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Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

·11 mins
Book Notes Nonfiction Self Help Philosophy
Table of Contents



  • How does it inspire people to stay active until the very end? What is the secret to a long and happy life? What is the meaning of my life?
  • This Japanese concept, which translates roughly as “the happiness of always being busy,” is like logotherapy, but it goes a step beyond.
  • Okinawans live by the principle of ichariba chode, a local expression that means “treat everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before.”


  • Having a purpose in life is so important in Japanese culture that our idea of retirement simply doesn’t exist there.
  • 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 five thirty 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 percent 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 that dates back to 500 BC.
  • 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.”
  • Okinawans consume a daily average of 1,800 to 1,900 calories, compared to 2,200 to 3,300 in the United States, and have a body mass index between 18 and 22, compared to 26 or 27 in the United States.


  • The technology we have. For example, some biologists assert that our cells stop regenerating after about 120 years.
  • 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.
  • Stress: Accused of killing longevity.
    • The American Institute of Stress investigated this degenerative process and concluded that most health problems are caused by stress.
    • Stress promotes cellular aging by weakening cell structures known as telomeres, which affect cellular regeneration and how our cells age. As the study revealed, the greater the stress, the greater the degenerative effect on cells.
    • The central premise of this stress-reduction method is focusing on the self: noticing our responses, even if they are conditioned by habit, in order to be fully conscious of them.
  • 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.
  • 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. Being sedentary can lead to hypertension, imbalanced eating, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even certain kinds of cancer.
  • we just have to add a few ingredients to our everyday habits: Walk to work, or just go on a walk for at least twenty minutes each day. Use your feet instead of an elevator or escalator. This is good for your posture, your muscles, and your respiratory system, among other things. Participate in social or leisure activities so that you don’t spend too much time in front of the television. Replace your junk food with fruit and you’ll have less of an urge to snack, and more nutrients in your system. Get the right amount of sleep. Seven to nine hours is good, but any more than that makes us lethargic. Play with children or pets, or join a sports team. This not only strengthens the body but also stimulates the mind and boosts self-esteem. Be conscious of your daily routine in order to detect harmful habits and replace them with more positive ones.
  • 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.
  • The people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness.
  • To keep healthy and have a long life, eat just a little of everything with relish, go to bed early, get up early, and then go out for a walk. We live each day with serenity and we enjoy the journey. To keep healthy and have a long life, we get on well with all of our friends. Spring, summer, fall, winter, we happily enjoy all the seasons. The secret is to not get distracted by how old the fingers are; from the fingers to the head and back once again. If you keep moving with your fingers working, 100 years will come to you.


What is Logotherapy?

  • “Well, in logotherapy the patient sits up straight and has to listen to things that are, on occasion, hard to hear.”
  • “In psychoanalysis, the patient lies down on a couch and tells you things that are, on occasion, hard to say.”
  • “Why do you not commit suicide?”
  • The process of logotherapy can be summarized in these five steps: A person feels empty, frustrated, or anxious. The therapist shows him that what he is feeling is the desire to have a meaningful life. The patient discovers his life’s purpose (at that particular point in time). Of his own free will, the patient decides to accept or reject that destiny. This newfound passion for life helps him overcome obstacles and sorrows.
  • 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.
  • We don’t create the meaning of our life, as Sartre claimed—we discover it.
  • Humor can help break negative cycles and reduce anxiety.

The basic principles of Morita therapy

  • Accept your feelings.
  • Do what you should be doing.
  • Discover your life’s purpose.


