For Japanese workers in big cities, a typical work day begins with a state called sushi-zume. This term likens commuters squeezed into a crowded train car to tightly packed grains of rice in sushi. Well, some actual situations are much worse than packed sushi, and not nearly as delicious. It’s also called “tsukin jigoku” (commuting hell).
The tough conditions do not stop there. The country’s super demanding work culture ensures most people put in long hours at the office, governed by strict hierarchical rules. Overwork is not uncommon. On weekdays, even around midnight, trains home are filled with people in suits. These details make you utter “Eeks” and think, people in Japan must be super stressed. You might even be thinking, people there must have a shortened life span.
Here is a surprise…in spite of this, Japan has the maximum % of centenarians. Centenarians are people who live for over 100 years. How do they manage?
The secret may have to do with what Japanese call Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]). There is no direct English translation of this word. Loosely translated, it means ‘happiness in living’. It is similar to the French phrase Raison d’être. Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Essentially, Ikigai can be explained as the driving force to get up in the morning with a smile and driven by purpose. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self.
Japanese culture instills a more comprehensive value system comprised of pride, respect, and honor. This is not to say these metrics do not exist in other cultures, but in Japan, these are made obvious and are amplified by the culture and language itself.
In the western world, Ikigai is often associated with a Venn diagram with four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
If you find some time, do watch Dan Buettner’s TED talk on How to Live to 100+. The National Geographic writer and explorer studies the world’s longest-lived peoples. He and his team explored the world’s “Blue Zones,” communities whose elders live with vim and vigor to record-setting age distilling their secrets into a single plan for health and long life. You will find some surprising conclusions about the factors that create a long and healthy life. One of the most significant factors is ikigai.
In the Western culture, the source of pride is more often “self” and not “work”. The source for respect is more often “personal” and not “cultural”.
Dan Buettner’s longevity research took him to the northern island of Okinawa, Japan where five times as many people pass the hundred year mark as do in the USA. He asked the Okinawan centenarians why they woke up in the morning. Each one knew instantly. When Americans were asked the same question, they rarely gave a direct answer. If they did, it was sarcastic “I wish I didn’t have to get up in the morning.” Or a non-committal response like this: “Well, today, I had to get up to feed my kids.” They seemed to have overemphasized the burdens of life more than the joys.
He concluded that knowing your Ikigai plays a profound role in longevity. There is something about rising each day with clarity that does a body good.
Do you find yourself slapping the alarm six times or do you wake with excitement like you did as a child on a festival Day? Have you found your ikigai? Do you have these 5 answers?
- Are you doing something that you love?
- That the world needs?
- That you are good at?
- And that you can be paid for?
- How can you live with purpose today, to live a longer and healthier life?