Health & Wellbeing

All About Ikigai – The New Key To Happiness

What got you leaping out of bed this morning? Be honest. Was it the shrill of your alarm (the one you snoozed three times) and the fear of being late for work, the fact that you’d leaked in your PJs (oops), or maybe something else – an insatiable fire in your belly that had you springing up from the sheets?

Tapping into the latter – your positive get-up-and-go motivation – could be the route to living a long and happy life, according to a concept from the country that has the world’s happiest, and oldest, population.

Last year we went crazy for Scandi lifestyles ­– it was all about adopting cosy hygge and balanced lagom, remember? Now, the latest idea to embrace is the Japanese notion of ikigai.

Although there’s no direct translation, ikigai roughly means “the happiness of always being busy,” or “life’s purpose,” and “a reason for being”. In a nutshell, it’s the unique thing in life that gives you pleasure and drive; finding it can unlock years of happiness. We’ll have some of that, eh?

Héctor García, co-author of the new book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (published by Hutchinson) explains, “Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning. When we spend our days feeling connected to what is meaningful to us, we live more fully; when we lose the connection, we feel despair.

And apparently, discovering and connecting to this mysterious ikigai, is easier than we think. Our intuition and curiosity often acts as a powerful internal compass – naturally leading us towards the stuff that makes us happy.

“Follow those things you enjoy, and get away from or change those you dislike. Be led by your curiosity, and keep busy by doing things that fill you with meaning and happiness. It doesn’t need to be a big thing: we might find meaning in being good parents or in helping our neighbors.

“There is no perfect strategy to connecting 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,” says Hector.

So, it’s this overarching sense of purpose, along with a few other deeply life-affirming habits that sees the population of Japan statistically living longer and having a more fulfilled life, than us in the West. It seems somehow, we’re going massively wrong in our approach.

In a study on the extraordinary longevity of the Japanese, in particular the island of Okinawa, which boasts more people over the age of 100 than the global average, it was found that alongside a healthy diet and outdoor lifestyle, ikigai massively shaped their lives.

And it seems their secret to happiness lies in these ten simple rules; ikigai principles that we can all get on board with...

1. Stay active

Keep doing what you love and continue to challenge yourself.

2. Take it slow

Leave urgency behind in order for life and time to take on new meaning.

3. Don’t fill your stomach

Less is more when it comes to a long life. Eat until you’re 80% full.

4. Surround yourself with good friends

Form bonds within your communities. Friends are the best medicine.

5. Get in shape

Your body requires daily maintenance. A daily walk is better than a high impact workout once a week.

6. Smile more

Acknowledge the people around you and remember that it’s a privilege to be in a world that’s full of opportunities.

7. Reconnect with nature

We’re meant to be part of the natural world, so return to it as often as possible.

8. Give thanks

Appreciate and show gratitude to anything that brightens your day and makes you feel alive.

9. Live in the moment

The Japanese concept of wabi sabi means accepting the impermanence and imperfection of the world around us.

10. Follow your ikigai

There is a passion inside of you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself til the very end…why not make it your mission to discover it?


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