The 10 rules of Ikigai
Did you know that the Japanese language does not have the word “retirement” in its vocabulary? According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai — a reason for living and purpose in life.
In 2020, right before the world shut down, I was supposed to run the Tokyo International marathon, but it got canceled with less than two weeks' notice. Since I was one of the few runners in Sacramento who was going to Tokyo, KCRA news came to my house and interviewed me. As my husband put it: “I got to be on TV and ‘famous’ without running a marathon or doing anything special.”
Fast forward to today, I am all signed up and ready to complete all my six world marathons next year when I will run the Tokyo marathon and fulfill my ikigai by exploring Tokyo for 26.2 miles.
I will run with joy, purpose, and meaning while living life one breath and stride at a time. Also, as the Japanese proverb says: “only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.”
The meaning of ikigai being the reason we get up in the morning, its first rule tells us that we should not retire and choose to remain active. The classic saying “mens sana in corpore sano,” meaning a sound mind in a sound body shows that staying active and having an adaptable mind will help us remain young.
The authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles emphasize the importance of movement to remain active. A few ways to defeat our Western sedentary lives: walk or bike to work, climb stairs instead of taking the elevator, participate in social activities so that you avoid sitting in front of the TV, join a sports team, play with your children/pets, to mention just a few.
Second ikigai rule: take it slow and find your flow, which is the opposite of our hurried and rushed Western lifestyle. As the old saying goes: “Walk slowly and you’ll go far.” The notion of slowing down time matches Bruce Lee’s advice: “be water, my friend,” which means that time vanishes when we lose ourselves in an activity that we enjoy.
I absolutely concur with Bruce Lee. As a runner, my best runs happen when I am in a complete state of flow. My breath is smooth; my feet barely touch the ground. I’m practically flying, as we runners like to say when we have a great run or race.
Don’t fill your stomach is the third ikigai rule, or as the Japanese say: “Hara hachi bu,” which is repeated before or after eating and means something like “fill your belly to 80 percent.” And since we don’t know exactly when we will hit that 80 percent, we should simply stop eating before we feel too full. We should also not indulge in the extra dish or apple pie that we don’t really need and might regret later.
Recent studies show that Okinawans consume on average 1,800 to 1,900 calories daily compared to 2,200 to 3,300 in the United States.
The fourth ikigai rule is one of my favorites: surround yourself with good friends. In Okinawa, the region that the authors use for their study, creating close bonds within local communities is quite customary. The Japanese not only like to play and celebrate all kinds of events together, but they constantly cultivate this hobby of getting together with friends and neighbors.
I might have been Japanese in my previous lifetime, as I like to tell my daughter because I rock this fourth ikigai rule. I continue to nurture and strengthen my old friendships and I also open my soul and heart to new friends. Moreover, the pandemic made me reach out of isolation to friends through text messages, exercising together in nature, and laughter, which made everything more bearable, and even wonderful.
The fifth ikigai rule get in shape for your next birthday is pretty self-explanatory, as moving our bodies is living our lives as a flowing river that doesn’t stagnate. Besides, exercising helps our brains, too, and improves our mood.
Studies from the Blue Zones suggest that the people who live the longest are not the ones who do the most exercise but rather the ones who move the most. — Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles
The sixth ikigai rule smile is again going in my favor, as I smile and smile some more, spreading seeds of sunshine, which is the name of my podcast, too. To me, sharing my smile with the world goes hand in hand with making friends easily and spreading joy.
The seventh ikigai rule is about reconnecting with nature, which is the best way to recharge our batteries. As a runner, I am fortunate to run through a beautiful nature preserve a short distance from my home and relish seeing the leaves change in the fall, or the trees blooming in the spring.
When we’re out in nature, we feel one with the universe. We feel a deep spiritual connection with our inner nature, which is probably why I enjoy running in beautiful surroundings that remind me how much joy there is in one leaf, one blade of grass, and the river, the sea, or the ocean on my right matching the constant ebb and flow of life.
Give thanks is the eighth ikigai rule, which emphasizes being grateful for every little moment of joy that we get to experience.
I can honestly say that giving thanks and expressing gratitude comes naturally and easily for me, which is why one of my friends bought a little decoration for me that had only one word on it: “gratitude.”
I feel that we cannot ever overdo being thankful. I also think that besides being verbally grateful, the most impactful way to express our gratitude is in writing by texting, writing thank you cards and letters.
The ninth ikigai rule live in the moment reminds us that today is all we have. With technology engulfing us on a daily basis, this rule has been a challenge for me and for most of us. Running helps me live in the moment, but on a daily basis, I fail to fully immerse myself in one moment, as I do what most of us do: multitask, which makes me fail at being fully present and living in the now, but with more practice, we can all get better.
And last, but not least, follow your ikigai is the tenth rule, which the authors of this short but impactful book explain as finding the passion inside us, or the unique talent that we all came with into this world.
Whether you know your ikigai or not, one thing is certain: we all carry it within us, and the secret to living a long and happy life is to keep searching for our ikigai until we find it. I promise you: it’s right there.
For more poetic musings and short-form philosophy, please check out my new book, Morsels of Love, A Book of Poetry and Short-Form published last year. You can also order directly from my website www.carmenmicsabooks.com to receive an autographed copy.
If you like podcasts, please listen to my new podcast Seeds of Sunshine, a multigenerational podcast that I started together with my daughter.