The people of Okinawa, a group of islands off the southern tip of Japan, live longer, healthier lives than most. As of 2016, the average life expectancy in Japan was nearly 90 years old. Okinawa itself boasts one of the highest populations of centenarians in the world. They cultivate their extraordinary health and longevity in many ways on the island, including a naturally active lifestyle, a traditionally healthy diet, and the cultural concepts of Hara Hachi Bu, Moai, and Ikigai.
Hara Hachi Bu is a fairly simple dietary concept that originated in Okinawa. It straightforwardly instructs individuals to eat until they are 80% full. This is a level that allows the individual to feel satiated, but not overly full.
Eating slowly and deliberately can help people respond to their body’s cues more effectively, preventing overeating. It is easier for a person to recognize they are 80% full when they are eating more mindfully and focusing on their food, rather than on their phone or television.
Moai is another important component of the Okinawan culture. This is a group of lifelong friends that provide support for one another in all areas of their lives, from emotional and moral support to financial support.
In Okinawa, these groups are often placed together when they are young children, and they maintain their close connections throughout their lives, sometimes into their hundreds. In some cases, people may even belong to more than one Moai.
The final and most complex of the concepts mentioned is ikigai, a word that translates into English as a reason to live. Ikigai is usually illustrated as the intersection of a four-set Venn diagram—like this.
As you can see, there are four intersecting circles, also known as sets, that make up this diagram. Each set encompasses a key component to discovering your own personal ikigai. The components include:
We must take all four components into consideration when searching for your ikigai and purpose in life.
While some of us may have a very clear idea of what it is that we love in life, others may still be learning about what all is out there to love. If you are still exploring new things to love, these questions may help point you in the right direction.
When the “What you love” set is missing from the equation, you are likely to be financially comfortable in life, but it may ultimately leave you with feelings of emptiness and apathy.
This area not only includes your talents, those activities which you are naturally good at, it also includes the skills that you have gained through education and experience. When listing the things you are good at, include activities you are good at that you don’t necessarily enjoy. After listing all the skills and talents that you can remember, check with the people who know you best. You might discover a talent for adapting to new situations that you had been taking for granted, or exceptional communication skills.
When the “What you are good at” section isn’t represented, you may feel fulfilled by your life’s work, but it may also leave you feeling shaky and uncertain.
There are plenty of problems in the world that need fixing, it’s just a matter of narrowing down which needs you are well-suited to address. The world need could be one that affects many people, like eliminating pollution or reducing worldwide waste. It could also be one that only affects a few people, like being a nanny or providing paying jobs.
This component has some fluidity to it due to constantly shifting world needs and evolving technology. What the world needs today may not be the same thing that the world needs tomorrow. Think about how your interests and skills might help to solve other people’s problems to address this set.
Neglecting the “What the world needs” component, may afflict you with a sense of uselessness, although otherwise satisfying.
The last part of the diagram is income. Whether paid in cash or resources, ensuring that our ikigai won’t eventually lead us to financial ruin is essential. This portion of the diagram is about covering the primary needs for yourself and your family, rather than being about collecting vast stores of resources.
If the “What you can get paid for” question goes unanswered, it may fill you to the brim with delight and even purpose, but you will likely run out of resources to feed, shelter, and clothe yourself and those you are responsible for.
The residents of Okinawa are not the only long-lived culture to have a concept like ikigai. Residents of the Nicoya Peninsula, on the coast of Costa Rica, call this concept their “Plan de Vida,” or soul’s purpose. Like ikigai, the Plan de Vida is credited with improving the length and quality of life for adherents.
Finding and pursuing your ikigai is something that takes time. You must not only understand yourself, but you must also identify how you fit in with the people around you and how your actions can sometimes affect people outside of your sphere. The comfort and contentment of following your Ikigai is well worth the time spent finding it.
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