Finding your passion: Ikigai

Tips about finding passion from the book Ikigai: The japanese secret to a long and happy life.

Finding your passion: Ikigai
Image Credit: Nupa

In Japan, there is an island called Okinawa, where the life expectancy of people is significantly high (80+ for men and 85+ for women). For every 100,000 people, there are about 25 people over the age of 100. This is far more than the global average. Not only people there live longer, but they seem to be happier as well. Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia tried to find the secret of their happy and long life and recorded their findings in the book “Ikigai” (that I just finished reading).

It should be no surprise that they follow a much healthier routine. Eat healthy stuff, eat less than our hunger, sleep enough, move more, and other things doctors keep telling us all the time. However, this alone is not enough. More importantly, they focus on finding their passion. They call it “ikigai”. A reason of being. A reason to get up in the morning. Even at the older age, they don’t retire. Mainly for two reasons. One, because they are still capable of doing work and Two because they love what they do.

In the book, Francesc and Hector point out the issues with our current lifestyle. A lot of these issues we have heard about before in various places. I particularly remember it being discussed in the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The fast-paced life is mostly causing problems in our lives. Our human bodies are not yet evolved enough to handle that. Phones and other technology, which were designed to help us, cause more harm to us. If you are not convinced, watch “the social dilemma” on Netflix. Our phone (regardless of the content in it) is capable of inducing certain type of stress in our body. Something our ancestors faced during real threats (for example, a predator attack), we experience it every day multiple times.

But why am I even talking about it in the post about finding passion. It is actually connected. Because of our fast-paced life, we have stopped paying attention to ourselves. Finding our true passion, an activity in which we can completely immerse into, requires a great deal of self awareness. Some of us are lucky enough to accidentally experience it and recognize it. But most of us don’t. Very rarely, we find ourselves doing something and being so deeply involved in it that we lost track of time. Something at the end of which we are not tired. On the opposite, we feel refreshed. When we do experience it, the happiness from doing it (only the journey part, regardless of the results) is beyond comparison to almost every other happiness.

This is what the people in Okinawa focus on. They focus on finding their ikigai. Once found, they exploit it. They keep doing it till very old age. They then find even mundane tasks pleasurable. A happy brain is capable of taking good care of the body. A healthier lifestyle is very easy to achieve. Hence, the long and a happy life.

This seems like a very easy to state formula. Just find your passion. But how do we do that? There are many ways. Including a therapy that the authors mentioned in the book called “Logotherapy”. Most of the ways are about slowing down and analyzing ourselves and what we do. Simple activities like keeping a journal of all the things we do for a few days can also help (if we eventually reflect on it). Various forms of meditation also helps. Although, I find it very hard to meditate. But, I have experienced what the authors call “flow” many times before while solving hard math or computer science problems. The prime requirements for achieving flow are as follows: we know what to do, we know how to do, we know that we are good at it, we perceive significant challenges in it, we use significant skills while doing it, and finally, we are free from distractions.

There are no well-defined steps to find our passion. However, knowing the above requirements help us find strategies to find flow. For example, choosing a difficult (but not too difficult) task is a key requirement, since we are likely to face challenges and use significant skills while doing it. Avoiding multitasking becomes essential to find flow, as multitasking causes distractions. Having a clear objective would help us avoid procrastination and mental blocks. Such small things won’t necessarily get us to flow, but can certainly help us. The most effective part is analyzing and reflecting on what we do.

Finding a passion can be easy for some people who accidentally found an activity they enjoy. But we shouldn’t rely on accidents to happen. Maybe we are not yet doing anything that we could truly immerse into. However, analyzing what we already do can help us find such potential candidate activities. An explicit focus on analysis will increase our self awareness, and we would be able to avoid activities that we don’t truly enjoy. Hopefully, by removing the clutter, we would be able to find the flow in the pristine mind!

The book has many details on the Okinawa way of eating, exercising and other stuff that help them live longer. I found this passion part most interesting, so decided to write about it. Hope you liked this!

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