By Sanjana Butala, Staff Writer
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused widespread havoc, fear and stress. So
many people are falling ill, and so many are dying. The world has been forced to look at death
up close on such a magnanimous scale and amidst such disturbing circumstances, one can
only question how variable and uncontrollable life can be. Millions of people around the world,
including the most brilliant minds, have been defeated by this virus, and death has become an
uninvited guest in this world.
These circumstances propelled me to ask myself what is it that might make a life that is so
unruly and defiant worth living? How is it that people in some parts of the world find this purpose
and live on for years, active and happy? And that is when I stumbled across “Ikigai: The
Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.”
Ikigai is a Japanese word meaning a reason to live. The central theme of the book revolves
around finding your special individualized purpose and meaning in life. Ikigai is also described
as the reason for wanting to get out of bed every day and brings you to a state of happiness and
contentment. Knowing your ikigai is the first of many secrets to a long and happy life.
Ikigai is the secret of the supercentenarians, or those over 110 years old. In Okinawa, a small
village in Japan, 24% of the population is above the age of 100 — the highest in the world. The
authors of the book, Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia, have interviewed a large number of
supercentenarians in this village to discover their individual take on living a long and happy life.
Some of their tips for longevity included having an enormous thirst for life, having a great sense
of humor, holding on to your sense of ikigai and enjoying a sense of community and connection
Okinawans have a great sense and direction when it comes to achieving their ikigai. Their
conviction in this belief is so strong that they are willing to pursue this purpose until their bodies
allow, and that is, perhaps, why their first secret towards youth and longevity is to never retire.
Staying active and always keeping yourself involved is one of the first steps to a long and happy
Okinawans also believe in living worry-free lives. Stress is one of the major causes promoting
aging. A small dose of stress keeps you motivated and is propelling and positive, but too much
stress can destroy your dreams of longevity. Things as trivial as notifications ringing on your
phone, sedentary lifestyles and lack of sleep can all contribute to mental, physical and
emotional stress. If you want to add a few years to your life, take the initiative and subtract all
those unnecessary stress sources in your life.
Another important factor in improving health and duration of our lives is sleep. Too much sleep
results in lethargy. Seven to nine hours is the recommended amount and will ensure you sustain
that positive vibe and rigour throughout the day. Melatonin, a hormone controlling our sleep
cycle, is the proclaimed secret to longevity. This hormone, negatively influenced by the blue
light constantly emitted from all our devices, regulates our body cycles and must be kept in
check to ensure a good night sleep.
Ikigai is also about being in a state of flow. This concept has been phenomenally explained in
the book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and has
also been encouraged by the central theme of ikigai. Achieving this optimal state is tricky, but
there are some steps that can lead you in the right direction.
The first step is to find a challenging task every single day. Mundane routines can make life
tedious and boring. A little challenge here and there will help you come out of your comfort zone
and add a little spice. Ensure that there is always a certain amount of newness in everything
you do. In order to be able to enjoy the daily drudgery of our lives, we must engage in microflow.
Learn to enjoy ticking off things on your to do list and being productive during the day.
Microflow, combined with setting small achievable goals, will enable you to reach your targets.
Having a clear concrete objective is the next milestone on the path towards an optimum
existence. Obsessing over goals or being ignorant about them are both the wrong way to go.
Ensure that you have created a good compass to direct your life by setting clear concrete
One of the best ways to ensure you maintain a constant state of focus is to avoid multitasking.
Research has suggested that the mind is capable of doing only one thing at a time and that
multitasking is not an existent phenomenon. The essence of multitasking is basically a shift of
focus from one task to another. The Pomodoro Technique is a great technique to help
concentrate on the task at hand. This technique suggests regular breaks between working on a
task. For example, 25 minutes of work, five minutes of break and repeat. This way, you will also
be able to concentrate on the tiniest of details. Sometimes what’s important is keeping life
simple and enjoying the intricacies.
A lot of these secrets are very much in the mind and regard how we perceive things. However,
Okinawans have managed to change their external lifestyles to suit their spiritual and mental
demands. They use the Okinawan Miracle Diet. This is a typical meal plan of the Okinawa
residents that has helped them sustain their health and vitality. This plan includes at least five
servings of fruits and vegetables, limited salt and almost no sugar as well as a high
concentration of natural antioxidants. They have great conviction in “hara hachi bu” or the 80%
rule, which suggests eating only until your stomach is 80% full and never beyond that. The
Shikuvara fruit is also an important contributor to their healthy lives.
The book has a plethora of little ways to make your life feel fulfilled and complete. Life can be
long, but how you spend each day is what matters. In the words of the book, “Life is
imperfection but having a clear sense of ikigai can create unbelievable possibilities,” and it is
these possibilities that you must look forward to.