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Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

I am always pleased to share new books, with clients and friends. I thought by sharing in this blog, it may be an opportunity to impart some of the benefits I have gained from certain books and perhaps inspire others to explore some interesting concepts and ideas gathered from some of these books.

Most recently I finished the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life written by Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralies. This book came at a time in my reading repertoire as we rang in the new year – transitioning from a difficult 2021 to probably a more challenging 2022 – living within an everchanging pandemic. Reading is a perfect pastime during these isolating and fluctuating times.

Do you make resolutions for the new year? Some of us are dedicated to setting goals for ourselves, setting an intention, and sometimes following through. Often, we will write them down, breaking them into smaller achievable goals, and then either devoting to the work for a short while, or committing to it for the entire year. While I am not one to formally write out my resolutions, I make conscious choices to change small habits in order to grow, develop, and enhance my life.

This year I made three intentional goals: 1/ to eliminate alcohol from my diet for the month of January (and so far, so good); 2/ To continue with daily exercise (which includes cardio and yoga); 3/ To cut down on frivolous spending – Goodbye

Ikagai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is just the book to kick start the new year and support any coming changes you intend to make to your life. Ikagai roughly translates from Japanese into English as a “reason for being”, or as the French would say a “raison d’être”. Isn’t this the crux of much of therapy?

In a nutshell, Ikagai (pronounced ee-kee-guy) follows these principles:

1. Stay active – don’t retire. Often, we view retirement as something we work towards – we madly labour, stress, and save our money so that one day we don’t have to work. In many parts of the world (e.g., Japan) retirement is not part of the vocabulary. If you do something you love for a living, you may instead think about slowing down or modifying how you work in your profession as you get older OR take up another fulfilling role as a volunteer or part-time worker in another field as you age.

2. Take it slow – we are so busy rushing from one activity to another, that we do not allow ourselves to just breathe. Moreover, we go through the day mindlessly without really knowing what we have done that day. By taking it “slow” means that we mindfully address every moment in our day.

3. Don’t fill your stomach – Instead of filling your bellies during a meal until you are uncomfortable, think of ceasing to eat when your belly is 80 percent full. “One of the most common sayings in Japan is “hara hachi bu” which is repeated before or after eating and means something like “Fill your bell to 80 percent””

4. Surround yourself with good friends – it is impossible to be content in complete isolation for an entire lifetime. And it is important to place firm boundaries around those who you may deem toxic in your life

5. Get in shape for your next birthday – yes, even if you are turning 100 years.

6. Smile – even when you may not be feeling very joyful. By smiling you pass that happy energy unto others (it’s contagious like a yawn).

7. Reconnect with nature – I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling anxious, or having a down day, simply getting into nature for a walk, swim, ski, or snowshoe makes a tremendous difference in my mood and mindset. It is the cheapest and most available elixir.

8. Give thanks – start a gratitude journal – write down three unique items that you are grateful for each day.

9. Live in the moment – practice mindfulness and presence in everything you do.

10. Follow your ikigai

Some of these ideas sound like easy practices – however the challenge comes in applying these consistently in life. The authors of this short concise book studied some of the daily practices of those living in Okinawa – a small temperate prefecture that is part of the Ryukyu Islands within Japan. Okinawa is a fascinating place as it is known to have some of the happiest people in the world and the highest number of elders the world – many of those over 80, 90 and 100 continue to work and be physically quite active. Much of this has to do with their healthy diets and their daily exercise routines. And a lot of it has to do with their attitude towards life, work, and purpose.

While I do not have the privilege of living in a temperate climate like Okinawa where I can grow my own vegetables and fruits year-round, I do have access to healthy food, good friends, nature, and helpful books such as Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Enjoy!

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