There are certain locations in the world that are called Blue Zones. The people in these zones, women in particular, live longer and have fewer diseases. Foremost in these zones is the island of Okinawa in Japan, a place where happiness thrive despite having been greatly devastated during the second world war. Central to the serene lives of the people of Ogimi, Okinawa is ikigai, a Japanese concept which roughly translates to ‘ the happiness of always being busy.’ In Japan, they do not have a word for retirement because they don’t retire; they carry on with what they love doing so long as their bodies would allow.
I was introduced to ikigai in one of the corporate social responsibility forums I attended as a former team member of the Aboitiz group. I understood that ikigai is the meeting point of passion, mission, vocation and profession. When you do what you love, you’ve met your passion. When what you love is also what the world needs, you’ve found your mission. When what you are good it enables you to earn to provide for your needs, then you’ve built your profession. When your profession is aligned to the needs of the world, you’ve found your vocation.
I thought I found my ikigai having been in social development work in the past 20-plus years. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what I do, I am constantly grateful for the experiences and growth, and I know that my best days are yet to come. But if I had truly found my ikigai, why do I get tired? Why are there days when I had to drag myself out of bed? Why are there times when I am tempted to let go and do something else? Why do I periodically lose my sense of purpose? I may have found some of the missing pieces in this book by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.
Ikigai, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life enlarges the purpose-centered conversations that we have listened to or been a part of these past couple of years. While I understood that purpose is being part and accountable for something larger than ourselves, purpose can be inward as we look into the gifts and talents that we enjoy and place us in this state called ‘flow.’
Flow is the state when we lose sense of time by being completely immersed in what we are doing. There is neither past nor future as we are completely immersed in the present. When we are in flow, nothing else seems to matter and we are just fully immersed in creativity and process. In flow, there is balance between skill and challenge so we neither get anxious nor bored. Flow is my most important learning from this book enabling me to reflect on the solitary activities that make me flow: writing, reading, drafting project ideas, making google sheets, making artworks, walking, traveling. Flow is key in happiness. Flow is central in the concept of ikigai.
Beyond flow, this wonderful book also uncovers the other elements of longevity and happiness: diet, exercise, and forming social ties. Now these are the elements that I personally would need to work on. I am the most undisciplined person when it comes to diet and exercise. And of course, how may I form social ties when to begin with, I am introverted, and second, I have developed judgments already based on what people post on social media or how they behave in the physical neighborhood. Bottom line, happiness is simply both work and decision and the quality of happiness we may have in our short life are determined by how we take care of our body, how we form and nurture social connections, and how we spend more time in flow thereby enriching our gifts and talents.
At 40, I am still a long way from my ikigai but I am grateful to have found and read this book in the course of one weekend. Before this book, I was reading the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Ricky Lee which infused my mind with ideas on peaceful anarchy, feminism, and nourishing our inner strengths. And in the previous week, I was enraptured by the powerful poetries of Amanda Gorman and Maya Angelou. Somewhere in these voices is my light, my ikigai. Amanda Gorman, in her inaugural poem, worded it beautifully: for there is always light if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.
Working towards happy and long years ahead.