In the most practical terms, ikigai is about finding something you love to do and doing it for as long as you’re able. It’s no coincidence that such a philosophy should gain traction in Japan, where “retirement” is a foreign concept and where the elderly feel remarkably alive because of it.
The island of Okinawa is one of five so-called Blue Zones — areas of the world in which people live the longest. This list is rounded out by Sardinia in Italy, Loma Linda in California, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Ikaria in Greece.
In addition to the healthy diet and exercise one would expect, common to all of these communities is a deep sense of purpose and belonging. Lack of stress has a profoundly positive effect on the body and knowing that all one’s efforts mean something helps mitigate a lot of the unnecessary stress we place upon ourselves.
Ikigai is important, but so is general health. Science suggests that premature aging and a host of other health problems are linked to stress. One doesn’t need pages of research to know that human beings carry more stress now than at any point in history.
Whereas our prehistoric ancestors had a lot of downtimes, dealt with only occasional crises, and faced real predators, we modern humans are crisis magnets who take pride in our full schedules and treat abstract things such as push notifications and emails as if they were threats to our very existence. Reducing the effects of stress begins with self-awareness, with knowing our habits intimately and living in the moment.
Meditation and yoga, while helpful, are only partial solutions and must be included as part of the holistic approach to stress reduction. Neither should we seek to rid ourselves completely of stress, as a moderate amount of it can inspire us to do great things.
Aging may look superficial, but your body is only as sound as your mind. Maintaining a youthful and energetic outlook can, therefore, go a long way in determining the quality of your life.
Whether playing a board game with friends or learning a new language, mental exercise is just as important as physical. It creates new neural connections and revitalizes the brain, especially when the activity pushes you slightly beyond your comfort zone. On the flip side, what we do with our bodies also has a profound effect on the brain.
Our habit of sitting, for example, has become one of the most detrimental health epidemics of our daily lives. And nothing can replace the importance of getting enough sleep, which does wonders for our skin, energy levels, and overall health. But a positive mindset and active body mean little without a foundation of genuine emotional awareness.
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