Ikigai The Five Blue Zones
Ikigai The Five Blue Zones are that place in the world, Where it is called that peoples lives longer than the average. Firt time National Geographic magazine introduced with this word on their cover story in November 2005.
“Drink without getting drunk. Love without suffering jealousy. Eat without overindulging. Never argue and once in a while, with great discretion, misbehave.” – Dan Buettner, researcher, and author of The Blue Zones Solution.
The last week’s post, ‘My Reception’, elicited a very spontaneous response from the readers and if I dare say, using the cliché from cyberspace- the post went viral. Probably, all the readers from the uniformed fraternity could identify with my experience and felt nostalgic. Other readers, from different fields, could also relate to their own unique set of episodes when they joined their organisation as a rookie.
We take the issue of finding our raison d’etre or “Reason for Living”, on which I have done a series of posts, forward in the next two articles. Many of you may have read the book, “Ikigai”, which deals with the concept of raison d’etre in a slightly different way, and that is part of our deliberations. Ikigai consists of two Japanese words- “Iki” meaning life, and “gai” representing the value or worth; hence Ikigai is about finding your purpose in life.
What is Ikigai The Five Blue Zones ?
Quite akin to what we have already discussed, you might think, but Ikigai is a more broad-based concept than Viktor Frankl’s search for meaning. The Japanese vouch by this concept and draw tremendous benefits from it which is confirmed by empirical data. Japanese have the highest life expectancy in the world- 90 years for women and 84 years for men. In fact, the island of Okinawa boasts of around 25 persons over the age of 100, for every one lakh of the population- and that’s a lot. Mind you; these centenarians are not lying on their beds beset with terminal diseases and waiting to die. They are healthy, active, enjoying their lives and contributing to society.
Japanese, especially those living on Okinawa, place a high value to finding the meaning of one’s life. Why do we do what we do; why are we the way we are; what drives us to wake up in the morning cheerful and to look forward to the day ahead with anticipation? If we can answer these questions to our soul’s satisfaction then every day/week/month/year and indeed life itself is an adventure which will be so fruitful to be explored. This voyage will be so fascinating and exhilarating that one will never grow tired of it and hence will never cease to explore.
This is the reason that the Japanese vocabulary has no word meaning “to retire”, as we understand it concerning our jobs. You retire from something only when you either grow tired of it or incapable of doing it, but if you love doing what you do so much, you keep reinventing yourself to excel in it.
The Five Blue Zones in The World
Okinawans are not the only people who have found the elixir of longevity and happiness; there are four more spots in the world where people live extraordinarily long and healthy. These spots- five of them, are referred to as the ‘5 Blue Zones’ and bring out some uniform characteristics in the inhabitants of these places.
These 5 Blue Zones are: the island of Ikaria in Greece; the Ogliastra region, Sardinia, an island in Italy; Loma Linda, California in the USA; Okinawa in Japan and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica in Central America. There is a wonderful book, ‘The Blue Zones Solution’ by the author Dan Buettner, which brings out the lifestyles of the inhabitants of the blue zones. What follows in this series of posts is an amalgamation of the writings of the books, ‘Ikigai’ and ‘The Blue Zones Solution’and my own life experiences. While we may not be aspiring to live up to the age of 100, we definitely want our lives to be happy and meaningful. Remember the iconic dialogue from the film ‘Anand?’‘Babu moshai zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi (life should be lived big and not merely long.)
We will dwell upon the issues which bring meaning and happiness to life and not necessarily prolong the life, though that might be an offshoot.
Let’s tackle the virtues that are suggested by the lifestyles of the 5 Blue Zones in habitants. In fact, these are very simple and straightforward- a healthy and balanced diet, regular exercise, finding a purpose in life (raison d’etre or Ikigai) and developing strong social ties.
The first virtue, diet, has five common ingredients in the 5 Blue Zones– whole grains, green vegetables, sweet potatoes or potatoes, nuts and beans. Out of these, beans are considered most beneficial and adds maximum to longevity. You would have noticed that the diet is vegetarian though eggs in moderation, not more than three per week, is an average consumption. Even milk and other dairy products are consumed in moderation. Keeping oneself hydrated with lots of water is another common trend in Blue Zones. Herbal or green tea is taken all day long, and drinking is in moderation with a focus on red wine. Anyways, we all have our diet pattern and need not change it just to suit some particular plan.
There are all kinds of magic diets which are supposed to make us healthy, lose weight, look good, etc., but must be avoided as every individual system is different. A one-size-fits-all solution for diet is not a viable alternative and in fact, is a recipe for disaster. We recently heard of the tragic demise of a young actress, Mishti Mukherjee, only twenty-seven years old, due to kidney failure. Apparently, it happened due to following a prolonged Keto Diet. The excessive consumption of proteins, as part of the diet, had put a lot of burden on her kidneys, which led to renal failure.
