Ikigai [But Not a Review]

Published by Prabin Poudel 23 min read
cover: Ikigai [But Not a Review]
Table of contents

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, is the the book written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. It talks about finding a purpose in life which makes living a life meaningful and makes the person happy.

Authors have researched quite well and provide a great outlook on long living Japanese people. Book also talks about diet plans, exercises, being focused on tasks, etc.

Though Ikigai means “the purpose that one have in their life”, there is very little on what we can do to find the purpose in our life in this book. But still, it’s a good book to read.

The art of staying young and growing old

  • “Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.” - Japanese Proverb

The five Blue Zones

  • The keys to longevity are diet, exercise, finding a purpose in life (an ikigai), and forming strong social ties - that is, having a broad circle of friends and good family relations.

A lot of sitting will age you

  • Spending too much time seated at work or at home not only reduces muscular and respiratory fitness but also increases appetite and curbs the desire to participate in activities.
  • Being sedentary can lead to hypertension, imbalanced eating, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even certain kinds of cancer.
  • It’s easy to be less sedantary; it just takes a bit of effort and a few changes to your routine. We can access a more active lifestyle that makes us feel better inside and out - we just have to add a few ingredients too our everyday habits:

    • Walk to work, it just go on a walk for at least twenty minutes each day.
    • Use your feet instead of an elevator or escalator. This is good for your posture, your muscles, and your respiratory system, among other things.
    • Participate in social or leisure activities so that you don’t spend too much time in front of the television.
    • Replace your junk food with fruit and you’ll have less of an urge to snack, and more nutrients in your system.
    • Get the right amount of sleep. Seven to nine hours is good, but any more than that makes us lethargic.
    • Play with children or pets, or join a sports team. This not only strengthens the body but also stimulates the mind and boosts self-esteem.
    • Be conscious of your daily routine in order to detect harmful habits and replace them with more positive ones.

A model’s best-kept secret

  • Most of those who make their living as models claim to sleep between nine and ten hours the night before a fashion show. This gives their skin a taut, a wrinkle-free appearance and a healthy, radiant glow.
  • Science has shown that sleep is a key anti-aging tool, because when we sleep we generate melatonin, a hormone that occurs naturally in our bodies.
  • Melatonin is a great ally in preserving youth. However, melatonin production decreases after age thirty. We can compensate for this by:

    • Eating a balanced diet and getting more calcium.
    • Soaking up a moderate amount of sun each day.
    • Getting enough sleep.
    • Avoiding stress, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, all of which make it harder to get a good night’s rest, depriving us of the melatonin we need.

An ode to longevity

  • During our stay in Ogimi, the village that holds the Guinness record for longevity,a woman who was about to turn 100 years old sang the following song for us in a mixture of Japanese and the local dialect:

    “To keep healthy and have a long life,
    eat just a little of everything with relish,
    go to bed early, get up early, and then go out for a walk.

    We live each day with serenity and we enjoy the journey.

    To keep healthy and have a long life,
    we get on well with all of our friends.

    Spring, summer, fall, winter,
    we happily enjoy all the seasons.

    The secret is to not get distracted by how old the fingers are; from the fingers to the gas and back once again.

    If you keep moving with your fingers working, 100 years will come to you.”

From logotheraphy to ikigai - How to live longer and better by finding your purpose

What is logotheraphy?

  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Better living through logotheraphy

  • A few key ideas

    • We don’t create the meaning of life, we discover it.
    • We each have a unique reason for being, which can be adjusted it transformed many times over the years.
    • Just as worry often brings about precisely the thing that was feared, excessive attention to desire (or “hyper-intention”) can keep that desire from being fulfilled.
    • Humor can help break negative cycles and reduce anxiety.
    • We all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things. The side of the equation we end up on depends on our decisions, not on the condition in which we find ourselves.

Naikan meditation

  • If you are angry and want to fight, think about it for three days before coming to blows. After the days, the intense desire to fight will pass on it’s own.

Find Flow In Everything You Do - How to turn work and free time into spaces for growth

  • “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle

Going with the flow

Imagine you are skiing down one of your favorite slopes. Pretty snow flies up in both sides of you like what sand. Conditions are perfect

You are entirely focused on skiing as well as you can. You know exactly how to move at each moment. There is no future, no past. There is only the present. You feel the snow, your skis, your body, and your consciousness united as a single entity. You are completely immersed in the experience, not thinking about or distracted by anything else. Your ego dissolves, and you become post of what you are doing.

