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Can this ancient Japanese philosophy help you find true joy?

Ikigai helps people find meaningful activities in their lives

Donna Francis
Contributing Editor US
Updated: July 8, 2024
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On the Japanese island of Okinawa, people live longer than anywhere else in the world. And the key to the the island's longevity, which has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world, is finding your ‘ikigai’. 

Ikigai is an ancient Japanese philosophy that helps people find meaningful activities in their lives. The term combines "iki" (life) and "gai" (reason) and loosely translates to “the happiness of always being busy.”

"Our ikigai is different for each of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning,” explains Hector Garcia, co-author of The Ikigai Method: The Secrets of Japanese Philosophy for a Long and Happy Life. And Ikigai helps us to bring harmony between our bodies and our minds, encouraging us to find activities we excel in, enjoy, and that benefits others.

© by-studio

How to find your Ikigai

To discover your Ikigai, you need to consider these four things: activities you love; activities the world needs; activities you can get paid for and activities you do well. Creating lists for each category can help identify an activity that intersects all four. This could be a hobby, sport, or career. 

"Ikigai urges people to simplify their lives by pursuing what brings them joy," explains Marie Kondo, the decluttering expert and advocate of the method. She believes that by focusing on these lifestyle habits, you can find a fulfilling purpose that enhances both your life and also the lives of those around you.

Marie Kondo, the decluttering expert is a big advocate of Ikigai.
Marie Kondo, the decluttering expert is a big advocate of Ikigai.

RELAThe 10 rules of Ikigai

1. Stay active and never retire 

Embracing a lifelong engagement with activities you love, even for work, means that you will never want to retire, helping to keep you feeling young and happy.

2. Slow down for quality living 

According to Ikigai, rushing through life diminishes its richness so you must savour every moment and enhance life's meaning through deliberate living.

RELATED: Always busy? Try these go-slow tips for a happier life 

3. Eat mindfully

Think quality over quantity when embracing your diet and opt for satisfaction over excess. Many centenarians advise enjoying meals to 80% capacity, which emphasises the long-term happiness that mindful consumption brings.

MORE: 9 easy to follow food tips for living joyfully 

4. Cultivate friendships 

It is well known that nurturing relationships is key for finding true happiness and longevity. In Okinawa, centenarians thrive through community bonds and friendly competitions so get out there and get social.

READ: Why childhood friends are 'a tonic' when it comes to adult life 

5. Exercise 

It’s a no-brainer for finding those endorphin highs, so it’s no wonder that the Japanese philosophy encourages us to prepare for each birthday with a fitness goal. 

6. Embrace smiles

Acknowledge life's challenges while cherishing its opportunities. The co-authors, García and Miralles remind us that gratitude for the present enriches daily life.

Portrait of woman with afro hair smiling with white wall background.© Getty
Embrace smiling!

7. Reconnect with nature 

Even amid urban settings, nature refreshes our minds and spirits. Walking outdoors will boost productivity, mood, and memory, and of course give us an essential break from our daily routines.

NURTURED BY NATURE: Affected by anxiety and stress? You could have nature deficit disorder 

8. Practice gratitude

Reflect on life's blessings. Express appreciation for family, friends, and personal achievements to cultivate happiness and contentment.

INSPIRATION: How to practice gratitude for a happier life: an expert's guide

9. Live in the moment

Release past regrets and future anxieties. Remember that every day is a gift to cherish, and make each moment memorable and meaningful.

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10. Follow your Ikigai

Discover and pursue your passion. Finding your purpose enriches life with happiness and fulfilment, guiding each day towards personal and collective wellbeing.

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