Ikigai - Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles


I picked up this book curious to learn about Ikigai - “the happiness of always being busy.”

The book approaches the study of Ikigai through the perspective of the long-lived people of Ogimi in Okinawa, Japan. This community has many people over the age of 80 who remain very active in their community.

(I've also cross-posted this review to my notion reading list - here)

Factors towards a Long Life

Okinawa is considered a Blue zone - a geographical area where people live the longest.

Blue zones and the people that live in them have specific distinguishing characteristics.

I found the following characteristics of the Okinawan people to be interesting-

  • Moai
  • Diet
  • Movement


Hara hachi bu

Okinawans follow an ancient zen practice of - Hara hachi bu. This advocates stopping eating when you feel 80 percent full.

Hara hachi bu is an ancient practice. The twelfth-century book on Zen Buddhism Zazen Youjinki recommends eating two-thirds as much as you might want to. Eating less than one might want is common among all Buddhist temples in the East. Perhaps Buddhism recognized the benefits of limiting caloric intake more than nine centuries ago.

Okinawans stop eating when they feel their stomachs reach 80 percent of their capacity, rather than overeating and wearing down their bodies with long digestive processes that accelerate cellular oxidation.

Variety of Food

The people of Ogimi eat up to 18 different varieties of food daily but rarely eat sugar.

A high amount of Antioxidants in the Diet

There are two main contributors to high antioxidants in the Okinawan diet -

  • A citrus called Shikuwasa is used in various ways, including juice and cakes.
  • Green Tea with Jasmine - a unique blend that incorporates the antioxidants in the tea with the medicinal properties of Jasmine

All citrus fruits— grapefruits, oranges, lemons— are high in nobiletin, but Okinawa’s Shikuwasas have forty times as much as oranges.


The people of Ogimi always stay busy and are active in various daily activities, encouraging interactions.

A moai is an informal group of people with common interests who look out for one another. For many, serving the community becomes part of their Ikigai.

Members of a moai make a set monthly contribution to the group. This payment allows them to participate in meetings, dinners, games of go and shogi (Japanese chess), or whatever hobby they have in common.


The Japanese people in Ogimi tend to move a lot. They don’t do any dedicated exercises or workouts. Their lifestyle is such that it causes them to move a lot - from gardening to walking everywhere. This aspect of their lives is important because, according to science, movement directly influences metabolism -

“Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down.

In addition to movement, almost all the residents of Ogimi practice daily Radio Taiso. These are stimulating group exercises at most Japanese corporations. They are performed before the start of work and usually promote group unity, flexibility, and joint mobility. Almost everyone in Ogimi tends to do these exercises compared to the rest of Japan.

The Happiness of always being busy

The book covers several factors that contribute to happiness in being busy.

Here are five of my takeaways -

  • Keep Challenging yourself
  • Meditation
  • Wabi-Sabi
  • Flow
  • Resilience

Keep Challenging yourself

The brain stagnates when bored and does not have new information to work with. However, when you try to learn something new or challenge yourself, research has shown that the brain creates new connections and is revitalized.

Some of the older people interviewed in this book have continued loving the life they lead by always staying challenged.

Some haven’t retired - If You Love What You Do, Why Quit? This aligns with the concept of mini-retirements from “The Four-Day Week by Timothy Ferris,” in which he advocates taking longer breaks earlier in life rather than at the end of it.

Never Stop Learning “You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then— to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.” —T. H. White, The Once and Future King


Meditation is an instant vacation capable of slowing down the mind from its usual spiration of thoughts. This will already be familiar to those that practice meditation.

It is, therefore, essential to turn meditation into a habit.

Meditation generates alpha and theta brain waves…. These relaxing brain waves are the ones that are activated right before we fall asleep, as we lie in the sun, or right after taking a hot bath.


The book shares how various semi-famous people in Japan achieve a state of flow - where they completely immerse themselves in their art. They love what they do so much that they lose track of time.

The art of “finding one’s flow” is not limited to famous people. Many ordinary people can find their flow.

If we’re not truly being challenged, we get bored and add a layer of complexity to amuse ourselves.

An example in the book is - An elevator worker employed for about eight years. This is a mundane job; however, she makes it joyful with her dedication. She finds joy in adding extra embellishments to her position, like - a singsong greeting and a flourish when pressing the elevator button.

The core idea here is to create your flow even when the job is mundane. Criticism - This concept is challenging to apply to practice and may only apply to some lines of work.

Wabi Sabi

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it in things that are flawed, incomplete.

Wabi Sabi is the notion of finding beauty in imperfection. It emphasizes the impermanence of life.

On a trip to Japan, I remember the tour guide discussing modern home construction as we walked through a tightly packed neighborhood and came across a construction site. A property is purchased not for the existing structure but for its land. The current home is almost always torn down and replaced with a new one. Construction projects are very efficient and take care not to disrupt life in an already busy neighborhood. New construction is always considered impermanent.


Nana korobi ya oki 七転び八起き Fall seven times, rise eight.

Resilience involves not giving up. Here are a couple of foundational steps required to become more resilient -

  • Negative Visualization
  • Being Present, Live in the Present.

Negative Visualization

I first encountered negative visualization in the book Obstacle is the Way (by Ryan Holiday). In that book, he describes how Emperor Marcus Aurelius was unphased when one of his generals led a revolt against him. Negative Visualization involves anticipating the worst for every scenario - but not letting the anticipation turn into pessimism.

To practice negative visualization, we have to reflect on negative events, but without worrying about them.

Being Present

Remember the impermanence of everything, and you will avoid excessive pain. Also, remember the importance of living in the present. To that end, observe the thoughts and emotions in the present through meditation - but don’t get carried away by those thoughts.

“The only moment in which you can be truly alive is the present moment,” observes the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Ichi-go Ichi-e

Ichi-go Ichi-e is a reminder to be mindful of the present.

“This moment exists only now and won’t come again.”

If we pursue what we love (our Ikigai), living and enjoying the present moment is easier.

We live in the future and the past when we don’t love our work.