Summary of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

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This is a book summary of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, written by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, and published by Penguin Random House.

There is a lot to unpack in this book, and it is one of the best in my opinion at helping you find your own passion and purpose in life.

The book focuses on the people of Okinawa, a Japanese Island and one of the “blue zones” of the world where people commonly live over 100 (With over 71,000 centenarians living in Japan), and often even 110+.

The book examines the different “blue zones”, but then zeros in on the Japanese village of Ogimi, which has a population of 3000 and has the highest life expectancy in the world. It’s no surprise that he goes by the title of “The Village of Longevity”.

While there are certainly a lot of different variables that factor into longevity, it’s hard to argue with the wisdom of this book in promoting purpose as one of those virtues.

Do you want to live to be over 100? I know I plan to.

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So, let us examine the wisdom from the people of Okinawa, learn from Japanese culture, and find our Ikigai.

What Does Ikigai Mean?

Ikigai is a Japanese word that literally translates to “a reason for being.” Is a Japanese concept referring to that thing that gives a person purpose, the reason for living, a reason for getting up in the morning.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Ikigai as “a motivational force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living”. Generally speaking, it is what brings us pleasure or fulfillment.

Summary of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

The book presents several chapters on a variety of topics, including blue zones, logotherapy, Morita therapy, Tai Chi, flow, Yoga, and Wabi-Sabi. But it also interviews several residents of Okinawa to understand their secrets. These personal accounts are some of the best parts of the book. You get to see exactly what lights these people up, and why they are so joyous and living.

The authors point out that while our Ikigai will be different for all of us, we are all still searching for meaning. And when we spend our days connecting with that Ikigai, we live a more purposeful life. When we lose that connection, we feel despair.

What Are the 4 Components of Ikigai?

You will often see a Venn diagram when you are studying how to find your purpose. Usually these Venn diagrams talk about what you love, what you’re good at, and the service you can provide for the world.

This book is no exception. It features all three of these, that as 1/4: what you can be paid to do. So let’s look at all four of these.

  • What You Love: we all have things that we love to do. This is one core aspect of our Ikigai.
  • What You Are Good At: we all have skills in life as well. When you can combine these skills with what you love, you have passion. But without other aspects, that passion will lead to feelings of uselessness or emptiness.
  • What You Can be Paid For: it may sound obvious, but we all need to make a living. Combined with the skills that we have, we have a profession. But without the other aspects, we may feel empty or uncertain about our future.
  • What the World Needs: part of her life’s purpose is to contribute to society. When combined with what we can be paid to do, this becomes a vocation. When combined with what we love it becomes a mission. But without wealth, it is not sustainable. And without skill we feel that sense of uncertainty.

Only when all four of these are combined do we get Ikigai the perfect intersection of all four circles.

The 10 Rules of Ikigai

In the book, the authors outline 10 rules of Ikigai. These are takeaways and practical tools from many of the subjects they cover as well as the interviews that they provide from the elderly living in Okinawa.

1. Stay Active; Don’t Retire

One of the best ways to find your Ikigai is to keep active. Don’t retire at 65 and sit around all day. Find something that you can do that will keep you going and give you a sense of purpose.

When you have found your Ikigai eyes, what you truly love to do and gives you purpose, you will keep doing it until your body can no longer support you.

On the other hand, staying active is one of the best things you can do to live a long time. Research continuously shows that retirement can actually lead to an early death. We need something to keep us motivated, to keep us going. That thing is our Ikigai.

2. Take it Slow

We are currently living in the information age, our attention is being pulled simultaneously in a million different directions. Corporations spend billions of dollars trying to perfect the science of stealing our attention.

In order to lead a life of purpose, we have to take it slow. Slow and steady wins the race.

The more we try to rush through life, the more anxious we are going to get, the more our health will suffer, and the more we will be stressed. Instead, we need to enjoy the journey, find peace and happiness in the now, rather than trying to work fast now so that we can “live” later.

3. Don’t Fill Your Stomach

I thought this was a fascinating tip. Okinawans choose not to stuff their stomachs. They eat by the 80% rule: when your stomach is 80% full, stop eating.

We know from modern science that overeating can have huge problems on our health, not the least of which is obesity, diabetes, and poor sleep. In the long run, overeating will negatively affect your health and longevity.

The Okinawans believe that this is one of the important secrets of living along an active life.

4. Surround Yourself with Good Friends

We’ve all heard the term that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. In Okinawa they believe that we must surround yourself with good friends.

Friendship and relationships are a great source of fulfillment and joy. They give us emotional support and encouragement when we need it most.

On the flipside, feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and isolation are all known to be risk factors for one’s health. In short, we need to surround yourself with good people.

5. Get in Shape

The most important tool that we have is our body. If we want to live a fulfilling life, experience good emotions, experience wellness, that we have to keep her body fit. Because our mind and our body are the same thing. When one is down so is the other.

You don’t have to be super buff or go on an extreme diet, but you should have healthy routines in your life. Some light exercise, a diet devoid of processed foods, and other health practices such as yoga or meditation, can all have positive effects on your body.

Only by perfecting your body, can you truly live a life with your Ikigai.

6. Smile

Smiling is clinically proven to boost your mood. Okinawans recommend that you smile because it shows a cheerful attitude towards life. That attitude will bring joy and happiness, just through the act of smiling.

You are encouraged to participate in activities that will make you smile. This can be hanging out with friends, doing the things you love, finding other ways to bring joy and positivity into your life.

7. Reconnect with Nature

Most of us live a digital life today. We are shut up in an office, glued to our screens at home, and really get some time to really connect and enjoy nature.

This is a mistake.

We all need to take time to spend time in nature. This doesn’t mean we have to go camping all the time, or visit every national Park in our country. But it does mean that a short walk through a local park, or simply taking time to breathe some fresh air every day, will work wonders.

Travel and adventure are other ways to step up your game when it comes to reconnecting with nature. Find ways that make you happy and run with those.

8. Give Thanks

Gratitude is one of the number one correlating factors with happiness. If you want happiness today, you need to find ways to be grateful.

This is why gratitude journals are so clinically effective. They force us to think with a grateful attitude, and soon enough we are finding reasons to be grateful in everything.

Being grateful also reduces other negative attributes such as pride and egotism. It will help you connect better those that you love.

9. Live in the Moment

Similar to some of the previous steps, we need to live in the moment, because life is not in the past and it is not in the future. It is now.

Wherever you are right now, choose to be there. Don’t be thinking about a future appointment, don’t dwell on something that happened in the past that may have embarrassed you, just be present. If you can master this mindfulness technique, you will find yourself better in control of your emotions, more fulfilled overall, and a general sense of well-being.

10. Follow Your Ikigai

Lastly, you need to follow your passion. This is a never-ending process. Your Ikigai is something you will pursue till the end of your life, something that it is impossible to master, only improve.

Don’t give up on it. It will take time to build, and it will take time to make a living at it. But if it is really your passion, is aligned with your skills, contributes to society, eventually that money will come.

Never stop pursuing your Ikigai I until your body simply cannot continue.