Ikigai (Book Summary)

what’s it about?

Ikigai (2016) is a guide on living a long and happy life based on Japanese culture’s wisdom. This book looks into every aspect of Japanese life in order to unearth their secrets of longevity and explain why so many Japanese, particularly on one island, live to be over 100 years old.

About the author:

Hector Garcia Puigcerver is a Japanese-Spanish dual citizen, a Japanese cultural expert, and the author of A Geek in Japan.

Francesc Miralles is the best-selling author of Wabi-Sabi and Love in Small Letters.

The key to longevity is to have a genuine sense of purpose in life:

Are you looking to live a long, healthy, and happy life? I mean, who isn’t?

The key to doing so may be discovered on Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island, with the world’s most significant number of centenarians.

And the secret to longevity for these island dwellers may be as simple as one word: ikigai, which essentially translates to “cause for living” or “inner motivation for a specific professional activity.”

It’s also a meeting of four separate elements: what you’re enthusiastic about, where your skills reside, how you can make a living, and what the world requires. Many Japanese people believe that everyone was born with an ikigai, or destiny, to fulfill.

On the other hand, others must hunt out their ikigai through time, whereas some find it fast. If you fall into this category, it’s critical to stick with it; after all, ikigai is what will eventually push you to get out of bed in the morning.

That is why, in their daily job, Okinawans frequently achieve a high level of specialization and attention to detail. For example, the writers encountered a skilled craftswoman in an Okinawan paintbrush factory who had spent her whole life honing the art of attaching individual hairs to a brush. She could do her job with incredible skill and competence at this point in her career.

Furthermore, ikigai is the key to long life. You should never retire if your ikigai is your job. And if your ikigai is a meaningful and enjoyable activity for you, don’t abandon it.

Okinawans follow these norms and, as a result, live active lives well into their senior years. Even if they are forced to retire, they find methods to be engaged in their communities, such as gardening or other volunteer work.

The advantages of this dedication are apparent. Medical research on Okinawan centenarians has indicated that they had extraordinarily low incidences of heart disease and dementia.

A healthy mind and low-stress levels are essential for living a long life:

Any doctor will tell you that a healthy mind and body are vital for graceful aging; nevertheless, the former is frequently overlooked in practice. It’s a shame that the reason is often overlooked, as mental health is just as crucial as physical health in living a long life.

Indeed, just as a sedentary lifestyle harms your body and emotions, a lack of mental labor weakens your neural connections, which is why it’s critical to train your brain in various ways. Shlomo Breznitz, a neuroscientist, claims that elderly individuals lose cognitive flexibility because they become stuck in habits and routines, unwilling to try new activities.

So, how can you exercise your brain?

It’s pretty simple; any thinking game, such as chess or cards would suffice. If you want to push your brain even farther, going out of the home, meeting new people, and engaging in social interactions are the most acceptable ways to do it.

Another key to living a long life is to minimize stress. Stress has been linked to accelerated aging in several scientific studies, as stress causes unnecessary wear and tear on the body and mind. For example, a promising young doctor was subjected to a series of rigorous employment interviews at Heidelberg University, during which he was expected to answer challenging mathematics.

When his blood was tested, it showed that the interview’s stress had produced the release of antibodies, as if a virus or bacteria had infected him. If there had been a threat, this immune reaction would have been critical in eliminating it – but antibodies also destroy healthy cells, causing the body to age quicker than it should.

As a result, lowering stress is critical to living a long life, and you can do so in various enjoyable ways. Simply try practicing mindfulness, yoga, or getting some exercise, all of which allow you to relax and pay closer attention to your body and mind.

But, in the end, these are merely long-term preventative measures. In the blink of an eye, you’ll know what to do if you’re already stressed out and on the point of a nervous breakdown.

Morita therapy is a type of intensive Japanese therapy that helps people overcome stress:

Anxiety, burnout, and stress are all conditions that are becoming increasingly frequent in modern society, and few people are immune to them. Japan, it turns out, is no exception, and the working culture in the country may be rather intense.

Japan, on the other hand, has a tool that other countries lack. It’s known as Morita treatment, and it can assist you in dealing with stress.

Shoma Morita, a psychotherapist and Buddhist practitioner developed this technique. It was created to help those with chronic anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions. It does, however, help with stress and burnout.

Unlike other Western therapies that emphasize thoughts to impact feelings and actions, such as positive thinking, Morita therapy takes the opposite approach.

