Main Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me
Most frequent terms
File is corrupt. Don't bother downloading.
31 January 2020 (17:57)
Good book for identify yourself
24 July 2020 (21:05)
Good to read. Gives a new insight about living the everyday life.
07 February 2021 (22:10)
The book is fantastic and useful for me.
03 April 2021 (15:24)
Firstly you find this book boring but later on you will find this book just amazing .
05 May 2021 (22:37)
dont download. book is corrupt
29 May 2021 (04:26)
File is corrupt
07 June 2021 (15:57)
The file is okay, I am reading the book right now
23 July 2021 (15:45)
File is absolutely fine and very nice book too.
28 August 2021 (19:16)
File isn't corrupt, their mindset is. Anyways, a good book. Worth reading!! ❤
31 August 2021 (16:58)
I agree with you my friend for the eternity of my meaningful life
08 September 2021 (21:50)
Need a help
Can anyone upload this file on Google drive and then share its Google drive link
08 September 2021 (21:51)
I was able to define my Ikigai thanks to this book, a lot of practical and useful advice for life, it changes consciousness!
11 October 2021 (13:57)
a worth reading book especially if you feel lost with your life and in the crisis of defining your identity.
this book offer you inspiration and ideas on defining your own life and appreciating what life offer you
-focus on things you are able to change and do not worry about what you cannot
-embrace the imperfection as it also offer beauty.
hopefully you enjoy reading this book
this book offer you inspiration and ideas on defining your own life and appreciating what life offer you
-focus on things you are able to change and do not worry about what you cannot
-embrace the imperfection as it also offer beauty.
hopefully you enjoy reading this book
21 October 2021 (03:56)
This library helped me a lot in my studies and coping with anxiety and depression. Thanks!
26 December 2021 (12:19)
FINALLY COMPLETED !
WHAT A BOOK .
WHAT A BOOK .
14 January 2022 (07:06)
ive tried re-downloading the file 7 times now, every time i try to open with ibooks it says file is corrupt :( no fair, i'm dying to read it
not sure how it works but does no one have a 'google drive' or something i can download from? please!?
not sure how it works but does no one have a 'google drive' or something i can download from? please!?
01 February 2022 (16:11)
hurrah! i did it!
for whoever has trouble with opening the file in ibooks on an apple laptop from a direct download;
instead of download click 'send to kindle or email', open file with ibooks from mail app On your Phone
the problem appears to be ibooks on the laptop, it opens just fine if i do it directly on my phone
for whoever has trouble with opening the file in ibooks on an apple laptop from a direct download;
instead of download click 'send to kindle or email', open file with ibooks from mail app On your Phone
the problem appears to be ibooks on the laptop, it opens just fine if i do it directly on my phone
01 February 2022 (18:00)
Can I download more tham 5 pdf?
15 February 2022 (04:55)
This book is worth reading !!
It's a small book , less pages but contains meaningful information .
A must read book for people who look too confused in life and yes it helped me a lot . And yes I too found my ikigai
Happy for that
It's a small book , less pages but contains meaningful information .
A must read book for people who look too confused in life and yes it helped me a lot . And yes I too found my ikigai
Happy for that
04 May 2022 (08:52)
Great Book on learning ways of living that centurions have used to live well past the age of 100.
01 June 2022 (19:57)
I love this book. I have it paper copy and digital!
06 June 2022 (01:11)
can some teach me how to read it in this site? the file is unavailable fot download
11 June 2022 (18:27)
PENGUIN BOOKS An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 375 Hudson Street New York, New York 10014 penguin.com Copyright © 2016 by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles Translation copyright © 2017 by Penguin Random House LLC Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader. Originally published in Spanish as Ikigai: Los secretos de Japón para una vida larga y feliz by Ediciones Urano, Barcelona. Illustration here: Abbie/Shutterstock All other illustrations copyright © 2016 by Marisa Martínez Graphics copyright © 2016 by Flora Buki LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA Names: García, Héctor, 1981– author. | Miralles, Francesc, 1968– author. Title: Ikigai : the Japanese secret to a long and happy life / Héctor García and Francesc Miralles ; translated by Heather Cleary. Other titles: Ikigai. English Description: New York : Penguin Books,  | Originally published in Spanish as “Ikigai: Los secretos de Japón para una vida larga y feliz” by Ediciones Urano in 2016." | Includes bibliographical references. | Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed. Identifiers: LCCN 2017005811 (print) | LCCN 2017022599 (ebook) | ISBN 9781524704551 (ebook) | ISBN 9780143130727 (hardcover) Subjects: LCSH: Longevity—Japan. | Longevity. | Happiness. | Quality of life Classification: LCC RA776.75 (ebook) | LCC RA776.75 .G3713 2017 (print) | DDC 613—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017005811 Neither the publisher nor the author is engaged in rendering professional advice or services to the individu; al reader. The ideas, procedures, and suggestions contained in this book are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your health require medical supervision. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this book. While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content. Cover illustration by Olga Grlic Cover art direction by Roseanne Serra Version_2 For my brother, Aitor, who’s said to me more often than anyone else, “I don’t know what to do with my life.” —HÉCTOR GARCÍA For all my past, present, and future friends, for being my home and my motivation along the way. —FRANCESC MIRALLES Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years. —Japanese proverb CONTENTS Title Page Copyright Dedication Epigraph Prologue Ikigai: A mysterious word I. Ikigai The art of staying young while growing old II. Antiaging Secrets Little things that add up to a long and happy life III. From Logotherapy to Ikigai How to live longer and better by finding your purpose IV. Find Flow in Everything You Do How to turn work and free time into spaces for growth V. Masters of Longevity Words of wisdom from the longest-living people in the world VI. Lessons from Japan’s Centenarians Traditions and proverbs for happiness and longevity VII. The Ikigai Diet What the world’s longest-living people eat and drink VIII. Gentle Movements, Longer Life Exercises from the East that promote health and longevity IX. Resilience and Wabi-sabi How to face life’s challenges without letting stress and worry age you Epilogue Ikigai: The art of living Notes Suggestions for further reading About the Authors PROLOGUE Ikigai: A mysterious word THIS BOOK FIRST came into being on a rainy night in Tokyo, when its authors sat down together for the first time in one of the city’s tiny bars. We had read each other’s work but had never met, thanks to the thousands of miles that separate Barcelona from the capital of Japan. Then a mutual acquaintance put us in touch, launching a friendship that led to this project and seems destined to last a lifetime. The next time we got together, a year later, we strolled through a park in downtown Tokyo and ended up talking about trends in Western psychology, specifically logotherapy, which helps people find their purpose in life. We remarked that Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy had gone out of fashion among practicing therapists, who favored other schools of psychology, though people still search for meaning in what they do and how they live. We ask ourselves things like: What is the meaning of my life? Is the point just to live longer, or should I seek a higher purpose? Why do some people know what they want and have a passion for life, while others languish in confusion? At some point in our conversation, the mysterious word ikigai came up. This Japanese concept, which translates roughly as “the happiness of always being busy,” is like logotherapy, but it goes a step beyond. It also seems to be one way of explaining the extraordinary longevity of the Japanese, especially on the island of Okinawa, where there are 24.55 people over the age of 100 for every 100,000 inhabitants—far more than the global average. Those who study why the inhabitants of this island in the south of Japan live longer than people anywhere else in the world believe that one of the keys—in addition to a healthful diet, a simple life in the outdoors, green