Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

by Hector Garcia, Francesc Miralles

Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life was co-authored by two Spanish authors, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. This book is organized around a mysterious word: Ikigai. It can be translated as “the happiness of always being busy” or “the reason why we get up every morning.” 

The authors studied this concept during their trip to the Okinawa archipelago in Japan. This region is renowned for the extraordinary longevity of its inhabitants. The purpose of the book is to approach the secrets of these centenarians for a healthy and happy life and share the keys to discovering your own Ikigai.

Summary Notes


“Some people have found their ikigai, while others are still looking, though they carry it within them.”

Ikigai is the art of staying young while growing old. It is “the reason we get up every morning.” This quest for meaning is at the heart of Japanese philosophy and represents one of the secrets of their longevity. This echoes a quote from Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost anyhow.”

Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles met the inhabitants of the world's five blue zones. This is the name given by scientists and demographers to regions that have many cases of high longevity:

  • Sardinia in Italy
  • The Municipality of Loma Linda, California
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Ikaria Island, Greece
  • The Okinawa Archipelago in Japan

After interviewing around 100 locals, particularly on the Japanese island of Ogimi, the authors compiled the secrets of their longevity.

Actions to take

Antiaging Secrets

“Mens sana in corpore sano” (“a sound mind in a sound body”)

The little things add up to a long and happy life, and that body and mind are connected. The authors highlight the importance of limiting stress while exposing yourself to change. Stress in small doses is good for your health. On the other hand, excessive stress should be limited. 

The Japanese rely on several practices to maintain a serene and active mind. To maintain your mental health, you can apply the following two principles:

  1. Exercising, stretching, and practicing deep breathing exercises:
    Dare to express your emotions
     - Have a clean and orderly environment (bedroom, office, home, etc.)
     - Meditate
     - Take a shower while listening to music to rela
     - Massage your head by applying pressure with the fingers
     - Prioritize positive thoughts.

  2. Getting enough sleep:
     - Do not do activities that make you anxious or highly energetic before bed

- Do not drink caffeine
 - Eat dinner at least three hours before going to sleep
 - Follow a ritual that naturally leads us to sleep
 - Reduce the intensity of the lighting in the room in which you sleep.

In short, modifying a stressful lifestyle will prevent the premature aging of our bodies!

Actions to take

From Logotherapy to Ikigai

“What, then, does logotherapy do? [...] It helps you find a reason to live.”

Logotherapy is a discipline that aims to sensitize the individual to the meaning of one’s life and teach us how to live longer and better by finding our purpose. 

In particular, they discuss a therapy created by the Japanese Shoma Morita whose objective is to help the patient find a vital purpose. The foundations of the discipline are that action is the cause of change and that one must dare to look within to discover one's own Ikigai. Morita's therapy is divided into four phases:

  1. Isolation and rest (five to seven days)

  2. Light occupational therapy (five to seven days) - consists of performing monotonous tasks in silence

  3. Occupational therapy (five to seven days) - perform tasks that require physical movement.

  4. Return to the “real” world and social life.

Actions to take

Find Flow in Everything You Do

“Be water, my friend” - Bruce Lee

You may not realize it, but it is possible to turn work and free time into spaces for growth. The state flow means being completely immersed in the activity that one performs without thinking or being distracted by anything. There is no past or future, just the present. The authors describe seven conditions for entering the state of flow:

  1. Know what you have to do;

  2. Know how to do it;

  3. Know if we are doing it well;

  4. Know where to go (if navigation is involved);

  5. Set ambitious challenges

  6. Use one's best personal resources

  7. Do not indulge in distractions

They also share three techniques for experiencing the state of flow:

  • Choose a difficult task (hard enough, but not too hard)
  • Have a clear, concrete objective
  • Concentrate on a single task.

The authors also explain that it is possible to take advantage of microflow moments during daily tasks. They take the example of Bill Gates, who ensures to do the dishes every evening. Although he could delegate this task, he prefers to do it because it helps him put his thoughts in order.

We can also cite the example of Hayao Miyazaki, the famous designer and co-founder of Ghibli studios who perfectly embodies the word Ikigai. The latter fully blossoms by drawing. So much so that a year after his retirement, he declared that he would no longer make feature films, but that he would draw until the day of his death.”

Actions to take

Masters of Longevity

“Art, in all its forms, is an ikigai that can bring happiness and purpose to our days.”