We’ve all felt or sense of time vanish when we lose ourselves in an activity we enjoy. We start cooking and before we know it, several hours have passed. We spend an afternoon with a book and forget about the world going by until we notice the sunset and realize we haven’t eaten dinner.

The opposite can also happen. When we have to complete a task we don’t want to do, every minute feels like a lifetime and we can’t stop looking at our watch.

The funny thing is that someone else might really enjoy the same task, but we want to finish as quickly as possible.

What makes us enjoy doing something so much that we forget about whatever worries we might have while we do it? When are we happiest? These questions can help us discover our ikigai.

The power of flow

  • These questions are also at the heart of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into the experience of being completely immersed in what we are doing.
  • Csikszentmihalyi called this state “flow”, and described it as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life.
  • When we flow, we are focused on a concrete task without any distractions . Or minds is “in order”. The opposite occurs when we try to do something while our mind is on other things.
  • If you often find yourself losing focus while working on something you consider important, there are several strategies you can employ to increase your chances of achieving flow.

The Seven Conditions for Achieving Flow

According to researcher Owen Schaffer of DePaul University, the requirements for achieving flow are:

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
  5. Perceiving significant challenges
  6. Perceiving significant skills
  7. Being free from distractions
Strategy 1: Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult!)
  • Shaffer’s model encourages us to take in tasks that we have a chance of completing but that are slightly outside our comfort zone.
  • Every two or job has a set of rules and we need a set of skills to follow them. If the rules for completing a task are too basic relative to our skill set, we will likely get bored.
  • If, on the other hand, we assign ourselves a task that is too difficult, we won’t have the skills to complete it and will almost certainly give up.
  • The ideal is to find a middle part, something aligned with our abilities but just a bit of a stretch, so we experience it as a challenge.
  • We want to see challenges through to the end because we enjoy the feeling is pushing ourselves.
  • Add a little something extra, something that takes you out of your comfort zone.
Strategy 2: Have a clear, concrete objective
  • Video games - played in moderation - board games, and sports are great ways to achieve flow, because the objective tends to be very clear: Beat your rival or your own record while following a set of explicitly defined rules.
  • It is much more important to have a compass pointing to a concrete objective than to have a map.
  • Having a clear objective is important in achieving flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind when we get down to business. Once the journey has begun, we should keep this objective in mind without obsessing over it.
  • When Olympic athletes complete for golf medal, they can’t stop to think how pretty the medal is. They have to be present in there moment - they have to “flow”. If they lost focus for a second, thinking how proud they’ll be to show the medal to their parents, they’ll almost certainly commit an error at a critical moment and will not win the competition.
  • “A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future.” - Albert Einstein
Strategy 3: Concentrate on a single task
  • This is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles we face today, with so much technology and so many distractions.
  • We often think that combing tasks will save us time, but scientific evidence shows that it has the opposite effect.
  • Our brains can take in millions of bits information but can only actually process a few dozen per second. When we say we’re multitasking, what we’re really doing is switching back and forth between tasks very quickly. Unfortunately, we’re not computers adapt at parallel processing. We end up spending all our energy alternating between tasks, instead of focusing on doing one of them well.
  • Technology is great, if we’re in control of it. It’s not so great if it takes control of us.

Humans as ritualistic beings

  • Don’t worry about the outcome - it will come naturally. Happiness is in the doing, not in the result.

Masters of Longevity - Words of wisdom from the longest-living people in the world

  1. “Eat and sleep, and you’ll live a long time. You have to learn to relax.” - Misao Okawa (age 117)
  2. “I’ve never eaten meat in my life.” - Maria Capovilla (age 116)
  3. “Everything’s fine.” - Jeanne Calment (age 122)
  4. “If you keep your mind and body busy, you’ll be around a long time.” - Walter Breuning (age 114)

Lessons from Japan’s Centenarians - Traditions and proverbs for happiness and longevity

Over the course of a week we conducted a total of one hundred interviews, asking the elder members of the community about their life philosophy, their ikigai, and the secrets to longevity:

  1. Don’t worry

    • “The secret to a long life is not to worry. And to keep your heart young - don’t let it grow old. Open your heart to people with a nice smile on your face. If you smile and open your heart, your grandchildren and everyone else will want to see you.”
    • “The best way to avoid anxiety is to go out in the street and say hello to people. I do it everyday. I go out there and say. ‘Hello!’ and ‘See you later!’ Then I go home and care for my vegetable garden. In the afternoon, I spend time with friends.”
  2. Cultivate good habits