tea, and the subtropical climate (its average temperature is like that of Hawaii)—is the ikigai that shapes their lives. While researching this concept, we discovered that not a single book in the fields of psychology or personal development is dedicated to bringing this philosophy to the West. Is ikigai the reason there are more centenarians in Okinawa than anywhere else? How does it inspire people to stay active until the very end? What is the secret to a long and happy life? As we explored the matter further, we discovered that one place in particular, Ogimi, a rural town on the north end of the island with a population of three thousand, boasts the highest life expectancy in the world—a fact that has earned it the nickname the Village of Longevity. Okinawa is where most of Japan’s shikuwasa—a limelike fruit that packs an extraordinary antioxidant punch—comes from. Could that be Ogimi’s secret to long life? Or is it the purity of the water used to brew its Moringa tea? We decided to go study the secrets of the Japanese centenarians in person. After a year of preliminary research we arrived in the village—where residents speak an ancient dialect and practice an animist religion that features long-haired forest sprites called bunagaya—with our cameras and recording devices in hand. As soon as we arrived we could sense the incredible friendliness of its residents, who laughed and joked incessantly amid lush green hills fed by crystalline waters. As we conducted our interviews with the eldest residents of the town, we realized that something far more powerful than just these natural resources was at work: an uncommon joy flows from its inhabitants and guides them through the long and pleasurable journey of their lives. Again, the mysterious ikigai. But what is it, exactly? How do you get it? It never ceased to surprise us that this haven of nearly eternal life was located precisely in Okinawa, where two hundred thousand innocent lives were lost at the end of World War II. Rather than harbor animosity toward outsiders, however, Okinawans live by the principle of ichariba chode, a local expression that means “treat everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before.” It turns out that one of the secrets to happiness of Ogimi’s residents is feeling like part of a community. From an early age they practice yuimaaru, or teamwork, and so are used to helping one another. Nurturing friendships, eating light, getting enough rest, and doing regular, moderate exercise are all part of the equation of good health, but at the heart of the joie de vivre that inspires these centenarians to keep celebrating birthdays and cherishing each new day is their ikigai. The purpose of this book is to bring the secrets of Japan’s centenarians to you and give you the tools to find your own ikigai. Because those who discover their ikigai have everything they need for a long and joyful journey through life. Happy travels! HÉCTOR GARCÍA AND FRANCESC MIRALLES I IKIGAI The art of staying young while growing old What is your reason for being? According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai—what a French philosopher might call a raison d’être. Some people have found their ikigai, while others are still looking, though they carry it within them. Our ikigai is hidden deep inside each of us, and finding it requires a patient search. According to those born on Okinawa, the island with the most centenarians in the world, our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning. Whatever you do, don’t retire! Having a clearly defined ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness, and meaning to our lives. The purpose of this book is to help you find yours, and to share insights from Japanese philosophy on the lasting health of body, mind, and spirit. One surprising thing you notice, living in Japan, is how active people remain after they retire. In fact, many Japanese people never really retire—they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows. There is, in fact, no word in Japanese that means retire in the sense of “leaving the workforce for good” as in English. According to Dan Buettner, a National Geographic reporter who knows the country well, having a purpose in life is so important in Japanese culture that our idea of retirement simply doesn’t exist there. The island of (almost) eternal youth Certain longevity studies suggest that a strong sense of community and a clearly defined ikigai are just as important as the famously healthful Japanese diet—perhaps even more so. Recent medical studies of centenarians from Okinawa and other so-called Blue Zones—the geographic regions where people live longest—provide a number of interesting facts about these extraordinary human beings: Not only do they live much longer than the rest of the world’s population, they also suffer from fewer chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; inflammatory disorders are also less common. Many of these centenarians enjoy enviable levels of vitality and health that would be unthinkable for people of advanced age elsewhere. Their blood tests reveal fewer free radicals (which are responsible for cellular aging), as a result of drinking tea and eating until their stomachs are only 80 percent full. Women experience more moderate symptoms during menopause, and both men and women maintain higher levels of sexual hormones until much later in life. The rate of dementia is well below the global average. The Characters Behind Ikigai In Japanese, ikigai is written as 生き甲斐, combining 生き, which means “life,” with 甲斐, which means “to be worthwhile.” 甲斐 can be broken down into the characters 甲, which means “armor,” “number one,” and “to be the first” (to head into battle, taking initiative as a leader), and 斐, which means “beautiful” or “elegant.” Though we will consider each of these findings over the course of the book, research clearly indicates that the Okinawans’ focus on ikigai gives a sense of purpose to each and every day and plays an important role in their health and longevity. The five Blue Zones Okinawa holds first place among the world’s Blue Zones. In Okinawa, women in particular live longer and have fewer diseases than anywhere else in the world. The five regions identified and analyzed by Dan Buettner in his book The Blue Zones are: Okinawa, Japan (especially the northern part of the island). The locals eat a diet rich in vegetables and tofu typically served on small plates. In addition to their philosophy of ikigai, the moai, or close-knit group of friends (see page 15), plays an important role in their longevity. Sardinia, Italy (specifically the provinces of Nuoro and Ogliastra). Locals on this island consume plenty of vegetables and one or two glasses of wine per day. As in Okinawa, the cohesive nature of this community is another factor directly related to longevity. Loma Linda, California. Researchers studied a group of Seventh-day Adventists who are among the longest-living people in the United States. The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Locals remain remarkably active after ninety; many of the region’s older residents have no problem getting up at five thirty in the morning to work in the fields. Ikaria, Greece. One of every three inhabitants of this island near the coast of Turkey is over ninety years old (compared to less than 1 percent of the population of the United States), a fact that has earned it the nickname the Island of Long Life. The local secret seems to be a lifestyle that dates back to 500 BC. In the following chapters, we will examine several factors that seem to be the keys to longevity and are found across the Blue Zones, paying special attention to Okinawa and its so-called Village of Longevity. First, however, it is worth pointing out that three of these regions are islands, where resources can be scarce and communities have to help one another. For many, helping others might be an ikigai strong enough to keep them alive. According to scientists who have studied the five Blue Zones, the keys to longevity are diet, exercise, finding a purpose in life (an ikigai), and forming strong social ties—that is, having a broad circle of friends and good family relations. Members of these communities manage their time well in order to reduce stress, consume little meat or processed foods, and drink alcohol in moderation.1 They don’t do strenuous exercise, but they do move every day, taking walks and working in their vegetable gardens. People in the Blue Zones would rather walk than drive. Gardening, which involves daily low-intensity movement, is a practice almost all of them have in common. The 80 percent secret One of the most common sayings in Japan is “Hara hachi bu,” which is repeated before or after eating and means something