Shubhra Krishan April 10, 2015
In Japan, people famously get to enjoy their great grand children and often die peacefully in their sleep.
What’s their secret?
Yes, they eat plenty of fish, fresh vegetables and fruit. And yes, they eat small portions, cook their food lightly, and present it beautifully. All of these are indeed conducive to a healthier and longer life.
But there is something else–something way more powerful and deep–that holds the key to their longevity.
It’s called ikigai, and it is not a health food you can buy or a martial art you need to learn.
Ikigai simply means “a reason to wake up in the morning.” It is a gentle way of nudging you toward nurturing; inspiring you to care for life other than your own. It could be the life of a plant, a pet, or your great-grand children. The philosophy of ikigai is simple: caring for others brings deep satisfaction to your own life and helps you discover the meaning of your existence.
The concept is beautifully illustrated by this popular story from Japan:
In a small village outside of Osaka, a woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Voice of her ancestors.
“Who are you?” the Voice said to her.
“I am the wife of the mayor,” she replied. “I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.” “I am the mother of four children.” “I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.” “I am a school teacher.” “I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I am a Shinto.” “I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.” “I am the one who wakes up each day to care for my family, and nurture the young minds of the children at my school.”
She passed the examination, and was sent back to earth. The next morning she woke at sunrise, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose. She tended to her children’s lunches, and planned fun lessons for her students that day. The woman had discovered her ikigai.
I am inspired to reflect on my ikigai. Are you?