How to find your ikigai – the Japanese secret to a long and happy life

Ikigai map

The people of Okinawa believe that the path to contentment lies in finding your ikigai. Héctor García & Francesc Miralles explore their wisdom and ideas…

Advertisement

We all need a passion, a drive, something that gives meaning to our lives. You may have already found yours. You may be at the start of your journey, enjoying the freedom to find and explore your passion. You may be wondering where your path begins.

For the Japanese, this raison d’être, this reason to jump out of bed each morning, is your ‘ikigai’. Some are saying that the ikigai trend could be the new hygge.

What is ikigai?

Ikigai (pronounced ik-ee-guy) translates roughly as ‘the happiness of always being busy’ (that’s busy as in occupied, not busy as in downing a coffee while simultaneously writing a presentation, wrestling a toddler into a pair of socks and running for the bus).

What better place to ponder and explore your individual ikigai than the beautiful southern Japanese island of Okinawa – home to some of the world’s longest-living people, for whom finding and living by their ikigai is the key to their long and happy lives.

The fifth largest island in Japan, Okinawa’s sandy beaches are surrounded by cobalt blue waters and coral reefs, while its subtropical climate supports a dense forest in the north.

But Okinawa is more than just a beautiful island – its uniqueness also lies in the lifestyle and outlook of its people. Whether you are drawn to explore Okinawa and your ikigai as a travel destination or as part of a virtual journey, you’ll see that ikigai and mindfulness have a lot in common.

And while there is no magic recipe to finding and living according to your ikigai, the 10 ‘rules’ below, distilled from the wisdom of the Okinawans, are a good place to start.

Read more related articles about wellbeing:

10 ways to find your ikigai – the Japanese secret to happiness

Illustration of a woman swimming by Holly McCulloch

1. Stay active – don’t retire

If we give up the things we love doing, and do well, we can lose our purpose in life. That’s why it’s so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out and shaping the world around us, even after our ‘official’ professional activity has ended. There is, in fact, no word in Japanese that means ‘retire’, in the sense of ‘leaving the workforce for good’, like in English.

Clock illustration by Holly McCulloch

2. Take it slow

Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes: ‘Walk slowly and you’ll go far.’ When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.

Bowl of noodles illustration by Holly McCulloch

3. Don’t fill your stomach

The Japanese concept of ‘hara hachi bu’ means to eat until you are only 80 per cent full. Less is more when it comes to eating for long life, too.

Smiling woman illustration by Holly McCulloch

4. Smile

Acknowledge the people around you. It’s okay to recognise the things that aren’t so great, but we should never forget what a privilege it is to be in the here and now in a world full of possibilities.

Bicycle illustration by Holly McCulloch

5. Get in shape for your next birthday

Water moves; it is at its best when it flows fresh and doesn’t stagnate. The body you move through life needs a bit of daily maintenance too. A daily walk is better than a high impact work out twice a week.

Friends illustration by Holly McCulloch

6. Surround yourself with good friends

Friends are the best medicine, there for confiding worries over a good chat, sharing stories that brighten your day, getting advice, having fun, dreaming… in other words, living.

Foilage illustration by Holly McCulloch

7. Reconnect with nature

Though most people live in cities these days, humans are made to be part of the natural world. We should return to it as often as possible to recharge our batteries.

Thank you illustration by Holly McCulloch

8. Give thanks

To our ancestors, to nature, to our friends and family, to everything that brightens our days and makes us feel lucky to be alive. Spend a moment every day giving thanks, and watch your stockpile of happiness grow.

Man with lipstick marks on his face illustration by Holly McCulloch

9. Live in the moment

Stop regretting the past and fearing the future. Today is all we have. Make the most of it. Make it worth remembering.

Starry night illustration by Holly McCulloch

10. Follow your ikigai

There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet… your mission is to discover it.

Ikigai illustrated poster

Download your free ikigai illustrated posters

Bring some ikigai inspiration into your home by downloading this gorgeous print to adorn your walls. We have two beautiful designs for you to choose from – pick the one you like best then simply click on the links below to download the design.

ITM_004_912.pdf

Download your floral ikigai illustrated print

Ikigai definition poster

Download your ikigai definition print

Ikigai book cover
This is an edited extract from Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles (Hutchinson, £12.99) – an inspiring and practical guide to help you find your personal ikigai. Illustrations by Holly McCulloch.

Advertisement

Order your copy on Amazon here.