand and life-altering. Something that everyone should actively pursue, to find happiness.

This book will prompt you to stop being hard on yourself seeking your life’s purpose. Your life’s purpose doesn’t have to be awe-inspiring, ambitious, or world-changing. Finding your purpose doesn’t have to be a strategic scheme and you don’t have to worry too much about finding it.

We need to stay curious, be led by curiosity, do the things we enjoy, keep doing the things that fill us with happiness, get away from negativity and negative people.

“It doesn’t have to be big things.“

We can find meaning in being good parents or cooking or saying hello to our neighbors or volunteering.

Your ikigai can be in the simple things you enjoy doing, the things that bring you into a state of flow and make you happy. Your happiness and ikigai are in leading a simpler life, in staying curious, avoiding major stressors, challenging yourself enough. In eating healthy, sleeping, and being with children and pets and a community of friends.

You can be busy pursuing your ikigai but not be rushed. Being busy is ok, it is about doing your tasks with a sense of calm.

Recently, I find that our culture and social media are filled with productivity tips and exercise routines, people running marathons, and doing strength training and beauty regiments. This book shows you that doing simple things is good enough. You don’t have to run a marathon, just add movement to your day and keep moving throughout the day.

If you picked up this book hoping that it will guide you to finding your ikigai, you will be disappointed. The book is more about telling you how important it is to live a life following your ikigai and how your ikigai will help you lead a long and happy life, with insights from Okinawa. It doesn’t provide any guidance on how to figure out your Ikigai, which was what I was originally hoping for, from the book.

Okinawa reminded me of my hometown, Kerala in the southern state of India, where I spend the first 20 years of my life. Life revolves around the community and the residents know each other by our names. Spirituality is woven into our daily lives with rituals, celebrations, and ancestral worship. Temple visits and festivities blend seamlessly into our schedules.

Most of the habits mentioned in the book are already inculcated in my upbringing. So although the takeaway for me personally was not much, it was a good reminder to go back to my roots – the habits and rituals I brushed aside living in this country for a few decades. Overall the book was pleasant but nothing extraordinary.

Quotes from the book that caught my attention:

  • Food won’t help you live longer. The secret is smiling and having a good time.
  • A wise person should not ignore life’s pleasures. He can live with these pleasures but should always remain conscious of how easy it is to be enslaved by them.
  • There is nothing wrong with enjoying lives pleasures as long as they do not take control of your life as you enjoy them. You have to be prepared for these pleasures to disappear.  The goal is not to eliminate all feelings and pleasures from our lives but to eliminate negative emotions.
  • Happiness is always determined by your heart.
  • Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai.
  • Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy, doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.
  • Fill your belly to 80%.
  • We have to learn to turn off autopilot that’s steering us in an endless loop.
  • Have a stoic attitude. Serenity in the face of a setback.
  • What we need is not a peaceful existence but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal.
  • Compass over maps. A good compass will take you where you need to go. It is important to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting a project. Have a clear objective. Keep this objective in mind without obsessing over it.
  • Concentrating on one thing may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.
  • Happiness is in the doing, not in the results.
  • If your want to stay busy even when there’s no need to work there has to be an Olivia on your horizon a purpose that guides you throughout your life and pushes you to make things of beauty and utility for the community and yourself.
  • They have an important purpose in life or even several. They have an ikigai but they don’t take it too seriously. They are relaxed and enjoy all that they do.

From the interview with Okinawa people.

  • Eat and sleep and you will live a long time. You have to learn to relax.
  • If you keep your mind and body busy you’ll be around for a long time.
  • Open your heart to people with a nice smile on your face.
  • The best way to avoid anxiety is to get out in the street and say hello to people.
  • You have to keep your ancestors in mind. It’s the first thing I do every morning.
  • If you don’t work, your body will break down.
  • Nurture your friendships everyday.
  • Chatting and drinking tea with my neighbors. Thats the best thing in life.
  • Live an unhurried life.
  • Always staying busy and doing one thing at a time. Without getting overwhelmed.
  • Celebrate all the time , even the little things in life. Music, song and dance are an essential part of daily life.

Okinawa diet

  • Add plenty of vegetables and fruits to your diet.
  • Eat less sugar, and if at al you eat make it cane sugar.
  • Its ok to have white rice everyday.
  • Add less salt to your food.
  • Eat more fish.

Two key things to do

  • Accept your feelings
  • Do what you should be doing

Two key questions to ask yourself

  1. What do we need to be doing right now?
  2. What action should we be taking?

The 10 Rules of Ikigai

  1. Stay active and don’t retire.
  2. Take it slow.
  3. Don’t fill your stomach.
  4. Surround yourself with good friends.
  5. Get in shape for your next birthday.
  6. Smile.
  7. Reconnect with nature.
  8. Give thanks.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Find your Ikigai.


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