like “Fill your belly to 80 percent.” Ancient wisdom advises against eating until we are full. This is why 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. Of course, there is no way to know objectively if your stomach is at 80 percent capacity. The lesson to learn from this saying is that we should stop eating when we are starting to feel full. The extra side dish, the snack we eat when we know in our hearts we don’t really need it, the apple pie after lunch—all these will give us pleasure in the short term, but not having them will make us happier in the long term. The way food is served is also important. By presenting their meals on many small plates, the Japanese tend to eat less. A typical meal in a restaurant in Japan is served in five plates on a tray, four of them very small and the main dish slightly bigger. Having five plates in front of you makes it seem like you are going to eat a lot, but what happens most of the time is that you end up feeling slightly hungry. This is one of the reasons why Westerners in Japan typically lose weight and stay trim. Recent studies by nutritionists reveal that Okinawans consume a daily average of 1,800 to 1,900 calories, compared to 2,200 to 3,300 in the United States, and have a body mass index between 18 and 22, compared to 26 or 27 in the United States. The Okinawan diet is rich in tofu, sweet potatoes, fish (three times per week), and vegetables (roughly 11 ounces per day). In the chapter dedicated to nutrition we will see which healthy, antioxidant-rich foods are included in this 80 percent. Moai: Connected for life It is customary in Okinawa to form close bonds within local communities. 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. The moai has its origins in hard times, when farmers would get together to share best practices and help one another cope with meager harvests. 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 funds collected by the group are used for activities, but if there is money left over, one member (decided on a rotating basis) receives a set amount from the surplus. In this way, being part of a moai helps maintain emotional and financial stability. If a member of a moai is in financial trouble, he or she can get an advance from the group’s savings. While the details of each moai’s accounting practices vary according to the group and its economic means, the feeling of belonging and support gives the individual a sense of security and helps increase life expectancy. • • • FOLLOWING THIS BRIEF introduction to the topics covered in this book, we look at a few causes of premature aging in modern life, and then explore different factors related to ikigai. II ANTIAGING SECRETS Little things that add up to a long and happy life Aging’s escape velocity For more than a century, we’ve managed to add an average of 0.3 years to our life expectancy every year. But what would happen if we had the technology to add a year of life expectancy every year? In theory, we would achieve biological immortality, having reached aging’s “escape velocity.” Aging’s Escape Velocity and the Rabbit Imagine a sign far off in the future with a number on it that represents the age of your death. Every year that you live, you advance closer to the sign. When you reach the sign, you die. Now imagine a rabbit holding the sign and walking to the future. Every year that you live, the rabbit is half a year as far away. After a while, you will reach the rabbit and die. But what if the rabbit could walk at a pace of one year for every year of your life? You would never be able to catch the rabbit, and therefore you would never die. The speed at which the rabbit walks to the future is our technology. The more we advance technology and knowledge of our bodies, the faster we can make the rabbit walk. Aging’s escape velocity is the moment at which the rabbit walks at a pace of one year per year or faster, and we become immortal. Researchers with an eye to the future, such as Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey, claim that we’ll reach this escape velocity in a matter of decades. Other scientists are less optimistic, predicting that we’ll reach a limit, a maximum age we won’t be able to surpass, no matter how much technology we have. For example, some biologists assert that our cells stop regenerating after about 120 years. Active mind, youthful body There is much wisdom in the classic saying “mens sana in corpore sano” (“a sound mind in a sound body”): It reminds us that both mind and body are important, and that the health of one is connected to that of the other. It has been shown that maintaining an active, adaptable mind is one of the key factors in staying young. Having a youthful mind also drives you toward a healthy lifestyle that will slow the aging process. Just as a lack of physical exercise has negative effects on our bodies and mood, a lack of mental exercise is bad for us because it causes our neurons and neural connections to deteriorate—and, as a result, reduces our ability to react to our surroundings. This is why it’s so important to give your brain a workout. One pioneer in advocating for mental exercise is the Israeli neuroscientist Shlomo Breznitz, who argues that the brain needs a lot of stimulation in order to stay in shape. As he stated in an interview with Eduard Punset for the Spanish television program Redes: There is a tension between what is good for someone and what they want to do. This is because people, especially older people, like to do things as they’ve always done them. The problem is that when the brain develops ingrained habits, it doesn’t need to think anymore. Things get done quickly and efficiently on automatic pilot, often in a very advantageous way. This creates a tendency to stick to routines, and the only way of breaking these is to confront the brain with new information.1 Presented with new information, the brain creates new connections and is revitalized. This is why it is so important to expose yourself to change, even if stepping outside your comfort zone means feeling a bit of anxiety. The effects of mental training have been scientifically demonstrated. According to Collins Hemingway and Shlomo Breznitz in their book Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom, mental training is beneficial on many levels: “You begin exercising your brain by doing a certain task for the first time,” he writes. “And at first it seems very difficult, but as you learn how to do it, the training is already working. The second time, you realize that it’s easier, not harder, to do, because you’re getting better at it. This has a fantastic effect on a person’s mood. In and of itself, it is a transformation that affects not only the results obtained, but also his or her self-image.” This description of a “mental workout” might sound a bit formal, but simply interacting with others—playing a game, for example—offers new stimuli and helps prevent the depression that can come with solitude. Our neurons start to age while we are still in our twenties. This process is slowed, however, by intellectual activity, curiosity, and a desire to learn. Dealing with new situations, learning something new every day, playing games, and interacting with other people seem to be essential antiaging strategies for the mind. Furthermore, a more positive outlook in this regard will yield greater mental benefits. Stress: Accused of killing longevity Many people seem older than they are. Research into the causes of premature aging has shown that stress has a lot to do with it, because the body wears down much faster during periods of crisis. The American Institute of Stress investigated this degenerative process and concluded that most health problems are caused by stress. Researchers at the Heidelberg University Hospital conducted a study in which they subjected a young doctor to a job interview, which they made even more stressful by forcing him to solve complex math problems for thirty minutes. Afterward, they took a blood sample. What they discovered was that his antibodies had reacted to stress the same way they react to pathogens, activating the proteins that trigger an immune response. The problem is that this response not only neutralizes harmful agents, it also damages healthy cells, leading them to age prematurely. The University of California conducted a similar study, taking data and samples from thirty-nine women who had high levels of stress due to the illness of one of their children and comparing them to samples from women with healthy children and low levels of stress. They found that stress promotes cellular aging by weakening cell structures known as telomeres, which affect cellular regeneration and how our cells age. As the study revealed, the greater the stress, the greater the degenerative