Ikigai: H.Garcia & F.Miralles - Summary & Analysis (1/2)
“Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years” – Japanese proverb
The art of staying young while growing old.
What is your reason for being?
According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai — what a French philosopher might call a raison d’être. Some people have found their ikigai, while others are still looking, though they carry it within them.
Our ikigai is hidden deep inside each of us, and finding it requires a patient search. Our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning.
Whatever you do, don’t retire!
One surprising thing you notice, living in Japan, is how active people remain after they retire. In fact, many Japanese people never really retire — they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows.
There is, in fact, no word in Japanese that means retire in the sense of “leaving the workforce for good” as in English.
In Japanese, ikigai is written as 生き甲斐 (ikigai), combining 生き(iki), which means “life,” with 甲斐 (gai), which means “to be worthwhile.” 甲斐 can be broken down into the characters 甲, which means “armor,” “number one,” and “to be the first” (to head into battle, taking initiative as a leader), and 斐, which means “beautiful” or “elegant.
The Five Blue Zones,
Okinawa holds first place among the world’s Blue Zones. In Okinawa, women in particular live longer and have fewer diseases than anywhere else in the world:
Okinawa, Japan (especially the northern part of the island). The locals eat a diet rich in vegetables and tofu typically served on small plates. In addition to their philosophy of ikigai, the moai, or close-knit group of friends, plays an important role in their longevity.
Sardinia, Italy (specifically the provinces of Nuoro and Ogliastra). Locals on this island consume plenty of vegetables and one or two glasses of wine per day. As in Okinawa, the cohesive nature of this community is another factor directly related to longevity.
Loma Linda, California. Researchers studied a group of Seventh-day Adventists who are among the longest-living people in the United States.
The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Locals remain remarkably active after ninety; many of the region’s older residents have no problem getting up at 5:30 in the morning to work in the fields.
Ikaria, Greece. One of every three inhabitants of this island near the coast of Turkey is over ninety years old (compared to less than 1% of the population of the United States), a fact that has earned it the nickname “The Island of Long Life”. The local secret seems to be a lifestyle.
It is worth pointing out that three of these regions are islands, where resources can be scarce and communities have to help one another. For many, helping others might be an ikigai strong enough to keep them alive.
Members of these communities manage their time well in order to reduce stress, consume little meat or processed foods, and drink alcohol in moderation. They don’t do strenuous exercise, but they do move every day, taking walks and working in their vegetable gardens. People in the Blue Zones would rather walk than drive.
Gardening, which involves daily low-intensity movement, is a practice almost all of them have in common.
The 80 Percent Secret.
One of the most common sayings in Japan is “Hara hachi bu,” which is repeated before or after eating and means something like “Fill your belly to 80 percent.” Ancient wisdom advises against eating until we are full. This is why Okinawans stop eating when they feel their stomachs reach 80 percent of their capacity, rather than overeating and wearing down their bodies with long digestive processes that accelerate cellular oxidation.
Moai: Connected for life.
It is customary in Okinawa to form close bonds within local communities. A moai is an informal group of people with common interests who look out for one another. For many, serving the community becomes part of their ikigai.
The moai has its origins in hard times, when farmers would get together to share best practices and help one another cope with meager harvests.
Members of a moai make a set monthly contribution to the group. This payment allows them to participate in meetings, dinners, games of go and shogi (Japanese chess), or whatever hobby they have in common.
The funds collected by the group are used for activities, but if there is money left over, one member (decided on a rotating basis) receives a set amount from the surplus. In this way, being part of a moai helps maintain emotional and financial stability. If a member of a moai is in financial trouble, he or she can get an advance from the group’s savings.
II. Anti-ageing Secrets.
Little things that add up to a long and happy life.
Aging’s escape velocity.
For more than a century, we’ve managed to add an average of 0.3 years to our life expectancy every year. But what would happen if we had the technology to add a year of life expectancy every year? In theory, we would achieve biological immortality, having reached aging’s “escape velocity.”
Just as a lack of physical exercise has negative effects on our bodies and mood, a lack of mental exercise is bad for us because it causes our neurons and neural connections to deteriorate — and, as a result, reduces our ability to react to our surroundings.
This is why it’s so important to give your brain a workout.
