There are plenty of good habits that’ll help lead you to a long and happy life: love what you do for a living, eat lots of vegetables, minimize the drinking, and surround yourself with positive people. The list goes on. While the jury is still out on whether or not all of these habits make a big difference, a whole bunch of people have been living longer and happier lives by following one particular Japanese philosophy.
Have you heard of Ikigai? It’s making its way into pop culture thanks to the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. Essentially, Ikigai is a Japanese philosophy of living that embraces nature and friendship, and is said to lead to a longer, better life. Sounds pretty peaceful.
It all started on the Japanese island of Okinawa, where residents swear by Ikigai and also happen to boast the largest population of centenarians in the world. Garcia and Miralles lived among these people to study their ways of life and come up with a few tips that we Westerners might want to consider applying to our own lives to help us live happier and longer too.
Want in on their secrets? According to Ikigai, here are the 10 cardinal rules to making the most of your life.
1. Stay active and don’t retire
Okay, you’ve probably heard this one before. Find something that you love, and continue doing it well into your golden years. Think about it: once you cash in those chips and decide to golf for the rest of your days… well, you could lose your sense of purpose, and there won’t be much to look forward to next.
2. Leave urgency behind and adopt a slower pace of life
Don’t sweat the small stuff, right? Or how about walk, don’t run? We suppose there’s something to these sayings that’s worth listening to — especially since the centenarians in Okinawa follow them.
3. Only eat until you’re 80 per cent full
For those of us who grew up with parents that made us sit at the table until our plates were clean, this is probably the hardest rule to follow. After all, how many of us eat mindlessly when we’re not even hungry? Or overeat not-so-healthy food on the daily? Probably too many of us. According to Ikigai, eating until you’re only 80 per cent full, and focusing on having smaller portions, loaded with lots of fruits and veggies will help you live longer. It makes your digestive system work a little less harder, which supposedly slows down the aging process.
4. Surround yourself with good friends
Good people equal good times. Who wouldn’t want to live longer for that? We have to say that our souls always feel better after a great talk with a bestie, so this one makes perfect sense. Girls night, here we come.
5. Get in shape through daily, gentle exercise
Sorry SoulCycle, but according to those who practice Ikigai, slow and steady wins the race of life. So the next time you’re thinking of killing yourself with a killer workout, perhaps get into the habit of a daily, peaceful stroll instead. Need something a little more structured? Try yoga or Tai Chi.
6. Smile and acknowledge people around you
This one makes perfect sense — we go about our busy lives without ever really looking at or appreciating the people around us way too often, and that’s kind of sad when you think about it. Want to start reconnecting with those around you? Strike up that conversation with the cashier the next time you’re at the grocery store, or look at the person holding the door open for you in the eye and smile as you say thank you rather than hurrying on by.
7. Reconnect with nature
We all love our screens, but once in a while, it’s important to put the cell phone away, turn off the TV and go out for a nice walk. And what better time to get into hiking than the fall? It’s hard not to appreciate the pretty colours and refreshing air at this time of year. Also worth noting? Nearly everyone in Okinawa tends to their own vegetable garden. So if gardening is up your alley, that’s something to consider taking on too.
8. Give thanks to anything that brightens your day and makes you feel alive.
Maybe there’s something to be said about writing those gratitude journals after all. That Oprah… she’s such an Ikigai genius. Want to start one of your own? Take a few minutes at the end of each day and jot down three things you’re grateful for.
9. Live in the moment
Here’s another hard one for most Westerners to follow — living in the moment. Often, we’re so busy getting jazzed up about our next trip or thinking about our next delicious meal that we don’t actually stop and think about what we’re doing in the moment. Well, time to change that one, because according to Ikigai it’s all about staying in the present. And it makes so much sense — if you’re always living for the future, you’ll never really be happy in the present.
10. Follow your Ikigai
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. That same principle can be applied to Ikigai, which encourages self-forgiveness and self-awareness when pursuing your passion. No one is perfect. And a life that encourages perfection from all angles just sounds like a lot of work to us.
Maybe this Ikigai thing is worth a shot. After all, what do you have to lose?