Everyone is after that elusive secret recipe for happiness.
Lifestyle concepts that offer a blueprint for finding pleasure and joy in life have risen astronomically in popularity in the last few years. It started with hygge, the Danish quest for cosiness, and then more recently spurred on by the Swedish version of lagom. Ways to live your life that promise an antidote to all of modernity's woes.
Enter ikigai: a Japanese concept that offers a new perspective on finding happiness.
In their new book, 'Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life', authors Héctor García, Francesc Miralles travelled to the island of Okinawa which is home to some of the world’s oldest people to find out how they live for so long and how they stay fulfilled.
The Debrief caught up with one of the book’s authors, Francesc Miralles, to learn more about ikigai.
What is ikigai?
Ikigai is a Japanese word that doesn’t have a direct translation into English or any other western language. But it roughly means ‘a reason to live’, or ‘the happiness of being always busy’. Ikigai means to fill life with actions that give sense and meaning.
We discovered the philosophy when we visited the village north of Okinawa where the eldest people in the world live. When we interviewed them, many of them told us they have very strong hobbies or passions that they follow every day that gives them structure and energy to live one day more.
What are the main principles of living in an ikigai way?
The first is to never retire! In the western world, we think of working until you are 55 and then totally stopping all activity so you can end up feeling useless and like you have no function in society. The Japanese don’t even have a word for retirement as they don’t consider that life stops at a certain point. In Japan, people who are facing the last five or ten years of their time in an office prepare for what they will do next – and it's nothing to do with going to a social club to play dominos. They develop real passions that are useful to society.
The second principle is to cultivate friendships. Passions should be shared. It's more fun if you have an artistic passion to do it with others. Friendship is a spiritual family that you have to take care of all of your life.
And then lastly look after your body and mind by not watching too much trashy TV and instead of reading good books and meeting people that nurture you.
What’s a good way to start living a more ikigai life?
Follow your passions. Everyone has a passion and sometimes it’s a secret passion because we live with so many obligations and stresses and agendas that are always full, that very often we forget to look into what is really important for us. If you have lost track of what your passions are you must look back to your childhood to remind yourself what was important to you.
Maybe when you were a child you were fond of painting, or making music, or inventing stories. Recover those passions and bring them to your adult life. If you live only for work it's easy for there to come a moment in life when you feel there's nothing colourful in your life. But if you rediscover the passion in your life, it will bring you ikigai and a sense of significance.
It’s a modern-day affliction to be constantly busy. But how can people distinguish between the good busy and the bad busy?
There’s a famous interview with Cary Grant in which he’s asked what his secret was for happiness in everyday life. He said 'My secret is very easy: I wake up early and I go to bed at night and in the middle, I occupy myself as best as I can.'
For me that means to invest your time in things that are meaningful. To be busy is not to be in front of your mobile for hours on social media because that isn’t productive. That is filling time, not filling life. We must evaluate the things we do in and out of work and figure out which of those things which bring us happiness and meaning and which only fill time. That's the difference between the good and bad busy.
Is ikigai another lifestyle trend?
People in Japan weren't talking about ikigai until now. It was a small revolution. Through publishing the book and translating into 55 languages we’ve discovered that people are very interested in finding meaning in life because we have a life full of many things but sometimes we lose meaning.
So can you live by both ikigai and hygge?
We are in a moment of spiritual fusion. You can be Christian and Buddhist, and you can use principles of ikigai and zen philosophies. You can use whatever is useful for you. iIkigai is not a strict school, it’s an open book for anyone who wants to mirror what the old people in Japan are doing by living the simple life and living with purpose.
***Ikigai, The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life is out now, published by Penguin ***
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.