Ikigai – The Secret to a Long and Happy Life?

As older adults reach retirement age, many are interested in exploring what factors most influence a healthy and long life.  Of course, diet and exercise play important roles in optimal aging but there is also much to learn from the Japanese who have an intentional practice in their daily lives, Ikigai  – a reason to get up each day with purpose, joy, and happiness. 

Author and neuroscientist Ken Mogi explains in The Little Book of Ikigai how mindful daily habits foster fulfillment and lifelong happiness.  Mogi outlines five pillars that help people sustain a continued enthusiasm for life:

  1. Start small 
  2. Release yourself – accept who you are
  3. Find harmony and sustainability with people and the planet
  4. Seek joy in the little things
  5. Be present in the here and now

Japanese people are among the longest living in the world – Okinawa, Japan is included in the group of places where residents commonly live to 100, dubbed the Blue Zones.   Finding your “why”, the drive that gives life purpose and joy is an important part of longevity and vitality in older age.   A purpose-driven life doesn’t have to be big and splashy. Small shifts in habits over time can have a significant impact on well-being, relationships, and the world around us.  

Walking up and taking a moment to savor the first cup of coffee, outside on the patio perhaps, sets an uplifting tone for the day.  Saying hello to your neighbor or complimenting your spouse helps spread joy and positive human interaction is known to be as important for health and well-being as a nutritious diet.  Feeling like an valuable part of a community helps older adults stay active and engaged – which in turn motivates seniors to keep doing what they love and find meaningful. 

A morning routine that includes a healthy breakfast, movement, and social interaction sets up the day for happiness.   Cultivating a positive mindset has a ripple effect within one’s own household but also in the larger community.  Researchers at Yale University found that mood really is contagious and that positivity improves cooperation, decreases conflict, and boosts task performance.   In a world that seems dark and despairing at times, spreading cheerfulness can be an antidote that improves the lives of individuals and their communities.