effect on cells. How does stress work? These days, people live at a frantic pace and in a nearly constant state of competition. At this fever pitch, stress is a natural response to the information being received by the body as potentially dangerous or problematic. Theoretically, this is a useful reaction, as it helps us survive in hostile surroundings. Over the course of our evolution, we have used this response to deal with difficult situations and to flee from predators. The alarm that goes off in our head makes our neurons activate the pituitary gland, which produces hormones that release corticotropin, which in turn circulates through the body via the sympathetic nervous system. The adrenal gland is then triggered to release adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline raises our respiratory rate and pulse and prepares our muscles for action, getting the body ready to react to perceived danger, while cortisol increases the release of dopamine and blood glucose, which is what gets us “charged up” and allows us to face challenges. Cave Dwellers Modern Humans Were relaxed most of the time. Work most of the time and are alert to any and all threats. Felt stress only in very specific situations. Are online or waiting for notifications from their cell phones twenty-four hours a day. The threats were real: A predator could end their lives at any moment. The brain associates the ping of a cell phone or an e-mail notification with the threat of a predator. High doses of cortisol and adrenaline at moments of danger kept the body healthy. Low doses of cortisol flow constantly through the body, with implications for a range of health problems, including adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. These processes are, in moderation, beneficial—they help us overcome challenges in our daily lives. Nonetheless, the stress to which human beings are subjected today is clearly harmful. Stress has a degenerative effect over time. A sustained state of emergency affects the neurons associated with memory, as well as inhibiting the release of certain hormones, the absence of which can cause depression. Its secondary effects include irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure. As such, though challenges are good for keeping mind and body active, we should adjust our high-stress lifestyles in order to avoid the premature aging of our bodies. Be mindful about reducing stress Whether or not the threats we perceive are real, stress is an easily identifiable condition that not only causes anxiety but is also highly psychosomatic, affecting everything from our digestive system to our skin. This is why prevention is so important in avoiding the toll that stress takes on us—and why many experts recommend practicing mindfulness. The central premise of this stress-reduction method is focusing on the self: noticing our responses, even if they are conditioned by habit, in order to be fully conscious of them. In this way, we connect with the here and now and limit thoughts that tend to spiral out of control. “We have to learn to turn off the autopilot that’s steering us in an endless loop. We all know people who snack while talking on the phone or watching the news. You ask them if the omelet they just ate had onion in it, and they can’t tell you,” says Roberto Alcibar, who abandoned his fast-paced life to become a certified instructor of mindfulness after an illness threw him into a period of acute stress. One way to reach a state of mindfulness is through meditation, which helps filter the information that reaches us from the outside world. It can also be achieved through breathing exercises, yoga, and body scans. Achieving mindfulness involves a gradual process of training, but with a bit of practice we can learn to focus our mind completely, which reduces stress and helps us live longer. A little stress is good for you While sustained, intense stress is a known enemy of longevity and both mental and physical health, low levels of stress have been shown to be beneficial. After observing a group of test subjects for more than twenty years, Dr. Howard S. Friedman, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, discovered that people who maintained a low level of stress, who faced challenges and put their heart and soul into their work in order to succeed, lived longer than those who chose a more relaxed lifestyle and retired earlier. From this, he concluded that a small dose of stress is a positive thing, as those who live with low levels of stress tend to develop healthier habits, smoke less, and drink less alcohol.2 Given this, it is not surprising that many of the supercentenarians—people who live to be 110 or more—whom we’ll meet in this book talk about having lived intense lives and working well into old age. A lot of sitting will age you In the Western world in particular, the rise in sedentary behavior has led to numerous diseases such as hypertension and obesity, which in turn affect longevity. Spending too much time seated at work or at home not only reduces muscular and respiratory fitness but also increases appetite and curbs the desire to participate in activities. Being sedentary can lead to hypertension, imbalanced eating, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even certain kinds of cancer. Recent studies have shown a connection between a lack of physical activity and the progressive distortion of telomeres in the immune system, which ages those cells and, in turn, the organism as a whole. This is a problem at all life stages, not only among adults. Sedentary children suffer from high rates of obesity and all its associated health issues and risks, which is why it’s so important to develop a healthy and active lifestyle at an early age. It’s easy to be less sedentary; it just takes a bit of effort and a few changes to your routine. We can access a more active lifestyle that makes us feel better inside and out—we just have to add a few ingredients to our everyday habits: Walk to work, or just go on a walk for at least twenty minutes each day. Use your feet instead of an elevator or escalator. This is good for your posture, your muscles, and your respiratory system, among other things. Participate in social or leisure activities so that you don’t spend too much time in front of the television. Replace your junk food with fruit and you’ll have less of an urge to snack, and more nutrients in your system. Get the right amount of sleep. Seven to nine hours is good, but any more than that makes us lethargic. Play with children or pets, or join a sports team. This not only strengthens the body but also stimulates the mind and boosts self-esteem. Be conscious of your daily routine in order to detect harmful habits and replace them with more positive ones. By making these small changes, we can begin to renew our bodies and minds and increase our life expectancy. A model’s best-kept secret Though we age both externally and internally, both physically and mentally, one of the things that tell us the most about people’s age is their skin, which takes on different textures and colors according to processes going on beneath the surface. Most of those who make their living as models claim to sleep between nine and ten hours the night before a fashion show. This gives their skin a taut, wrinkle-free appearance and a healthy, radiant glow. Science has shown that sleep is a key antiaging tool, because when we sleep we generate melatonin, a hormone that occurs naturally in our bodies. The pineal gland produces it from the neurotransmitter serotonin according to our diurnal and nocturnal rhythms, and it plays a role in our sleep and waking cycles. A powerful antioxidant, melatonin helps us live longer, and also offers the following benefits: It strengthens the immune system. It contains an element that protects against cancer. It promotes the natural production of insulin. It slows the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It helps prevent osteoporosis and fight heart disease. For all these reasons, melatonin is a great ally in preserving youth. It should be noted, however, that melatonin production decreases after age thirty. We can compensate for this by: Eating a balanced diet and getting more calcium. Soaking up a moderate amount of sun each day. Getting enough sleep. Avoiding stress, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, all of which make it harder to get a good night’s rest, depriving us of the melatonin we need. Experts are trying to determine whether artificially stimulating production of melatonin might help slow the aging process . . . which would confirm the theory that we already carry the secret to longevity within us. Antiaging attitudes The mind has tremendous power over the body and how quickly it ages. Most