Ikagai – The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life By Albert Liebermann And Hector Garcia – Book Summary

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Ikagai by Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia is the Japanese method of living life a valuable way. The concept is found in several ancient Japanese texts and is deeply rooted in their culture. Imbibing the concept of ikagai into oneself is the path of contentment. As the title of the book suggests, the Japanese believe that adopting ikagai can ensure a happy and long life.

The concept of ikagai has found application in the personal as well as professional lives of the Japanese. The authors curated the content for the book by interviewing a Japanese village. It is a village that houses numerous 100-year old residents. The unwillingness of the Japanese to ‘retire’ stems from having found their ikagai. The authors have revealed this secret of the Japanese. By describing the habits of the villagers, they persuade others to lead a similar life.


1. What is ikagai?

Ikagai is a Japanese term that combines two words – ‘life’ and ‘worthwhile’. A loose translation suggests that ikagai is a way to ‘live a life which is worthwhile’. However, the term has a different essence. The term is most commonly used in the context of ‘finding happiness in being busy’. Several other people define it as finding one’s passion. A person’s ikagai must be the reason they leave their bed every morning.

One of the primary human instincts is to look for meaning. Meaning in the surroundings, the meaning of events, and often, the meaning of ourselves. Having an ikagai can fulfill the third part – it can impart meaning to our life. Being connected with our passion – our ikagai ­– can automatically enhance our life. Thus, the Japanese, well-aware of their individual passion, attempt to lead a happier life.

2. The importance of ikagai

A person who does not have an ikagai must make it their mission to find it. While discovering one’s ikagai, we know more about ourselves. Without a purpose, life is hard. When we do not have a reason to get out of bed, we will not get out of bed. This is why finding our ikagai is so crucial. We can spend our lives nurturing the habit and ourselves.

Everyone has a unique ikagai. Thus, everyone has a different purpose in life. It is essential to discover one’s ikagai and not have a herd mentality. If someone pursues the passion of the other person, they will soon lose interest in it. The Japanese never choose to retire since they never want to disconnect from their ikagai. No matter what stands in their way, people will gain the courage to accomplish their ikagai.

3. Rules of ikagai

  1. Do not retire and stay active.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Do not fill your stomach.
  4. Be in touch with good friends
  5. Be fit by your next birthday
  6. Smile more.
  7. Get in touch with nature.
  8. Be grateful.
  9. Enjoy the moment.
  10. Follow your ikagai.

4. Get rid of stress

If we look older than we are, we probably feel older too. Stress is a factor in aging. More the stress, the faster the aging. Finding our ikagai can help us feel younger by keeping stress at bay. Since our ikagai is the purpose of our life, we will never give it up. We will remain stress-free and hence, youthful.

Having ikagai bridges the gap between physical health and mental health. Our passion is good for our mental well-being and if it involves physical exertion as well, then physical health is also maintained.

5. Overcome existential crisis

An existential crisis is a form of stress. It takes over a person when they are unable to do what they want. Instead, societal norms have to be followed. When we cannot do what our mind wishes to do, our moral drops. When our ability and their expectation are separated by a gap, it becomes a cause for the crisis.

So, finding time to pursue your passion is important. The Japanese never retire because they continue working on their ikagai even after their professional career has ended. People who chose their ikagai as their profession are the luckiest. But it is also uncommon. Many cannot find a suitable career with their ikagai, but they also do not give it up. Thus, like a professional career is to satisfy society, the ikagai is to satisfy the mind.

6. The nature of therapy

Protecting mental health is crucial in today’s world. A mentally conflicted person chooses to seek professional help. However, this trend is popular only in the West. In Japan, a contradicting method of therapy has been found to give excellent results – Morita therapy.

Western forms of therapy preach that our thoughts manifest in our actions via the route of the emotions. Thus, therapists try to influence the thoughts of their patients. Morita therapy, instead, involves acceptance of the patient’s emotions. This culture believes that once a person has accepted their emotions, their actions will follow through on their feelings. So, these two forms of therapy are opposite in nature.

One of the pillars of Morita therapy is finding one’s ikagai. The Morita therapists believe that having an ikagai can impart a person with the required courage to change their actions. They often refer to it as the ‘existential fuel’.

7. Having a state of flow

To the Western world, the acts of the Japanese seem off. They are known to carry out their daily chores with a precision that borderlines on obsession. This is actually not an odd thing since it’s one of the fundamentals of their culture. Being focused on only the thing in front of them allows them to remain in a state of flow.

A state of flow is described as a condition wherein the least amount of conscious effort is required. When we ‘go with the flow’, we need to apply less effort, but the results are fruitful. Such a state of mind is built while doing our ikagai. Soon, the habit will apply while doing other tasks as well. the concentration and focus that comes with having an ikagai are unmatched with those activities which give us temporary happiness.

8. Take your time

Every culture says that ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Children are often taught this lesson, so they take their time to finish their tasks. The villagers of the town the authors interviewed were always ‘busy’. They were never in a hurry but completed the work with precision and effort. One of the popular interpretations of ikagai is also to ‘be happy while being busy’.

9. Positivity

Positivity and a neutral approach to events was the secret of the most elderly villagers. The interviewers asked them the secret to a long life. Most of the answers pointed to having a positive outlook. Some of them were to not worry much, smile more, and most importantly, keep yourselves busy.

10. Their diet

The authors believed that the diet of the villagers must also contribute to their longevity. Thus, their source of nutrition was found out. All of the villagers owned their own gardens, wherein they grew vegetables, tea, and mangoes.

Their nutrition was found to be largely vegetable-based. Variety in the vegetables was one of the crucial elements of their diet. In fact, they were known to consume eighteen types of food a day. This imparted them with all-round nutrition.

They consumed seven types of fruits and vegetables per day – some even five times a day. The trick to ensuring that we get the proper nutrition is to ‘eat the rainbow’, that is, check whether a vegetable or fruit of all the colors of the rainbow is being consumed. Thus, 30% of their calorie intake came from vegetables.

Rice is their staple food, sometimes with noodles. Other grains are also essential in their diet. Fish was included in the diet at least thrice a week. Their tea is also of a special kind – an infusion of green tea and jasmine flowers – called the Sanpin-cha. The tea is taken thrice a day.

Lastly, a special kind of tea called White tea is also popular in the village. It is known to contain polyphenols, which may be responsible for slowing down aging. Its antioxidant capacity makes it one of the most nutritious drinks in the world – much more than regular orange juice.

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