    • “I feel joy every morning waking up at six and opening the curtains to look out at my garden, where I grow my own vegetables. I go right outside to check on my tomatoes, my mandarin oranges… I love the sight of them - it relaxes me. After an hour in the garden I go back inside and make breakfast.”
    • “The key to staying sharp in old age is in your fingers. From your fingers to your brain, and back again. If you keep your fingers busy, you’ll live to see one hundred.”
    • “I get up at four every day. I set my alarm for that time, have a cup of coffee, and do a little exercise, lifting my arms. That gives me energy for the rest of the day.”
    • “Working. If you don’t work, your body breaks down.”
    • “I do exercise everyday, and every morning I go for a little walk.”
    • “Eating vegetables - it helps you live longer.”
    • “To live a long time you need to do three things: exercise to stay healthy, eat well, and spend time with people.”
  3. Nurture you friendships every day

    • “Getting together with my friends is my most important ikigai. We all get together here and talk - it’s very important, and that’s one of my favorite things in life.”
    • “Talking each day with the people you love, that’s the secret to a long life.”
    • “I wake up at five every morning, leave the house, and walk to the sea. Then I go to a friend’s house and we have tea together. That’s the secret to long life: getting together with people, and going from place to place.”
  4. Live an unhurried life

    • “My secret to a long life is always saying to myself, ‘Slow down’, and ‘Relax’. You live much longer if you’re not in a hurry.”
    • “Doing many different things every day. Always staying busy, but doing one thing at a time, without getting overwhelmed.”
    • “The secret to long life is going to bed early, waking up early, and going for a walk. Living peacefully and enjoying the little things. Getting along with your friends. Spring, summer, fall, winter .. enjoying each season, happily.”
  5. Be optimistic

    • “Every day I say to myself, ‘Today will be full of health and energy. Live it to the fullest.‘”
    • “Laugh. Laughter is the most important thing. I laugh wherever I go.”
    • “The must important thing in life, is to keep smiling.”
    • “There’s no secret to it. The trick is just to live.”

Keys to the Ogimi Lifestyle

  • One hundred percent of the people we interviewed keep a vegetable garden, and most of them also have field of tea, mangoes, shikiwasa and so on.
  • All being to dinner form of neighborhood association, where they feel care for as though by family.
  • They celebrate all the time, even little things. Music, song and dance are essential parts of daily life.
  • They have an important purpose in life, or several.

They have an ikigai, but they don’t take it too seriously. They are relaxed and enjoy all that they do.

  • They are very proud of their traditions and local culture.
  • They are passionate about everything they do, however insignificant it might seem.
  • Locals have a strong sense of yuimaaru - recognizing the connection between people. They help each other with everything from work in the fields (harvesting sugar cane or planting rice) to building houses and municipal projects. Our friend Miyagi, who ate dinner with us on our last night in twon, told us that he was building a new home with the help of all his friends, and that we could stay there the time we were in Ogimi.
  • They are always busy but they occupy themselves with tasks that allow them to relax. We didn’t see a single old grandpa sitting on a bench doing nothing.

They are always coming and going - to sing karaoke, visit with neighbors, or play a game of gateball.

The Ikigai Diet - What the world’s longest living people eat and drink

Okinawa’s miracle diet

Bradley J. Wilcox and D. Craig Wilcox joined Makoto Suzuki’s research team and published a book considered the bible on the subject of nutrition, “The Okinawa Program”. They reached the following conclusions:

  • Locals eat a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables. Variety seems to be a key. A study of Okinawa’s centenarians showed that they ate 206 different foods, including spices, on a regular basis. They ate an average of eighteen different foods each day, a striking contrast to the nutritional poverty of our fast-food culture.
  • They eat at least five seconds of fruits and vegetables every day. At least seven types of fruits and vegetables are consumed by Okinawans on a daily basis. The easiest way to check if there is enough variety on your table is to make sure you’re “eating the rainbow”. A table featuring red peppers, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, and eggplant, for example, offers great color and variety. Vegetables, potatoes, legumes, and soy products such as tofu are the staples of an Okinawan’s diet. More than 30 percent of their daily calories comes from vegetables.
  • Grains are the foundation of their diet. Japanese people eat white rice every day, sometimes adding noodles. Rice is the primary food in Okinawa as well.
  • They rarely way sugar, and even if they do, it’s cane sugar.