doctors agree that the secret to keeping the body young is keeping the mind active—a key element of ikigai—and in not caving in when we face difficulties throughout our lives. One study, conducted at Yeshiva University, found that the people who live the longest have two dispositional traits in common: a positive attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness. In other words, those who face challenges with a positive outlook and are able to manage their emotions are already well on their way toward longevity. A stoic attitude—serenity in the face of a setback—can also help keep you young, as it lowers anxiety and stress levels and stabilizes behavior. This can be seen in the greater life expectancies of certain cultures with unhurried, deliberate lifestyles. Many centenarians and supercentenarians have similar profiles: They have had full lives that were difficult at times, but they knew how to approach these challenges with a positive attitude and not be overwhelmed by the obstacles they faced. Alexander Imich, who in 2014 became the world’s oldest living man at age 111, knew he had good genes but understood that other factors contributed, too: “The life you live is equally or more important for longevity,” he said in an interview with Reuters after being added to Guinness World Records in 2014. An ode to longevity During our stay in Ogimi, the village that holds the Guinness record for longevity, a woman who was about to turn 100 years old sang the following song for us in a mixture of Japanese and the local dialect: To keep healthy and have a long life, eat just a little of everything with relish, go to bed early, get up early, and then go out for a walk. We live each day with serenity and we enjoy the journey. To keep healthy and have a long life, we get on well with all of our friends. Spring, summer, fall, winter, we happily enjoy all the seasons. The secret is to not get distracted by how old the fingers are; from the fingers to the head and back once again. If you keep moving with your fingers working, 100 years will come to you.* We can now use our fingers to turn the page to the next chapter, where we will look at the close relationship between longevity and discovering our life’s mission. III FROM LOGOTHERAPY TO IKIGAI How to live longer and better by finding your purpose What is logotherapy? A colleague once asked Viktor Frankl to define his school of psychology in a single phrase, to which Frankl replied, “Well, in logotherapy the patient sits up straight and has to listen to things that are, on occasion, hard to hear.” The colleague had just described psychoanalysis to him in the following terms: “In psychoanalysis, the patient lies down on a couch and tells you things that are, on occasion, hard to say.” Frankl explains that one of the first questions he would ask his patients was “Why do you not commit suicide?” Usually the patient found good reasons not to, and was able to carry on. What, then, does logotherapy do? 1 The answer is pretty clear: It helps you find reasons to live. Logotherapy pushes patients to consciously discover their life’s purpose in order to confront their neuroses. Their quest to fulfill their destiny then motivates them to press forward, breaking the mental chains of the past and overcoming whatever obstacles they encounter along the way. Something to Live For A study conducted by Frankl in his Vienna clinic found that among both patients and personnel, around 80 percent believed that human beings needed a reason for living, and around 60 percent felt they had someone or something in their lives worth dying for.2 The search for meaning The search for purpose became a personal, driving force that allowed Frankl to achieve his goals. The process of logotherapy can be summarized in these five steps: A person feels empty, frustrated, or anxious. The therapist shows him that what he is feeling is the desire to have a meaningful life. The patient discovers his life’s purpose (at that particular point in time). Of his own free will, the patient decides to accept or reject that destiny. This newfound passion for life helps him overcome obstacles and sorrows. Frankl himself would live and die for his principles and ideals. His experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz showed him that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”3 It was something he had to go through alone, without any help, and it inspired him for the rest of his life. Ten Differences Between Psychoanalysis and Logotherapy Psychoanalysis Logotherapy The patient reclines on a couch, like a patient. The patient sits facing the therapist, who guides him or her without passing judgment. Is retrospective: It looks to the past. Looks toward the future. Is introspective: It analyzes neuroses. Does not delve into the patient’s neuroses. The drive is toward pleasure. The drive is toward purpose and meaning. Centers on psychology. Includes a spiritual dimension. Works on psychogenic neuroses. Also works on noogenic, or existential, neuroses. Analyzes the unconscious origin of conflicts (instinctual dimension). Deals with conflicts when and where they arise (spiritual dimension). Limits itself to the patient’s instincts. Also deals with spiritual realities. Is fundamentally incompatible with faith. Is compatible with faith. Seeks to reconcile conflicts and satisfy impulses and instincts. Seeks to help the patient find meaning in his life and satisfy his moral principles. Fight for yourself Existential frustration arises when our life is without purpose, or when that purpose is skewed. In Frankl’s view, however, there is no need to see this frustration as an anomaly or a symptom of neurosis; instead, it can be a positive thing—a catalyst for change. Logotherapy does not see this frustration as mental illness, the way other forms of therapy do, but rather as spiritual anguish—a natural and beneficial phenomenon that drives those who suffer from it to seek a cure, whether on their own or with the help of others, and in so doing to find greater satisfaction in life. It helps them change their own destiny. Logotherapy enters the picture if the person needs help doing this, if he needs guidance in discovering his life’s purpose and later in overcoming conflicts so he can keep moving toward his objective. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl cites one of Nietzsche’s famous aphorisms: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Based on his own experience, Frankl believed that our health depends on that natural tension that comes from comparing what we’ve accomplished so far with what we’d like to achieve in the future. What we need, then, is not a peaceful existence, but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal. Existential crisis, on the other hand, is typical of modern societies in which people do what they are told to do, or what others do, rather than what they want to do. They often try to fill the gap between what is expected of them and what they want for themselves with economic power or physical pleasure, or by numbing their senses. It can even lead to suicide. Sunday neurosis, for example, is what happens when, without the obligations and commitments of the workweek, the individual realizes how empty he is inside. He has to find a solution. Above all, he has to find his purpose, his reason for getting out of bed—his ikigai. “I Feel Empty Inside” In a study conducted at the Vienna Polyclinic Hospital, Frankl’s team found that 55 percent of the patients they interviewed were experiencing some degree of existential crisis.4 According to logotherapy, discovering one’s purpose in life helps an individual fill that existential void. Frankl, a man who faced his problems and turned his objectives into actions, could look back on his life in peace as he grew old. He did not have to envy those still enjoying their youth, because he had amassed a broad set of experiences that showed he had lived for something. Better living through logotherapy: A few key ideas We don’t create the meaning of our life, as Sartre claimed—we discover it. We each have a unique reason for being, which can be adjusted or transformed many times over the years. Just as worry often brings about precisely the thing that was feared, excessive attention to a desire (or “hyper-intention”) can keep that desire from being fulfilled. Humor can help break negative cycles and reduce anxiety. We all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things. The side of the equation we end up on depends on our decisions, not on the condition in which we find ourselves. In the pages that follow, we will look at four cases from Frankl’s own practice in order to better understand the search for meaning and purpose. Case study: Viktor Frankl In German concentration