Our neurons start to age while we are still in our twenties. This process is slowed, however, by intellectual activity, curiosity, and a desire to learn. Dealing with new situations, learning something new every day, playing games, and interacting with other people seem to be essential antiaging strategies for the mind. Furthermore, a more positive outlook in this regard will yield greater mental benefits.
Stress: Accused of killing longevity.
Many people seem older than they are. Research into the causes of premature aging has shown that stress has a lot to do with it, because the body wears down much faster during periods of crisis.
In a high stress situation our antibodies react the same way they react to pathogens — activating the proteins that trigger an immune response. The problem is that this response not only neutralises harmful agents, it also damages healthy cells, leading them to age prematurely.
How does stress work?
Comparing stone-age humans to modern day...
Stress has a degenerative effect over time. A sustained state of emergency affects the neurons associated with memory, as well as inhibiting the release of certain hormones, the absence of which can cause depression. Its secondary effects include irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure.
Be mindful about reducing stress.
Whether or not the threats we perceive are real, stress is an easily identifiable condition that not only causes anxiety but is also highly psychosomatic, affecting everything from our digestive system to our skin.
One way to reach a state of mindfulness is through meditation, which helps filter the information that reaches us from the outside world. It can also be achieved through breathing exercises, yoga, and body scans.
Achieving mindfulness involves a gradual process of training, but with a bit of practice we can learn to focus our mind completely, which reduces stress and helps us live longer.
A little stress is good for you.
While sustained, intense stress is a known enemy of longevity and both mental and physical health, low levels of stress have been shown to be beneficial.
A lot of sitting will age you.
Spending too much time seated at work or at home not only reduces muscular and respiratory fitness but also increases appetite and curbs the desire to participate in activities.
A model’s best-kept secret.
Most of those who make their living as models claim to sleep between nine and ten hours the night before a fashion show. This gives their skin a taut, wrinkle-free appearance and a healthy, radiant glow.
The mind has tremendous power over the body and how quickly it ages. Most doctors agree that the secret to keeping the body young is keeping the mind active — a key element of ikigai — and in not caving in when we face difficulties throughout our lives.
A stoic attitude — serenity in the face of a setback — can also help keep you young, as it lowers anxiety and stress levels and stabilizes behavior. This can be seen in the greater life expectancies of certain cultures with unhurried, deliberate lifestyles.
III. From Logotherapy to ikigai.
How to live longer and better by finding your purpose.
What is logotherapy?
Frankl explains that one of the first questions he would ask his patients was “Why do you not commit suicide?”
Usually the patient found good reasons not to, and was able to carry on. What, then, does logotherapy do?
The answer is pretty clear: It helps you find reasons to live.
Logotherapy pushes patients to consciously discover their life’s purpose in order to confront their neuroses. Their quest to fulfill their destiny then motivates them to press forward, breaking the mental chains of the past and overcoming whatever obstacles they encounter along the way.
Frankl himself would live and die for his principles and ideals. His experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz showed him that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” It was something he had to go through alone, without any help, and it inspired him for the rest of his life.
Ten Differences Between Psychoanalysis and Logotherapy.
Fight for yourself.
Existential frustration arises when our life is without purpose, or when that purpose is skewed. In Frankl’s view, however, there is no need to see this frustration as an anomaly or a symptom of neurosis; instead, it can be a positive thing — a catalyst for change.
Logotherapy does not see this frustration as mental illness, the way other forms of therapy do, but rather as spiritual anguish — a natural and beneficial phenomenon that drives those who suffer from it to seek a cure, whether on their own or with the help of others, and in so doing to find greater satisfaction in life. It helps them change their own destiny.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl cites one of Nietzsche’s famous aphorisms:
“He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”
Based on his own experience, Frankl believed that our health depends on that natural tension that comes from comparing what we’ve accomplished so far with what we’d like to achieve in the future. What we need, then, is not a peaceful existence, but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal.
Existential crisis, on the other hand, is typical of modern societies in which people do what they are told to do, or what others do, rather than what they want to do. They often try to fill the gap between what is expected of them and what they want for themselves with economic power or physical pleasure, or by numbing their senses.