Hara hachi bu

  • This brings us back to the 80 percent rule we mentioned in the first chapter, a concept known in Japanese as hara hachi bu. It’s easy to do: When you notice you’re almost full but could have a little more … just stop eating!

So, eat less to live longer?

  • Few would challenge this idea. Without taking it to the extreme of malnutrition, of course, eating fewer calories than our bodies ask for seems to increase longevity. The key to staying healthy while consuming free calories is eating food with a high nutritional value.
  • An alternative to following the 80 percent rule on a daily basis is to fast for one or two days each week. The 5:2 (or fasting) diet recommend two days of fasting (consuming fewer than five hundred calories) every week and eating normally on the other five days.

Among it’s many benefits, fasting helps cleanse the digestive system and allows it to rest.

15 natural antioxidants found in the Okinawan diet

The Antioxidant Canon, for Westerners

In 2010 the UK’s Daily Mirror published a list of foods recommended by excited to combat aging. Among these foods readily available in the West are:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli and chard, for their high concentration of water, minerals and fiber
  • Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines for all the antioxidants in their fat
  • Fruits such as citrus, strawberries and apricots; they are an excellent source of bushings and help eliminate toxins from the body
  • Berries such as blueberries and goji berries; they are rich in phytochemical antioxidants
  • Dried fruits which contain vitamins and antioxidants and give your energy
  • Grains such as oats and wheat, which give you energy and contain minerals
  • Olive oil, for its antioxidant effects that show in your skin
  • Red wine, in moderation for its antioxidant and vasolidatory properties

Foods that should be eliminated are refined sugar and grains, processed baked goods, and prepared foods, along with cow’s milk and all it’s derivatives. Following this diet will help you feel younger and slow the process of premature aging.

Resilience And Wabi-Sabi - How to face life’s challenges without letting stress and worry age you

What is resilience?

  • One thing that everyone with a clearly defined ikigai has in common is that they pursue their passion no matter what.

    They never give up, even when the cards seem stacked against them or they gave one hurdle after another.

  • Resilience isn’t just the ability to persevere. It is also an outlook we can cultivate to stay focused on the important things in life rather than what is most urgent, and to keep ourselves from being carried away by negative emotions.
  • “Fall seven times, rise eight” - Japanese Proverb
  • Resilient people know how to stay focused on their objectives, on what matters, without giving in to discouragement. Their flexibility is the source of their strength. They know how to adapt to change and to reversals of fortune. They concentrate on the things they can control and don’t worry about those they can’t.

Emotional resilience through Buddhism

  • Gautam Budhha realized that a wise person should not ignore life’s pleasures. A wise person can live with these pleasures but should always remain conscious of how easy it is to be enslaved by them.
  • Zeno abandoned Cynicism’s teaching to found the school of Stoicism, which centers on the idea that there is nothing wrong with enjoying life’s pleasure as long as they don’t take control of your life as you enjoy them. You have to be prepared for those pleasures to disappear.
  • The goal is not to eliminate all feelings and pleasures from our lives, but to eliminate negative emotions.

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

  • We finally land of dream job, but after a little while we are already hunting for a better one. We win the lottery and buy a nice car but then decide we can’t live without a sailboat. We finally win the heart of the man or woman we’ve been pinning for and suddenly find a wandering eye.

People can be insatiable.

  • The Stoics believed that these kinds of desire and ambitions are not worth pursuing. The objective of the virtuous person is to reach a state of tranquility: the absence of negative feelings such as anxiety, fear, shame, vanity and anger and the presence of positive feelings such as happiness, love, serenity and gratitude.

    In order to keep their minds virtuous, the Stoics practiced something like negative visualization: They imagined the worst thing that could happen I’m order to be prepared of certain privileges and pleasures were taken from them.

Meditating for healthier emotions

  • In addition to negative visualization and not giving in to negative emotions, another central tenet of Stoicism is “knowing what we can control and what we can’t”.

Worrying about things that are beyond our control accomplished nothing. We should have a clear sense of what we can change and what we can’t, which in turn will allow us to resist giving in to negative emotions.

  • “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters” - Epictetus

The here and now, and the impermanence of things

  • The present is all that exists, and it is the only thing we can control. Instead of worrying about the past or future, we should appreciate things just add they are in the moment, in the now.
  • “The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment” - Thich Naht Hanh
  • We should never forget that everything we have and all the people we love will disappear at some point.
  • Being aware of the impermanence of things does not have to make us sad, it should help us love the present moment and those who surround us.

