It’s probably pretty disrespectful to the indigenous Okinawa people to use Ross from Friends as their poster boy. If there are any Okinawa people reading I apologise (also could you share this post please, Japan is a huge new market for me). Every time I hear or read the word ikigai I immediately think of the Friends episiode with Ross practicing ‘Unagi’.
In all seriousness though, ikigai is a very interesting Japanese lifestyle concept that is taking the UK by storm. Last year it was hygge, before that it was lagom, now it’s ikigai. The reason I’m writing about this though is that that the ideology of it resonates with me. Ikigai roughly translates to “The thing that you live for”, “Purpose of life” or “The thing that gets you out of bed in the morning” (other than overactive children). This is what peaked my interest. Do i know what my ikigai is? If not, how do I find out? if yes then what am i doing to make it happen?
The Okinawa Lifestyle
Ikigai originates from the Japanese Okinawa people. The Okinawa islands are part of the larger group of Ryukyu islands. Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world (83.7 years) so they must be doing something right! A large reason for this extended life expectancy is in the diet of the Okinawa people. They replace Japanese rice with sweet potato and eat a much higher percentage of pork than in the average diet (I’m sorry Peppa & George…..). Wholegrain, vegetables and soy products form a large part of the diet, as does Konbu seaweed (no, me neither). The Okinawa people eat fish around three times a week which will include squid and octopus.
It’s clear to see that this diet is low in calories, typically around 300 calories per day lower than the average diet. To be honest although I find this quite interesting it’s not really a practical diet for most of us to adopt. If you want to come to my house and try and get my kids to eat octopus then I’d love to see it. What is interesting is that they only eat until 80% full. I have a bad habit of stuffing myself full of food until I can’t move. It’s not big and it’s not clever. The 80% thing is something I’m going to try and implement.
Decluttering the Mind
As I mentioned, what I’m really interested in is ikigai rather than the general Okinawa lifestyle. In trying to learn to live with my anxiety and depression I’ve started to pay real attention to what’s important. There are so may things, people, projects, social engagements etc that fight for space in our heads. When we try and give them all a piece of that space we can get overloaded. For me this is when my anxiety manifests itself.
Now I make a conscious effort to try and declutter my head and to concentrate on what’s important to me. This basically means my family and friends. Everything else is secondary. So is that my ikigai? I think that’s a bit too broad and generic. Obviously my family are what I live for, I think the vast majority of us would say the same. I’m looking for something more specific, something that ignites a passion in me.
Over the years I’ve had many hobbies and past times. You could say that for a long time my ikigai was playing football. I played from the age of seven until about 27 competitively. My anxiety and depression put paid to that unfortunately. I have an old blog article about this if you’re interested.
I realise now that my ikigai is helping people. For a long time I wanted to be a teacher, so that I could help children learn and grow. I’ve looked in to counselling courses, so that I can help people improve their mental health. At the moment I’m getting so much satisfaction from helping people through my blogging that it really excites me. I’m always thinking of new things to write about, ways of helping my articles reach a wider audience and ways of helping the people who have reached out to me. It gives me a real buzz and I think it’s what I’m meant to do. The GAD Dad has really given me a new purpose and drive, long may it continue!