Better living through logotherapy: A few key ideas:
We don’t create the meaning of our life, as Sartre claimed — we discover it.
We each have a unique reason for being, which can be adjusted or transformed many times over the years.
Just as worry often brings about precisely the thing that was feared, excessive attention to a desire (or “hyper-intention”) can keep that desire from being fulfilled.
Humor can help break negative cycles and reduce anxiety.
We all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things. The side of the equation we end up on depends on our decisions, not on the condition in which we find ourselves.
In addition to being a psychotherapist, Shoma Morita was a Zen Buddhist, and his therapy left a lasting spiritual mark on Japan.
Many Western forms of therapy focus on controlling or modifying the patient’s emotions. In the West, we tend to believe that what we think influences how we feel, which in turn influences how we act. In contrast, Morita therapy focuses on teaching patients to accept their emotions without trying to control them, since their feelings will change as a result of their actions.
In addition to accepting the patient’s emotions, Morita therapy seeks to “create” new emotions on the basis of actions. According to Morita, these emotions are learned through experience and repetition. Morita therapy is not meant to eliminate symptoms; instead it teaches us to accept our desires, anxieties, fears, and worries, and let them go.
The basic principles of Morita therapy.
Accept your feelings. If we have obsessive thoughts, we should not try to control them or get rid of them. If we do, they become more intense. Regarding human emotions, the Zen master would say, “If we try to get rid of one wave with another, we end up with an infinite sea.” We don’t create our feelings; they simply come to us, and we have to accept them. The trick is welcoming them. Morita likened emotions to the weather: We can’t predict or control them; we can only observe them.
Do what you should be doing. We shouldn’t focus on eliminating symptoms, because recovery will come on its own. We should focus instead on the present moment, and if we are suffering, on accepting that suffering. Above all, we should avoid intellectualizing the situation. The therapist’s mission is to develop the patient’s character so he or she can face any situation, and character is grounded in the things we do. Morita therapy does not offer its patients explanations, but rather allows them to learn from their actions and activities. It doesn’t tell you how to meditate, or how to keep a diary the way Western therapies do. It is up to the patient to make discoveries through experience.
Discover your life’s purpose. We can’t control our emotions, but we can take charge of our actions every day. This is why we should have a clear sense of our purpose, and always keep Morita’s mantra in mind:
“What do we need to be doing right now? What action should we be taking?”
The key to achieving this is having dared to look inside yourself to find your ikigai.
Morita was a great Zen master of Naikan introspective meditation. Much of his therapy draws on his knowledge and mastery of this school, which centers on three questions the individual must ask him- or herself:
What have I received from person x? What have I given to person x? What problems have I cased person x?
Through these reflections, we stop identifying others as the cause of our problems and deepen our own sense of responsibility.
And now, ikigai.
Logotherapy and Morita therapy are both grounded in a personal, unique experience that you can access without therapists or spiritual retreats: the mission of finding your ikigai, your existential fuel. Once you find it, it is only a matter of having the courage and making the effort to stay on the right path.
What you’ll need to get moving along this path:
Find flow in the tasks you’ve chosen to do.
Eat in a balanced and mindful way.
Do low-intensity exercise.
Learn not to give in when difficulties arise.
In order to do this, you have to accept that the world — like the people who live in it — is imperfect, but that it is still full of opportunities for growth and achievement.
IV. Find Flow in Everything You Do.
How to turn work and free time into spaces for growth.
Going with the flow.
We’ve all felt our sense of time vanish when we lose ourselves in an activity we enjoy. We start cooking and before we know it, several hours have passed. We spend an afternoon with a book and forget about the world going by until we notice the sunset and realize we haven’t eaten dinner. We go surfing and don’t realize how many hours we have spent in the water until the next day, when our muscles ache.
The opposite can also happen. When we have to complete a task we don’t want to do, every minute feels like a lifetime and we can’t stop looking at our watch.
The power of flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the state where we’re completely immersed in what we are doing “flow,” and described it as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life.
A key ingredient to ikigai is the ability to reach a state of flow, and through that state, have an “optimal experience.”
As Csikszentmihalyi asserts in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
When we’re in flow, we are focused on a concrete task without any distractions. Our mind is “in order.” The opposite occurs when we try to do something while our mind is on other things.