Beyond resilience: Antifragility

  • Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

How can we be more antifragile?

Step 1: Create more options
  • Instead of having a single salary, try to find a way to make money from your hobbies, at other jobs, or by starting your own business. If you have only one salary, you might be left with nothing should your employer run into trouble, leaving you into a position of fragility. On the other hand, if you have several options and you lose your primary job, it might just happen that you end up dedicating more time to your secondary job, and maybe even make more more money at it. You would have beaten that stroke of bad luck and would be, in that case, antifragile.
  • Right now you might be thinking,“I don’t need more that one salary and I’m happy with the friends I’ve always had. Why should I add anything new?” It might seem like a waste of time to add caution to our lives, because extraordinary things don’t ordinarily happen. We slip into a comfort zone. But the unexpected always happens, sooner or later.
Step 2: Bet conservatively in certain areas and take many small risks in others

If you have$10,000 saved up, you might put $9,000 of that into an index fund it fixed-term deposit, and invest the remaining $1,000 in ten start-ups with huge growth potential-say, $100 in each.

One possible scenario is that three of the companies fail (you lose $300), the value of three other companies goes down (you lose another $100 or $200), the value of three goes up (you make $100 or $200), and the value of one the start-ups increases twenty-fold (you make nearly $2,000, or maybe even more).

You still make money, even if there is the businesses completely belly-up. You’ve benefited from the damage, just like the Hydra.

Three key to becoming antifragile is taking on small risks that might lead to great reward, without exposing ourselves too dangers that might sink us, such as investing $10,000 in a fund of questionable reputation that we saw advertised in the newspaper.

Step 3: Get rid of the things that make you fragile
  • What makes us fragile? Certain people, things, and habits generate losses for us and make us vulnerable. Who and what are they?
  • To build resilience into our lives, we shouldn’t fear adversity, because each setback is an opportunity for growth. If we adopt an antifragile attitude, we’ll find a way to get stronger with every blow, refining our lifestyle and staying focused on our ikigai.
  • Taking a hit or two can be viewed as either a misfortune or an experience that we can apply to all areas of our lives, as we continually make corrections and set new and better goals. As Taleb writes in Antifragile, “We need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, hear traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living.”


  • 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.
  • Modern life estranges us more and more from our true nature, making it very easy for us to lead lives lacking in meaning. Powerful forces and incentives (money, power, attention, success) distract is on a daily basis; don’t let them take over your life.
  • Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai. Follow those things you enjoy, and get away from or change those you dislike. Be led by your curiosity, and keep busy but 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.
  • 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.

The ten rules of ikigai:

  1. Stay active; don’t retire.

    • Those who give up the things they love doing and do well lose their purpose in life. That’s why it’s so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out, and shaping the world around you, even after your “official” professional activity had ended.
  2. Take it slow

    • Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes, “Walk slowly and you’ll go far.” When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.
  3. Don’t fill your stomach

    • Less is more when it comes to eating for long life, too. According to 80 percent rule, in order to stay healthier longer, we should eat a little less than our hunger demands instead of stuffing ourselves.
  4. Surround yourself with good friends

    • Friends are the best medicine, there for confiding worries over a good chat, sharing stories that brighten your day, getting advice, having fun, dreaming … in other words, living.
  5. Get in shape for your next birthday

    • Water moves; it is at its best when it flows fresh and doesn’t stagnate. The body you move through life in needs a bit of daily maintenance to keep it running for a long time. Plus, exercise releases hormones that make us feel happy.
  6. Smile

    • A cheerful attitude is not only relaxing - it also helps make friends. It’s good to recognize the things that aren’t so great, but we should never forget what a privilege it is to be in the here and now in a world so full of possibilities.
  7. Reconnect with nature

    • Though most people live in cities these days, human beings are made to be part of the natural world. We should return to it often to recharge our batteries.
  8. Give thanks

    • To your ancestors, to nature, which provides you with the air you breathe and the food you eat, to your friends and family, to everything that brightens your days and makes you feel lucky to be alive. Spend a moment every day giving thanks and you’ll watch your stockpile of happiness grow.
  9. Love in the moment

    • Stop regretting the past and fearing the future. Today is all you have. Make the most of it. Make it worth remembering.
  10. Follow your 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. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet, as Viktor Frankl says, your mission is to discover it.

Conclusion of the blog

Hope you learnt something valuable from this extract. Thank you for reading!

Image Credits: Cover Image by Tarun Savvy from Unsplash