Life & Style

Your life’s lighthouse: on Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia’s book, Ikigai

The concept of ikigai may seem complex, but Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles simplify it in their book

Like most concepts that are theorised, the Japanese word ikigai, when structured into a neat little Venn diagram as pictured by creative professional Marc Winn, makes an anxious person uneasy.

But Francesc Miralles — one of the authors of the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life — says it isn’t so complicated at all. In a gentle voice over a WhatsApp call from Madrid, he tells me the word is rich with connotation. Iki means life and kai, the realisation of hopes and expectations. In a sense, it is like the word namaste: “It is many concepts built into a word,” he says, referring to it as a greeting, as a mark of respect, even friendship.

“I have had several ikigais in my life. Every 10 to 12 years it ‘renovates’. When I was 18 I was working as a waiter and my interest was not in studying. My only passion was putting money together and travelling. That gave meaning to my life. At 20, I had an ikigai as a publisher of self-help books. Now I am 51, and helping other people find their ikigai,” says Miralles.

(left) Hector García and (right) Francesc Miralles

(left) Hector García and (right) Francesc Miralles   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Finding purpose

The book and the concept on which to build life itself centres on the premise that when you’re doing things that make you happy you’re bound to be healthy in mind and body, leading to a long life of contentedness. But before you hit upon what exactly you should be doing, words like purpose and meaning are bound to come up. Ikigai, says Miralles, is the reason to live, the mission, motivation, motto of one’s life.

The book looks at the island of Okinawa, Japan, “where there are 24.55 people over the age of 100 for every 1,00,000 inhabitants — far more than the global average”. There are many reasons for their longevity — a simple life, a healthy diet, time spent in the outdoors, a subtropical climate, green tea (!), and ikigai, which is both a way of life and a philosophy.

Through its nine chapters, the book takes us on an easy journey understanding the concept, antiaging secrets, the ikigai diet, and more.

Life lessons

Along the way are easy-to-understand call-to-action points (‘Whatever you do, don’t retire!’), suggestions (‘Fill your belly to 80%’), insights (‘...being part of a moai — a community — helps maintain emotional and financial stability’), and the obvious but ignored (‘A lot of sitting will age you’).

There are also psychology and science pointers. For instance, there’s a reference to Israeli neuroscientist Shlomo Breznitz, who says that the brain needs stimulation to stay in shape. But as we age, we like to do things a particular way because it’s easier; we’re on autopilot. If however, we break routines, the brain must create new connections, and is revitalised.

If the Japanese possess this great secret, why aren’t their cities little islands of perpetual joy and almost-eternal youth? “We tend to think of Japan as a homogeneous culture, but it’s a three-hour flight between Tokyo and Okinawa, and the people here (in Okinawa) have nothing to do with Tokyo,” says the author.

Does that mean you can find your ikigai only if you’re on a faraway farm, chatting with the neighbours, eating fish? The point is to slow down, says Miralles. Rushing out of the house at 8am to take the Metro, after a poor night’s sleep, as the pressure for the day’s work builds? “That is complication. Ikigai is finding a space for yourself where you are the master.”

Finding our ikigai though may first mean stepping off the treadmill of life: “It seems sometimes that we are not doing anything, but we are doing a lot. Sometimes we need to have a meeting with ourselves.”

Priced at ₹499, the book is available at all leading book stores.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 11:15:48 AM |

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