camps, as in those that would later be built in Japan and Korea, psychiatrists confirmed that the prisoners with the greatest chance of survival were those who had things they wanted to accomplish outside the camp, those who felt a strong need to get out of there alive. This was true of Frankl, who, after being released and successfully developing the school of logotherapy, realized he had been the first patient of his own practice. Frankl had a goal to achieve, and it made him persevere. He arrived at Auschwitz carrying a manuscript that contained all the theories and research he had compiled over the course of his career, ready for publication. When it was confiscated, he felt compelled to write it all over again, and that need drove him and gave his life meaning amid the constant horror and doubt of the concentration camp—so much so that over the years, and especially when he fell ill with typhus, he would jot down fragments and key words from the lost work on any scrap of paper he found. Case study: The American diplomat An important North American diplomat went to Frankl to pick up where he left off with a course of treatment he had started five years earlier in the United States. When Frankl asked him why he’d started therapy in the first place, the diplomat answered that he hated his job and his country’s international policies, which he had to follow and enforce. His American psychoanalyst, whom he’d been seeing for years, insisted he make peace with his father so that his government and his job, both representations of the paternal figure, would seem less disagreeable. Frankl, however, showed him in just a few sessions that his frustration was due to the fact that he wanted to pursue a different career, and the diplomat concluded his treatment with that idea in mind. Five years later, the former diplomat informed Frankl that he had been working during that time in a different profession, and that he was happy. In Frankl’s view, the man not only didn’t need all those years of psychoanalysis, he also couldn’t even really be considered a “patient” in need of therapy. He was simply someone in search of a new life’s purpose; as soon as he found it, his life took on deeper meaning. Case study: The suicidal mother The mother of a boy who had died at age eleven was admitted to Frankl’s clinic after she tried to kill herself and her other son. It was this other son, paralyzed since birth, who kept her from carrying out her plan: He did believe his life had a purpose, and if his mother killed them both, it would keep him from achieving his goals. The woman shared her story in a group session. To help her, Frankl asked another woman to imagine a hypothetical situation in which she lay on her deathbed, old and wealthy but childless. The woman insisted that, in that case, she would have felt her life had been a failure. When the suicidal mother was asked to perform the same exercise, imagining herself on her deathbed, she looked back and realized that she had done everything in her power for her children—for both of them. She had given her paralyzed son a good life, and he had turned into a kind, reasonably happy person. To this she added, crying, “As for myself, I can look back peacefully on my life; for I can say my life was full of meaning, and I have tried hard to live it fully; I have done my best—I have done my best for my son. My life was no failure!” In this way, by imagining herself on her deathbed and looking back, the suicidal mother found the meaning that, though she was not aware of it, her life already had. Case study: The grief-stricken doctor An elderly doctor, unable to overcome the deep depression into which he’d fallen after the death of his wife two years earlier, went to Frankl for help. Instead of giving him advice or analyzing his condition, Frankl asked him what would have happened if he had been the one who died first. The doctor, horrified, answered that it would have been terrible for his poor wife, that she would have suffered tremendously. To which Frankl responded, “You see, doctor? You have spared her all that suffering, but the price you have to pay for this is to survive, and mourn her.” The doctor didn’t say another word. He left Frankl’s office in peace, after taking the therapist’s hand in his own. He was able to tolerate the pain in place of his beloved wife. His life had been given a purpose. Morita therapy In the same decade that logotherapy came into being—a few years earlier, in fact—Shoma Morita created his own purpose-centered therapy, in Japan. It proved to be effective in the treatment of neurosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress. In addition to being a psychotherapist, Shoma Morita was a Zen Buddhist, and his therapy left a lasting spiritual mark on Japan. Many Western forms of therapy focus on controlling or modifying the patient’s emotions. In the West, we tend to believe that what we think influences how we feel, which in turn influences how we act. In contrast, Morita therapy focuses on teaching patients to accept their emotions without trying to control them, since their feelings will change as a result of their actions. In addition to accepting the patient’s emotions, Morita therapy seeks to “create” new emotions on the basis of actions. According to Morita, these emotions are learned through experience and repetition. Morita therapy is not meant to eliminate symptoms; instead it teaches us to accept our desires, anxieties, fears, and worries, and let them go. As Morita writes in his book Morita Therapy and the True Nature of Anxiety-Based Disorders, “In feelings, it is best to be wealthy and generous.” Morita explained the idea of letting go of negative feelings with the following fable: A donkey that is tied to a post by a rope will keep walking around the post in an attempt to free itself, only to become more immobilized and attached to the post. The same thing applies to people with obsessive thinking who become more trapped in their own suffering when they try to escape from their fears and discomfort.5 The basic principles of Morita therapy Accept your feelings. If we have obsessive thoughts, we should not try to control them or get rid of them. If we do, they become more intense. Regarding human emotions, the Zen master would say, “If we try to get rid of one wave with another, we end up with an infinite sea.” We don’t create our feelings; they simply come to us, and we have to accept them. The trick is welcoming them. Morita likened emotions to the weather: We can’t predict or control them; we can only observe them. To this point, he often quoted the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who would say, “Hello, solitude. How are you today? Come, sit with me, and I will care for you.”6 Do what you should be doing. We shouldn’t focus on eliminating symptoms, because recovery will come on its own. We should focus instead on the present moment, and if we are suffering, on accepting that suffering. Above all, we should avoid intellectualizing the situation. The therapist’s mission is to develop the patient’s character so he or she can face any situation, and character is grounded in the things we do. Morita therapy does not offer its patients explanations, but rather allows them to learn from their actions and activities. It doesn’t tell you how to meditate, or how to keep a diary the way Western therapies do. It is up to the patient to make discoveries through experience. Discover your life’s purpose. We can’t control our emotions, but we can take charge of our actions every day. This is why we should have a clear sense of our purpose, and always keep Morita’s mantra in mind: “What do we need to be doing right now? What action should we be taking?” The key to achieving this is having dared to look inside yourself to find your ikigai. The four phases of Morita therapy Morita’s original treatment, which lasts fifteen to twenty-one days, consists of the following stages: Isolation and rest (five to seven days). During the first week of treatment, the patient rests in a room without any external stimuli. No television, books, family, friends, or speaking. All the patient has is his thoughts. He lies down for most of the day and is visited regularly by the therapist, who tries to avoid interacting with him as much as possible. The therapist simply advises the patient to continue observing the rise and fall of his emotions as he lies there. When the patient gets bored and wants to start doing things again, he is ready to move on to the next stage of therapy. Light occupational therapy (five to seven days). In this stage, the patient performs repetitive tasks in silence. One of these is keeping a diary about his thoughts and feelings. The patient goes outside after a week of being shut in, takes