Patients are asked to pay attention to and accept their feelings in Morita therapy rather than trying to change them. They then take specific steps to develop new emotions that progressively replace the old ones.

The therapy is divided into four stages, beginning with a period of complete rest. The patient spends about a week in bed, devoid of any distractions. She is not allowed to watch television, have guests, or even speak, and her sole human contact is with a psychologist on a limited basis. The patient simply observes her feelings as they come and go during this stage.

The patient begins to incorporate repetitious tasks into her everyday routine in the second phase. Writing in a diary, going for walks, and doing various breathing exercises are just a few of them.

These activities grow more muscular and artistic in the third stage, encompassing occupations such as wood carving and painting. The patient experiences new feelings due to this series of activities; she begins to feel joy, serenity, and involvement.

Finally, after completing the first three stages, the patient is ready to move on to the fourth stage: reentering the world with a renewed feeling of peace and purpose.

This method of getting lots of rest and space from distractions is beneficial to your health, but you’ll need to find something to focus your attention on at some point. This is where ikigai comes back into play, and you’ll learn how to do it in the blink of an eye.

Immersion in a hobby or pastime can help you stay young:

Assume you’re skiing down a lovely fluffy hill. Skiing is your greatest favorite thing in the world, and you’re completely absorbed in the activity. You want to live forever because you feel like you could do this for the rest of your life.

The good news is that participating in such an exercise may lengthen your life.

Practicing this state of flow regularly will help you stay young. In this context, flow is a technical term coined in the 1970s by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It depicts a deep state of pleasure and focus that obliterates all other considerations, including time itself.

Pursuing activities that induce this mood will improve your quality of life and, as a result, your lifespan. As a result, such experiences should take precedence over hedonistic activities like overeating, substance misuse, or media entertainment, which people frequently engage in out of boredom.

Flow can be found in people of many cultures and backgrounds. Chess players, engineers, and painters can all be in a state of flow as a result. Beyond that, it’s good for the mind since it keeps you focused on a single object for a long time. Your ikigai – or main life occupation – should ideally induce a state of flow regularly, but if it doesn’t, make sure your hobbies do.

Having stated that, determining the amount of difficulty is critical when attempting to achieve a state of flow. After all, if you choose easy work, you’ll become bored and distracted, which will prevent you from achieving flow. If your activity is too difficult, on the other hand, you will struggle, become stressed, and eventually quit up.

As a result, begin where you are. Start at a basic level that gently challenges you if you desire to learn a new language, for example. You can also push the boundaries of your knowledge by learning a new coding language if you’re bored with a talent you already have, such as computer programming. You may reclaim flow by repurposing your passions in new and exciting ways.

A few easy suggestions from the wise will help you live a longer life:

You may already have some behaviors that will help you live longer, but no one knows how to live a long life better than those currently experiencing one. So, let’s have a look at what the Okinawan centenarians have to say.

The first piece of advice these elderly people give is to worry as little as possible and establish a habit of smiling and greeting others, even strangers, with an open heart. They claim that by doing so, you will keep a large number of friendships throughout your life and encourage your grandchildren to visit you frequently. This type of regular stimulus will help you stay young.

Furthermore, they warn that overthinking about things you can’t control simply increases your stress level. Worrying that you’re not good enough or that you haven’t had a successful enough career, for example, is a waste of life energy. The centenarians, on the other hand, wisely encourage you to appreciate what you have. They claim that if you do, you’ll discover you have a lot more than you anticipated.

But avoiding stress isn’t the only centenarian advice for living a long life; cultivating excellent habits is another.

For example, getting up early in the morning is mostly a matter of habit; after a few years, it will come naturally. Furthermore, getting up early in the morning will allow you extra hours of calm to drink your tea, tidy your house, and tend to your garden.

The last of these is particularly essential, as Okinawan centenarians think that growing their vegetables and cooking their meals is one of the main reasons for their long lives. This is understandable, as a garden-to-table diet is exceptionally healthful.

Finally, one of the most essential habits for living a long life is valuing and keeping friendships. Recognizing this, Okinawans spend every day speaking with their neighbors.

Variety and small quantities are the cornerstones of the Okinawan diet:

Since Japan created a name for itself as the country with the longest life expectancy, the Japanese diet has been in the spotlight for years. People in Okinawa province, on the other hand, live much longer. Makoto Suzuki, a cardiac specialist at Ryukyus University in Okinawa, began studying the Okinawan diet in the 1970s to figure out why. Here’s what he discovered:

To begin with, the Okinawan diet includes a wide variety of foods. Locals on this island regularly consume up to 206 different foods, including various herbs and spices. They consume five other pieces of fruits and vegetables every day, for example. They prefer to make sure they’re receiving enough variety by ensuring their plates have every hue of the rainbow on them.

