Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Cheene Manalo

When the lockdown occurred in March this year, I struggled to practice mindfulness thinking this is the only way I can overcome anxiety. I was, and still at times overthink of the worst thing that could happen to me during the pandemic. What should I do after I finish working? Do I watch new shows to calm my mind? Do I call my friends and ask if they have problems to distract me from thinking of my concerns? Nothing seemed to be helping at all. Then I came across this book on Amazon and read good reviews about it. Ikigai. I have not heard of this term before. Following my gut feeling, I ordered it online, finished reading the book and discovered a new understanding for bringing meaning and joy to life.

The term Ikigai came from a Japanese concept which translates roughly as “the happiness of always being busy” (Garcia and Miralles, 2017). If we attempt to translate this in English, the closest term perhaps would be “purpose”. Unless we immerse ourselves in understanding the concept, it will be difficult for us to capture the entire essence of Ikigai. Ikigai is like the flavor of your favorite dish. You cannot seem to put into words how delicious a meal is but you know it is there. It is good and it brings you joy.

How do we apply the concept of Ikigai to our personal life? There is this particular chapter in the book which I find very helpful. Authors have written some of the following antiaging secrets that add up to a long and happy life.

Active mind, youthful body – they say that both mind and body are important and that the health of one is connected to that of the other. Learning something new, playing an interesting game, and interacting with other people can be essential anti-aging techniques for the mind. Shlomo Breznitz, an Israeli neuroscientist argues that the brain needs a lot of stimulation to stay in shape. Just as how lack of physical exercise makes us feel more tired or the tendency to have a bad mood, our mind needs a workout to prevent negative outlook in life.

A lot of sitting will age you. So don’t. – whether we feel unmotivated to finish work or simply do not engage in a certain exercise routine, it is important for our body to move. Simple tasks such as using the stairs instead of the elevator and participating in leisure activities instead of spending too much time on the television reduce health risks.

A model’s best kept secret – Garcia and Miralles said that melatonin is a great ally in preserving youth. They added that melatonin productions decreases after thirty but can be compensated by: eating a balanced diet, getting more calcium, soaking up a moderate amount of sun each day, getting enough sleep and avoiding alcohol, tobacco and caffeine which can make it hard for us to get a good night’s rest.

Anti-aging attitudes – according to a Yeshiva University study, people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness. A positive attitude does not mean saying everything’s going to be okay all the time. Instead, we approach challenges in life with a mindset that there are solutions we can explore and not be overwhelmed by the situation. Emotional awareness is an important trait as well. Feelings for example have an impact on how we make decisions. The more mindful we are with our emotions, the better we deal with problems and communicate with other people.

Some people have found their Ikigai while others are still searching. Learning is a lifelong process. We do not need to be in a hurry or stress out finding our Ikigai. Quoting the authors words,

“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.”

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