In this chapter of the book, you receive advice from the longest-living people in the world. Here are the most important tips from centenarians to live a long and happy life:

  • “Eat and sleep, and you’ll live a long time. You have to learn to relax.” - Misao Okawa (117)
  • “I’ve never eaten meat in my life.” - Maria Capovilla (116)
  • “I see badly, I hear badly, and I feel bad, but everything’s fine.” - Jeanne Calment (112)
  • “If you keep your mind and body busy, you’ll be around a long time.” - Walter Breuning (114)
  • “I don’t know. I just haven’t died yet.” - Alexander Imich (111) when asked about his secret to living so long.

Finding your ikigai is your first step in finding your life purpose, and later you must take small steps that bring you closer to it. Ikigai is shown as a source of life that allows you to feel full until the last moment; also, you should know that it can be in constant movement and transform or evolve over the years.

Actions to take

Lessons from Japan’s Centenarians

“Every person has an essence, or mabui. This mabui is our spirit and the source of our life force. It is immortal and makes us who we are.”

The lessons from Japan’s centenarians are shared through traditions and words of wisdom for happiness and longevity. 

The authors found that everyone in Ogimi was very keen on spending time with family, friends, or community members:

  • they cultivate friendships every day
  • they all belong to a neighbors association
  • they celebrate many events, even the smallest ones
  • they are very proud of their traditions and local culture.

Finally, the centenarians tend to maintain healthy habits that allow them to enjoy life and provide them with longevity and satisfaction. We can conclude that your ikigai manages to combine your passion, vocation, profession, and mission in life.

Actions to take

The Ikigai Diet

“Drinking green or white tea every day can help us reduce the free radicals in our bodies, keep us young longer.”

What we eat and drink each day contributes to the longevity of our life. One of the world’s longest-living people’s secrets is cultivating healthy eating habits.  Here is a list of some eating habits practiced by people in the Okinawa region:

  • Consume a wide variety of foods, mainly of plant origin.
  • Eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Eat white rice every day (cereals are the basis of the Japanese diet).
  • Consuming very little sugar (when this is the case, they take cane sugar).
  • Eat at 80%. Stop eating before you are full.
  • Consume foods high in antioxidants (tofu, miso, tuna, carrots, cabbage, nori = seaweed, onion, bean sprouts, sweet potato).
  • Drink green tea.

Also, to feel younger and prevent premature aging, you should eliminate the following foods from your diet:

  • Processed food (especially baked goods)
  • Refined sugar
  • Cow’s milk and its derivatives.

Actions to take

Gentle movements, Longer Life

“Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting.”

In this chapter, the authors share unique exercises from the East that promote health and longevity.  

The inhabitants of the village of Ogimi do not practice any particular sport but keep moving by observing their daily routine. They walk, drive, participate in social activities, and garden.

They also devote themselves to oriental disciplines to balance the soul, body, and spirit, such as yoga, tai chi, or Qi gong. Different practices are described in the book, and the authors give specific exercises for each discipline (sun salutation, stretching, or breathing exercises).

Actions to take

Resilience and Wabi-Sabi

“Fall seven times, rise eight.”

The book's last chapter is about facing life’s challenges without letting stress and worry age you. 

Resilience is our ability to cope with hardship. A resilient person knows how to stay focused on their goals without being overwhelmed by discouragement. The Japanese proverb “If you fall seven times, get up eight times” perfectly illustrates this philosophy. The Japanese tend never to surrender, and when they face setbacks in life, they keep fighting.

This ability complements philosophies such as Stoicism and Buddhism. The goal is to achieve peace of mind, a state of absence of negative emotions (anxiety, fear, grief, vanity, anger) while seeking the presence of positive emotions such as joy, love, serenity, or gratitude.

The Stoics practice a technique similar to negative visualization to achieve this result. They imagined “the worst thing that can happen” to be prepared in case certain privileges and pleasures disappear from their lives.

They also practice meditation to practice observing their emotions. Because we are more affected by the way we look at events rather than the events themselves.

Beyond the concept of resilience, the authors explain the notion of anti-fragility developed by Nassim Taleb. The idea is to grow stronger with the onslaughts and difficulties of life.

The authors end the book with the ten laws of Ikigai taken from the wisdom of the centenarians of Ogini:

  1. Always stay active

  2. Take things calmly

  3. Don't eat too much

  4. Surround yourself with good friends

  5. Get in shape for your next birthday

  6. Smile

  7. Reconnect with nature

  8. Be thankful

  9. Live the moment

  10. Follow your Ikigai.

Actions to take

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