‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life’ by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles is about living lightly and purposefully, doing things that make you happy. It draws on relevant research and lived experiences to point out fulfilling ways of living – or simply, to show us the “ikigai” way of life.
I picked up this book because I wanted to find out the exact meaning of the word ‘ikigai’ – I was curious because it has no direct English translation and, like any writer, I’m intrigued by fascinating words. To my delight, I came away with more than just the meaning of the word after reading the book.
- Authors – Héctor García, Francesc Miralles
- Genre/Sub-genre – Self-help, non fiction, philosophy, psychology, personal development, health, spirituality, productivity
- Content warnings – N/A
- Type – Standalone
- First publication – April, 2016
- No. of pages – 208
- Goodreads rating – 3.74
‘Ikigai’ explores what it means to have a purpose or meaning in life drawing from relevant research in psychology, spirituality, and philosophy with commentary from lived experiences.
The authors Héctor García and Francesc Miralles travel to Okinawa, Japan to discover the secret behind Okinawa residents’ longevity. There, they find a way of communal living filled with purpose, happiness, and good health that they share alongside interviews with the Okinawans and practical tips for a good life.
‘Ikigai’ Book Review
Basically, “Ikigai” is a Japanese concept that loosely translates to mean ‘the reason to live’, ‘the thing that makes life worth living,’ or according to the authors Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, “the happiness of always being busy.”
Now, this seemed a little contradictory to me because ‘always being busy’ does not (at all) inspire happiness in me so I was curious as to how this concept became so popular. I was even more intrigued when the authors tied ‘ikigai’ to longevity:
“Those who study why the inhabitants of this island in the south of Japan [Okinawa] live longer than people anywhere else in the world believe that one of the keys—in addition to a healthful diet, a simple life in the outdoors, green tea, and then subtropical climate (its average temperature is like that of Hawaii)—is the ikigai that shapes their lives.” – Prologue
A purpose that makes life worth living and in fact, extends it, was a fascinating concept to me because a few years ago, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about having no real purpose in my work. This lack of contentment even seeped into my personal life where I stopped finding joy with people close to my heart and in my hobbies. So the way the authors – and the Okinawans – defined “ikigai” was relatable and personal:
“According to those born on Okinawa, the island with the most centenarians in the world, our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning…Having a clearly defined ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness, and meaning to our lives.” – Chapter 1
The authors expand on this concept drawing from Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and Shoma Morita’s Morita therapy that focus on finding the meaning of life (the former) and working with one’s feelings and desire to find purpose in life (the latter).
I found those theories interesting, but my favorite part of the book was the chapter about ‘flow.’
“…the heart of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into the experience of being completely immersed in what we are doing. Csikszentmihalyi called this state “flow,” and described it as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life.” – Chapter 3
I could relate to this state of immersion because it happens when I’m reading a book that takes me far into a world of its own or when I’m writing a piece that captures my attention that the world falls behind and only the sound of tapping keys remains. The ‘flow’ got me thinking about the “ikigai” and how it’s described as “the happiness of always being busy.” I’ll admit, it made me realize how always being busy and being happy is entirely possible, because I’m happy when I read or write – I was just defaulting into the idea that ‘always being busy’ means being stressful and under pressure all the time.
So instead of looking at “ikigai” as having to be busy, I understood it to be about enjoying being busy and unhurried–especially inspired by the centenarians from the village of Ogimi in the island of Okinawa. In an interview, an elderly Ogimi resident says that their secret to a long life is slowing down:
“Doing many different things everyday. Always staying busy, but doing one thing at a time, without getting overwhelmed.” – Chapter 6
The interviews with the people of Ogimi also highlight the importance of cultivating good habits, consuming healthy food, nurturing friendships, and being optimistic in order to lead a long, fulfilled life.
I loved the wealth of information packed into the book, and also the glimpse into life on Okinawa island, but I felt the authors spent a lot of time on drawing from other research instead of focusing on “ikigai.” I was waiting till they shared a comprehensive guide into finding our own “ikigai” but it never came, and I felt a little let down because the book didn’t deliver what its title promised. Now, something I thought was really neat was when I learned the author duo has published a follow-up book called ‘The Ikigai Journey’ and it fills in this missing part about how to find our “ikigai” – I thought it was a motivating read and a solid follow up.
The other concern for me about the ‘Ikigai’ book was about the learnings from Okinawans. I could see that they were lovely people with a passion for their work and community, but the profound, meaningful insight about ikigai that the authors promised from their interviews just wasn’t there. I think the genuinity of the Okinawa residents would have come through better if their interviews were framed differently, and that would’ve added a lot to the learning experience.
My rating for the book went down a little because it didn’t meet the expectations that were set out by its blurb, but that does not mean you shouldn’t give ‘Ikigai’ a chance. The research and wellness practices that the authors cover are valuable, interesting to read, and definitely actionable, so if you’re looking for a simple, inspiring read on how to improve the quality of your life, ‘Ikigai’ by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles is worth a read.
Who Should Read ‘Ikigai’
Fans of the hygge lifestyle of slowing down and enjoying the quiet pleasures of life might find “ikigai” an interesting concept to learn about because the two concepts, while kind of built for the same goal (finding happiness), suggest working toward the goal in such different ways. If hygge is about finding happiness in not doing anything, “ikigai” is about finding happiness in doing, so you’re definitely up for a refreshing read with this book.
Readers who want to find wholesome ways of living to improve the quality of your life might find ‘Ikigai’ an interesting read.
Books Similar to ‘Ikigai’
The Ikigai Journey written by the same author duo is a follow-up book to ‘Ikigai’ that helps you find your own ikigai. This book fills in the gaps of ‘Ikigai’, showing you how to find your “ikigai” among other things, so pick up for a great follow-up read!
Man’s Search For Meaning is a great read similar to ‘Ikigai’ in that it draws from lived experience to discuss the same topic – the meaning of life.
And if you would like to read more on inspiring ways of living, give The Little Book of Hygge a chance – it talks about slowing down and finding joy in small moments in life.
If you’re looking for more self-help reads on various topics, check out all my self-help book reviews.
Building on the concept of a life worth living, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life packs a wealth of information, draws on a lot of relevant concepts, and shares with us the way of life of the people who’ve found their “ikigai.” This is a short read with actionable practices toward a fulfilling life, so pick it up for a quick dive into “ikigai” and how to live a long and happy life.
Yes. ‘Ikigai’ is worth reading because it’s about living a long, healthy, and happy life full of purpose and meaning with a lot of research, experience, and practices to support the “ikigai” way of living.
The main theme of ‘Ikigai’ is making life worth living.
The 10 rules of “ikigai” as set out in ‘Ikigai’ are 1) stay active, don’t retire; 2) take it slow; 3) don’t fill your stomach; 4) surround yourself with good friends; 5) get in shape for your next birthday; 6) smile; 7) reconnect with nature; 8) give thanks; 9) live in the moment; 10) follow your ikigai.
‘Ikigai’ is famous and widely-read because it shares a lot of actionable advice on how to take life slow, be healthy, and make your life meaningful.
The 80% rule in ‘Ikigai’ refers to the Japanese practice of eating only until 80 percent of your stomach is full. It’s about eating barely enough that you keep yourself from overeating.