Book Review : Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

He who has a “why” to live for can bear with any “how”…

About the Book

My Rating : ★★★
Published In : 2017
Plot : Authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles attempts to link the longevity of the Japanese people with the concept of Ikigai – the happiness of always being busy, as revealed by the daily habits of the world’s longest-living people. Having a strong sense of Ikigai – the place where passion, mission, vocation, and profession intersect – means that each day is infused with meaning.

Japan has always held the crown for the longest living humans – almost 20 years higher than the world average. Within Japan, Okinawa holds the “global immortality” title as it has the highest occurrence of centenarians in the world with 24.5 inhabitants of age more 100 for every 1,00,000 people.

The book touches the various aspects of long and happy life in Okinawa which is is based on the ancient, well practiced Japanese technique called — IKIGAI. The word Ikigai roughly translates to “the happiness of always being busy,” but the best translation for me personally was : A reason to jump out of bed each morning!

The author tries to portray Ikigai as a combination of four elements: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Having a clearly defined Ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness and meaning to our lives. As the Japanese proverb puts it, “Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years…” , being physically active and being mindful of your health and nutrition is also at the core of this concept.

Nurturing friendships, eating light, getting enough rest and doing regular, moderate exercise are all part of equation of good health.. With Ikigai at the heart of it all.

While the title of the book makes it sound like its gonna deep dive into the world of Ikigai, it actually borrows heavily from the work of others, from Victor Frankl, Taleb to the guys studying flow states. The chapters talk about things like the state of flow, logotherapy and morita-therapy which both can well connect to the Ikigai-concept, on being active, what one should eat, exercises, and facing problems and change.

I felt that some of the advice was helpful, but at times generalized and unfocused in this book. You get tidbits of insight on Japanese culture here, but it’s more in the eyes of the authors experiencing the culture than it is direct voicing from the culture itself. That’s a problem when you’re trying to directly center on aspects which are unique to a specific culture – it shouldn’t be told through a lens that’s summarized and doesn’t give a true backstory.

Many of the concepts in the book were helpful ones from a health perspective, but it still wasn’t concrete enough for me to feel like it was supported by research, experience, or cultural insights. It’s a quick read and doesn’t take much time at all to get through, but I would encourage others to – if you’re going to pick this up – seek out other narratives that explain the concept of “Ikigai” – this only scratches a small surface, and the experience is a bit unfulfilling at the potential opportunities the narrative could’ve used to dig deeper.


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