  • You are completely immersed in the experience, not thinking about or distracted by anything else. Your ego dissolves, and you become part of what you are doing.
  • Knowing what to do Knowing how to do it Knowing how well you are doing Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved) Perceiving significant challenges Perceiving significant skills Being free from distractions
  • Strategy 1: Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult!)
  • Strategy 2: Have a clear, concrete objective
  • Strategy 3: Concentrate on a single task
  • 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.
  • One common example of this is writer’s block. Imagine that a writer has to finish a novel in three months. The objective is clear; the problem is that the writer can’t stop obsessing over it. Every day she wakes up thinking, “I have to write that novel,” and every day she sets about reading the newspaper and cleaning the house. Every evening she feels frustrated and promises she’ll get to work the next day.
  • As soon as you take these first small steps, your anxiety will disappear and you will achieve a pleasant flow in the activity you’re doing.
  • Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.
  • Don’t look at any kind of screen for the first hour you’re awake and the last hour before you go to sleep.
  • Turn off your phone before you achieve flow. There is nothing more important than the task you have chosen to do during this time. Designate one day of the week, perhaps a Saturday or Sunday, a day of technological “fasting,” making exceptions only for e-readers (without Wi-Fi) or MP3 players. Read and respond to e-mail only once or twice per day.
  • Divide each activity into groups of related tasks, and assign each group its own place and time.
  • Bundle routine tasks—such as sending out invoices, making phone calls, and so on—and do them all at once.
  • One of the first words one learns when starting Japanese lessons is ganbaru, which means “to persevere” or “to stay firm by doing one’s best.”
  • Artists know how important it is to protect their space, control their environment, and be free of distractions if they want to flow with their ikigai.
  • 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.
  • Rituals give us clear rules and objectives, which help us enter a state of flow. When we have only a big goal in front of us, we might feel lost or overwhelmed by it; rituals help us by giving us the process, the sub-steps, on the path to achieving a goal. When confronted with a big goal, try to break it down into parts and then attack each part one by
  • Happiness is in the doing, not in the result.
  • Write all of them on a piece of paper, then ask yourself these questions: What do the activities that drive you to flow have in common? Why do those activities drive you to flow?
  • 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.


  • This mabui is our spirit and the source of our life force. It is immortal and makes us who we are.
  • Washington Burnap stated two hundred years ago: “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”
  • The best way to avoid anxiety is to go out in the street and say hello to people.
  • 15 natural antioxidants found in the Okinawan diet: Tofu Miso Tuna Carrots Goya (bitter melon) Kombu (sea kelp) Cabbage Nori (seaweed) Onion Soy sprouts Hechima (cucumber-like gourd) Soybeans (boiled or raw) Sweet potato Peppers Sanpin-cha (jasmine tea)
  • People who live longest are not the ones who do the most exercise but rather the ones who move the most.


  • Zeno of Citium began his studies with the Cynics. The Cynics also led ascetic lives, leaving behind all earthly pleasures
  • Stoicism, which centers on the idea that there is nothing wrong with enjoying life’s pleasures as long as they do not take control of your life as you enjoy them. You have to be prepared for those pleasures to disappear. The
  • The objective of the virtuous person is to reach a state of tranquility (apatheia): the absence of negative feelings such as anxiety, fear, shame, vanity, and anger, and the presence of positive feelings such as happiness, love, serenity, and gratitude.
  • In the words of Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.”
  • One of the most commonly used mantras in Buddhism focuses on controlling negative emotions: “Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ ,” in which oṃ is the generosity that purifies the ego, ma is the ethics that purifies jealousy, ṇi is the patience that purifies passion and desire, pad is the precision that purifies bias, me is the surrender that purifies greed, and hūṃ is the wisdom that purifies hatred.
  • “The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment,” observes the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
  • Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it in things that are flawed, incomplete.
  • Right now you might be thinking, “I don’t need more than one salary, and I’m happy with the friends I’ve always had. Why should I add anything new?” It might seem like a waste of time to add variation to our lives, because extraordinary things don’t ordinarily happen. We slip into a comfort zone. But the unexpected always happens, sooner or later.
  • The ten rules of ikigai: 1) Stay active; don’t retire, 2) Take it slow, 3) Don’t fill your stomach, 4) Surround yourself with good friends, 5) Get in shape for your next birthday, 6) Smile, 7) Reconnect with nature, 8) Give thanks, 9) Live in the moment, 10) Follow your ikigai.

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