The Seven Conditions for Achieving Flow.
Strategy 1: Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult!)
Take on tasks that we have a chance of completing but that are slightly outside our comfort zone.
The ideal is to find a middle path, something aligned with our abilities but just a bit of a stretch, so we experience it as a challenge. This is what Ernest Hemingway meant when he said, “Sometimes I write better than I can.”
Add a little something extra, something that takes you out of your comfort zone.
Even doing something as simple as reading means following certain rules, having certain abilities and knowledge. If the book is appropriate to our knowledge and abilities, and builds on what we already know, we’ll immerse ourselves in our reading, and time will flow. This pleasure and satisfaction are evidence that we are in tune with our ikigai.
Strategy 2: Have a clear, concrete objective.
Video games (played in moderation), board games, and sports are great ways to achieve flow, because the objective tends to be very clear: Beat your rival or your own record while following a set of explicitly defined rules.
What often happens, especially in big companies, is that the executives get lost in the details of obsessive planning, creating strategies to hide the fact that they don’t have a clear objective. It’s like heading out to sea with a map but no destination.
In business, the creative professions, and education alike, it’s important to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting to work, study, or make something.
Having a clear objective is important in achieving flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind when we get down to business. Once the journey has begun, we should keep this objective in mind without obsessing over it.
Strategy 3: Concentrate on a single task.
This is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles we face today, with so much technology and so many distractions.
We’re listening to a video on YouTube while writing an e-mail, when suddenly a chat prompt pops up and we answer it. Then our smartphone vibrates in our pocket; just as soon as we respond to that message, we’re back at our computer, logging on to Facebook.
Pretty soon thirty minutes have passed, and we’ve forgotten what the e-mail we were writing was supposed to be about.
We often think that combining tasks will save us time, but scientific evidence shows that it has the opposite effect. Even those who claim to be good at multitasking are not very productive. In fact, they are some of the least productive people.
Our brains can take in millions of bits of information but can only actually process a few dozen per second. When we say we’re multitasking, what we’re really doing is switching back and forth between tasks very quickly.
Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, in order to focus on a task we need:
To be in a distraction-free environment.
To have control over what we are doing at every moment.
What can we do to avoid falling victim to this flow-impeding epidemic? How can we train our brains to focus on a single task? Here are a few ideas for creating a space and time free of distractions, to increase our chances of reaching a state of flow and thereby getting in touch with our ikigai:
Microflow: Enjoying mundane tasks.
We’ve all been bored in a class or at a conference and started doodling to keep ourselves entertained. Or whistled while painting a wall. If we’re not truly being challenged, we get bored and add a layer of complexity to amuse ourselves. Our ability to turn routine tasks into moments of microflow, into something we enjoy, is key to our being happy, since we all have to do such tasks.
Csikszentmihalyi calls this microflow.
Instant vacations: Getting there through meditation.
Training the mind can get us to a place of flow more quickly. Meditation is one way to exercise our mental muscles.
There are many types of meditation, but they all have the same objective: calming the mind, observing our thoughts and emotions, and centering our focus on a single object.
The basic practice involves sitting with a straight back and focusing on your breath. Anyone can do it, and you feel a difference after just one session. By fixing your attention on the air moving in and out of your nose, you can slow the torrent of thoughts and clear your mental horizons.
Meditation generates alpha and theta brain waves. For those experienced in meditation, these waves appear right away, while it might take a half hour for a beginner to experience them. These relaxing brain waves are the ones that are activated right before we fall asleep, as we lie in the sun, or right after taking a hot bath.
We all carry a spa with us everywhere we go. It’s just a matter of knowing how to get in — something anyone can do, with a bit of practice.
Humans are ritualistic beings.
Rituals give us clear rules and objectives, which help us enter a state of flow. Focus on enjoying your daily rituals, using them as tools to enter a state of flow. Don’t worry about the outcome — it will come naturally.
Happiness is in the doing, not in the result. As a rule of thumb, remind yourself: “Rituals over goals.”
The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.
Using Flow to find your ikigai.
Flow is mysterious. It is like a muscle: the more you train it, the more you will flow, and the closer you will be to your ikigai.
Never Stop Learning“You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
— T. H. White, The Once and Future King