This variation may be what keeps the Okinawan diet from becoming monotonous. Grains, such as rice or noodles form the foundation of the diet, with condiments such as salt and sugar used sparingly. Okinawans consume 60% less sugar and 50% less salt than other Japanese people, who already consume a healthy diet by world standards.

Variety is vital, but so is portion control. To follow this second element, Okinawans recommend that you stop eating when you’re about 80% full; in other words, you should be somewhat hungry.

In Japanese, this concept has its term. It’s known as Hara Hachi bu, and it can be achieved in various ways, like preceding dessert or reducing portion size.

Okinawans generally offer their dinner on small plates with servings of rice, vegetables, miso soup, and a little snack, such as edamame beans, to practice the latter.

They intuitively understand that consuming fewer calories is beneficial, and current science has backed up this intuition. You can lower the level of a protein called insulin-like growth factor 1 by eating fewer calories. When the body has too much of this protein, cells age more quickly. As a result, eating less has a clear link to living longer.

Antioxidant-rich foods are critical for health and longevity:

In recent years, superfoods have swept the globe, transforming people’s perceptions of nutrition as medicine. You won’t want to miss out on a few Japanese variations of these meals.

Green tea is the first, a revitalizing beverage high in antioxidants.

According to recent studies, this beverage, one of Okinawa’s most popular, is an excellent booster of lifespan. Green tea, unlike many other teas, is air-dried and unfermented. As a result, it keeps its active ingredients, including antioxidants, and has been shown to cut bad cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, and improve overall health.

Okinawans add jasmine to their green tea to amp up the potency of this miraculous beverage. This herb increases immunological function and improves cardiovascular health.

Green tea, on the other hand, isn’t for everyone. If you like something different, consider white tea, which boasts even more antioxidants than green tea.

Is there, however, an Okinawan superfood that you can eat?

Look no further than chikuwa, a citrus fruit rich in antioxidants and a popular Okinawan delicacy. The juice of this traditional Japanese fruit is so acidic that it must be diluted before being consumed.

It has a significant amount of nobiletin, a plant component that is high in antioxidants. While other citrus fruits, such as lemons and oranges, contain some nobiletin, chikuwa has 40 times the amount of the ordinary orange. As a result, the fruit is quite popular in Okinawa, where it’s used in a variety of traditional recipes and baked into cakes.

However, you could have a hard time finding this unusual Japanese citrus. If that’s the case, don’t worry about it. Try different citrus fruits, perhaps broccoli, salmon, strawberries, or apricots, which are all vital in antioxidants.

Movement, even in its most basic forms, is an essential component of living a long life:

Have you ever encountered someone who, despite their age, seemed to be bursting with energy? They most likely lived that long because they were physically active throughout their lives.

In truth, frequent movement is vital for living a long and happy life. It doesn’t have to be strenuous; observations of Okinawa people reveal that sports and fitness are far less important than a basic, regular movement.

Elderly Okinawans, for example, wander around their neighborhoods, work in their gardens, and even perform at karaoke bars. Their activity is defined not by its intensity but by the fact that it never ceases.

However, if you don’t believe them, consider what current science has to say:

According to Gavin Bradley, a health specialist, sitting harms your health. After just half an hour of sitting in a chair, he discovered that the metabolism slows, interfering with fat digestion. Furthermore, sitting for more than two hours lowers healthy cholesterol levels.

The good news is that getting up for five minutes every half hour is enough to counteract these effects; nevertheless, most office workers fail to do so.

Okinawans also engage in a more organized style of physical activity. It’s known as Radio Taiso, and it’s a typical warm-up for Okinawans and Japanese people in general.

It’s done in the morning or during the day, usually done in large groups. It’s pretty widespread, and various Okinawan schools, businesses, and elderly people’s homes practice these exercises as a community every morning.

The routine was initially broadcast on the radio, hence the term “radio.” However, most individuals nowadays watch their daily workouts on television or the internet.

The workouts themselves are uncomplicated and straightforward. For example, one technique is to raise your arms above your head before circularly bringing them down your sides. The goal is to gently warm up the arms and shoulders’ joints and muscles.

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