Ikigai The Five Blue Zones Foods in Diet
I am no fitness expert but have maintained myself in shape all through by following a simple 3-step formula- calories burnt must be more than calories consumed, regular moderate exercise (5-6 times a week) and eating/drinking everything in moderation. All of you must be having your own fitness formula, do stick to it and consider the 5 Blue Zones diet only a guideline. One important point which we have been taught from childhood must never be forgotten- stop eating when you feel almost full. So, if you have an appetite for three chapatis, please stop at two. Ikigai urges you to fill up your stomach to only 80% of its capacity, and no more.
Okinawans have a phrase for it- “Hara hachibu”, which is a Confucian adage and means “stop eating when you are 80% full.” This phrase is recited before every meal as a reminder for “responsible eating.”
A vibrant social network (not virtual) is another common virtue in the Ikigai The Five Blue Zones in The World. Man is a social animal and craves for social interactions. Our relationships give meaning to our lives- family, friends, colleagues, teammates, festivals, marriages, community meals, all these add up to our feeling wanted and loved. If we are in any trouble, we know that we could bank on our near and dear ones- a luxury that the developed western world sadly often lacks. All the 5 Blue Zones are islands, small places, where practically everybody knows everybody. The bonhomie and camaraderie are prevalent at all these five places, which engenders long and fulfilling life.
Residents of Okinawa take great pride in social and community work. They have informal social groups called “Moai” which have common interests and look after each other’s social, financial, health or spiritual needs. A typical Moai consists of five children who bond since childhood and make a commitment towards each other. The Moai becomes their family whom they meet regularly and look after each other’s needs. Say, one person in a Moai needs capital to start a business, the other members will contribute and provide the money.
The Moais formed early in life last well into the old age and are a great support network for its members. Hear it from one of moais- “Each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends. If you get sick or a spouse dies or if you run out of money, we know someone will step in and help. It’s much easier to go through life, knowing there is a safety net.”
Well, we in India are blessed with all this social vibrancy, and more, but are slowly ceding ground to “virtual social network”. There is a plethora of material on the ill-effects of social media on the social media. Still, ironically no one has the time to read that. Let’s take a pledge to remain in touch with those who matter to us, share their joys and sorrows, extend a helping hand to those who need it, altruistically share what we have with those who are not born as fortunate as us. We are a country which gave the motto, “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) to the world as a whole but need to rediscover this phrase all over again.
Concept of Ikaigai
We can now move to Ikigai proper- to find meaning to our existence and what we do in life. We all are hardwired to seek happiness and avoid unhappiness in life. As a corollary, anything which makes us happy must add to our Ikigai and must exist along all the spokes and hub of the ‘Wheel of Life’, for a well-rounded life. I hope you still remember the Wheel of Life, which is reproduced below.
All of us have some favourite activities or hobbies, which we enjoy indulging in more than others. Then, there are some activities out of these, which we really look forward to doing. We can’t wait to immerse ourselves into these unique activities. When we are into these activities, the time just flies, we don’t feel tired, we are cheerful and upbeat, we have a spring in our steps, nothing could rattle us, well the list is long and not complete, but hopefully you get the import? For a good life, whatever we do, along all the spokes and hub of the Wheel of Life, must induce this positive and happy feeling in us.
This is also referred to as the state of “Flow” and about which I wrote in my article on ‘Raison D’etre’. In a nutshell, for an ideal Ikigai, we should be in a constant state of Flow- irrespective of what we are doing.
What is Ikigai ?
Let me throw a spanner here- is doing something which you enjoy going to give you your Ikigai? If a teenager who loves playing videogames is allowed to do so 24×7, will he/she achieve his/her Ikigai? If a musician creates wonderful music day and night but only has himself to listen to it, is it his Ikigai? If someone loves running marathons and participates in twelve of them in a year, but his timings are nothing to write home about, is it her Ikigai? If someone loves doing social work and works wholeheartedly for the upliftment of the poor, but generates no financial resources to contribute tangibly, will it be his Ikigai? If a painter makes terrific paintings, but no one bothers to buy even a single one, will it get her Ikigai?
The answer to all these questions is a resounding NO for true Ikigai must have something more than sheer pleasure and joy for the person doing it.
This is where I will stop for now and let you meditate on the tenets of the ‘5 Blue Zones’ and “Ikigai”. Are we following these simple but effective steps? Have we found our Ikigai along all the spokes and hub of the Wheel of Life? Next week we will look at the ways to find and fix our Ikigai– till then, Hara Hachibu!
Musings of a (Financially) Illiterate Father: A Common Investor’s Guide to Wealth Creation and retention https://www.amazon.in/dp/1643247263/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_1FbjFbZK0A3ES
The Millionaire Mechanic: Financial Wisdom in the Rann https://www.amazon.in/dp/1646787404/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_-ZU9EbFWMC05T
MORE FROM THE WRITER :