walks in nature, and does breathing exercises. He also starts doing simple activities, such as gardening, drawing, or painting. During this stage, the patient is still not allowed to talk to anyone, except the therapist. Occupational therapy (five to seven days). In this stage, the patient performs tasks that require physical movement. Dr. Morita liked to take his patients to the mountains to chop wood. In addition to physical tasks, the patient is also immersed in other activities, such as writing, painting, or making ceramics. The patient can speak with others at this stage, but only about the tasks at hand. The return to social life and the “real” world. The patient leaves the hospital and is reintroduced to social life, but maintains the practices of meditation and occupational therapy developed during treatment. The idea is to reenter society as a new person, with a sense of purpose, and without being controlled by social or emotional pressures. Naikan meditation Morita was a great Zen master of Naikan introspective meditation. Much of his therapy draws on his knowledge and mastery of this school, which centers on three questions the individual must ask him- or herself: What have I received from person X? What have I given to person X? What problems have I caused person X? Through these reflections, we stop identifying others as the cause of our problems and deepen our own sense of responsibility. As Morita said, “If you are angry and want to fight, think about it for three days before coming to blows. After three days, the intense desire to fight will pass on its own.”7 And now, ikigai Logotherapy and Morita therapy are both grounded in a personal, unique experience that you can access without therapists or spiritual retreats: the mission of finding your ikigai, your existential fuel. Once you find it, it is only a matter of having the courage and making the effort to stay on the right path. In the following chapters, we’ll take a look at the basic tools you’ll need to get moving along that path: finding flow in the tasks you’ve chosen to do, eating in a balanced and mindful way, doing low-intensity exercise, and learning not to give in when difficulties arise. In order to do this, you have to accept that the world—like the people who live in it—is imperfect, but that it is still full of opportunities for growth and achievement. Are you ready to throw yourself into your passion as if it were the most important thing in the world? IV FIND FLOW IN EVERYTHING YOU DO How to turn work and free time into spaces for growth We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. —Aristotle Going with the flow Imagine you are skiing down one of your favorite slopes. Powdery snow flies up on both sides of you like white sand. Conditions are perfect. You are entirely focused on skiing as well as you can. You know exactly how to move at each moment. There is no future, no past. There is only the present. You feel the snow, your skis, your body, and your consciousness united as a single entity. You are completely immersed in the experience, not thinking about or distracted by anything else. Your ego dissolves, and you become part of what you are doing. This is the kind of experience Bruce Lee described with his famous “Be water, my friend.” We’ve all felt our sense of time vanish when we lose ourselves in an activity we enjoy. We start cooking and before we know it, several hours have passed. We spend an afternoon with a book and forget about the world going by until we notice the sunset and realize we haven’t eaten dinner. We go surfing and don’t realize how many hours we have spent in the water until the next day, when our muscles ache. The opposite can also happen. When we have to complete a task we don’t want to do, every minute feels like a lifetime and we can’t stop looking at our watch. As the quip attributed to Einstein goes, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That is relativity.” The funny thing is that someone else might really enjoy the same task, but we want to finish as quickly as possible. What makes us enjoy doing something so much that we forget about whatever worries we might have while we do it? When are we happiest? These questions can help us discover our ikigai. The power of flow These questions are also at the heart of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research into the experience of being completely immersed in what we are doing. Csikszentmihalyi called this state “flow,” and described it as the pleasure, delight, creativity, and process when we are completely immersed in life. There is no magic recipe for finding happiness, for living according to your ikigai, but one key ingredient is the ability to reach this state of flow and, through this state, to have an “optimal experience.” In order to achieve this optimal experience, we have to focus on increasing the time we spend on activities that bring us to this state of flow, rather than allowing ourselves to get caught up in activities that offer immediate pleasure—like eating too much, abusing drugs or alcohol, or stuffing ourselves with chocolate in front of the TV. As Csikszentmihalyi asserts in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” It is not only creative professionals who require the high doses of concentration that promote flow. Most athletes, chess players, and engineers also spend much of their time on activities that bring them to this state. According to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, a chess player feels the same way upon entering a state of flow as a mathematician working on a formula or a surgeon performing an operation. A professor of psychology, Csikszentmihalyi analyzed data from people around the world and discovered that flow is the same among individuals of all ages and cultures. In New York and Okinawa, we all reach a state of flow in the same way. But what happens to our mind when we are in that state? When we flow, we are focused on a concrete task without any distractions. Our mind is “in order.” The opposite occurs when we try to do something while our mind is on other things. If you often find yourself losing focus while working on something you consider important, there are several strategies you can employ to increase your chances of achieving flow. The Seven Conditions for Achieving Flow According to researcher Owen Schaffer of DePaul University, the requirements for achieving flow are: Knowing what to do Knowing how to do it Knowing how well you are doing Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved) Perceiving significant challenges Perceiving significant skills Being free from distractions1 Strategy 1: Choose a difficult task (but not too difficult!) Schaffer’s model encourages us to take on tasks that we have a chance of completing but that are slightly outside our comfort zone. Every task, sport, or job has a set of rules, and we need a set of skills to follow them. If the rules for completing a task or achieving a purpose are too basic relative to our skill set, we will likely get bored. Activities that are too easy lead to apathy. If, on the other hand, we assign ourselves a task that is too difficult, we won’t have the skills to complete it and will almost certainly give up—and feel frustrated, to boot. The ideal is to find a middle path, something aligned with our abilities but just a bit of a stretch, so we experience it as a challenge. This is what Ernest Hemingway meant when he said, “Sometimes I write better than I can.”2 We want to see challenges through to the end because we enjoy the feeling of pushing ourselves. Bertrand Russell expressed a similar idea when he said, “To be able to concentrate for a considerable amount of time is essential to difficult achievement.”3 If you’re a graphic designer, learn a new software program for your next project. If you’re a programmer, use a new programming language. If you’re a dancer, try to incorporate into your next routine a movement that has seemed impossible for years. Add a little something extra, something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Even doing something as simple as reading means following certain rules, having certain abilities and knowledge. If we set out to read a book on quantum mechanics for specialists in physics without being specialists in physics ourselves, we’ll probably give up after a few minutes. On the other end of the spectrum, if we already know everything a book has to tell us, we’ll get bored right away. However, if the book is appropriate to our knowledge and abilities, and builds on what we already know, we’ll immerse ourselves in our reading, and time will flow. This pleasure and satisfaction are evidence that we are in tune with our ikigai. Easy Challenging Beyond Our Abilities Boredom Flow Anxiety Strategy 2: Have a clear, concrete objective Video games—played in moderation—board games, and sports are great ways to achieve flow, because the objective tends to be very clear: Beat your rival or your own record while following a set of explicitly defined rules. Unfortunately, the objective isn’t quite as clear in most situations. According to a study by Boston Consulting Group, when asked about their bosses, the number one complaint of employees at multinational corporations is that they don’t “communicate the team’s mission clearly,” and that, as a result, the employees don’t know what their objectives are. What often happens, especially in big companies, is that the executives get lost in the details of obsessive planning, creating strategies to hide the fact that they don’t have a clear objective. It’s like heading out to sea with a map but no destination. It is much more important to have a compass pointing to a concrete objective than to have a map. Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, encourages us to use the principle of “compass over maps” as a tool to navigate our world of uncertainty. In the book Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, he and Jeff Howe write, “In an increasingly unpredictable world moving ever more quickly, a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost. A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go. It doesn’t mean that you should start your journey without any idea where you’re going. What it does mean is understanding that while the path to your goal may not be straight, you’ll finish faster and more efficiently than you would have if you had trudged along a preplanned route.” In business, the creative professions, and education alike, it’s important to reflect on what we hope to achieve before starting to work, study, or make something. We should ask ourselves questions such as: What is my objective for today’s session in the studio? How many words am I going to write today for the article coming out next month? What is my team’s mission? How fast will I set the metronome tomorrow in order to play that sonata at an allegro tempo by the end of the week? Having a clear objective is important in achieving flow, but we also have to know how to leave it behind when we get down to business. Once the journey has begun, we should keep this objective in mind without obsessing over it. When Olympic athletes compete for a gold medal, they can’t stop to think how pretty the medal is. They have to be present in the moment—they have to flow. If they lose focus for a second, thinking how proud they’ll be to show the medal to their parents, they’ll almost certainly commit an error at a critical moment and will not win the competition. One common example of this is writer’s block. Imagine that a writer has to finish a novel in three months. The objective is clear; the problem is that the writer can’t stop obsessing over it. Every day she wakes up thinking, “I have to write that novel,” and every day she sets about reading the newspaper and cleaning the house. Every evening she feels frustrated and promises she’ll get to work the next day. Days, weeks, and months pass, and the writer still hasn’t gotten anything down on the page, when all it would have taken was to sit down and get that first word out, then the second . . . to flow with the project, expressing her ikigai. As soon as you take these first small steps, your anxiety will disappear and you will achieve a pleasant flow in the activity you’re doing. Getting back to Albert Einstein, “a happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future.”4 Vague Objective Clearly Defined Objective and a Focus on Process Obsessive Desire to Achieve a Goal While Ignoring Process Confusion; time and energy wasted on meaningless tasks Flow Fixation on the objective rather than getting down to business Mental block Flow Mental block Strategy 3: Concentrate on a single task This is perhaps one of the greatest obstacles we face today, with so much technology and so many distractions. We’re listening to a video on YouTube while writing an e-mail, when suddenly a chat prompt pops up and we answer it. Then our smartphone vibrates in our pocket; just as soon as we respond to that message, we’re back at our computer, logging on to Facebook. Pretty soon thirty minutes have passed, and we’ve forgotten what the e-mail we were writing was supposed to be about. This also happens sometimes when we put on a movie with dinner and don’t realize how delicious the salmon was until we’re taking the last bite. We often think that combining tasks will save us time, but scientific evidence shows that it has the opposite effect. Even those who claim to be good at multitasking are not very productive. In fact, they are some of the least productive people. Our brains can take in millions of bits of information but can only actually process a few dozen per second. When we say we’re multitasking, what we’re really doing is switching back and forth between tasks very quickly. Unfortunately, we’re not computers adept at parallel processing. We end up spending all our energy alternating between tasks, instead of focusing on doing one of them well. Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, in order to focus on a task we need: To be in a distraction-free environment To have control over what we are doing at every moment Technology is great, if we’re in control of it. It’s not so great if it takes control of us. For example, if you have to write a research paper, you might sit down at your computer and use Google to look up the information you need. However, if you’re not very disciplined, you might end up surfing the Web instead of writing that paper. In that case, Google and the Internet will have taken over, pulling you out of your state of flow. It has been scientifically shown that if we continually ask our brains to switch back and forth between tasks, we waste time, make more mistakes, and remember less of what we’ve done. Several studies conducted at Stanford University by Clifford Ivar Nass describe our generation as suffering from an epidemic of multitasking. One such study analyzed the behavior of hundreds of students, dividing them into groups based on the number of things they tended to do at once. The students who were the most addicted to multitasking typically alternated among more than four tasks; for example, taking notes while reading a textbook, listening to a podcast, answering messages on their smartphone, and sometimes checking their Twitter timeline. Each group of students was shown a screen with several red and several blue arrows. The objective of the exercise was to count the red arrows. At first, all the students answered correctly right away, without much trouble. As the number of blue arrows increased (the number of red arrows stayed the same; only their position changed), however, the students accustomed to multitasking had serious trouble counting the red arrows in the time allotted, or as quickly as the students who did not habitually multitask, for one very simple reason: They got distracted by the blue arrows! Their brains were trained to pay attention to every stimulus, regardless of its importance, while the brains of the other students were trained to focus on a single task—in this case, counting the red arrows and ignoring the blue ones.5 Other studies indicate that working on several things at once lowers our productivity by at least 60 percent and our IQ by more than ten points. One study funded by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research found that a sample group of more than four thousand young adults between the ages of twenty and twenty-four who were addicted to their smartphones got less sleep, felt less connected to their community at school, and were more likely to show signs of depression.6 Concentrating on a Single Task Multitasking Makes achieving flow more likely Makes achieving flow impossible Increases productivity Decreases productivity by 60 percent (though it doesn’t seem to) Increases our power of retention Makes it harder to remember things Makes us less likely to make mistakes Makes us more likely to make mistakes Helps us feel calm and in control of the task at hand Makes us feel stressed by the sensation that we’re losing control, that our tasks are controlling us Causes us to become more considerate as we pay full attention to those around us Causes us to hurt those around us through our “addiction” to stimuli: always checking our phones, always on social media . . . Increases creativity Reduces creativity What can we do to avoid falling victim to this flow-impeding epidemic? How can we train our brains to focus on a single task? Here are a few ideas for creating a space and time free of distractions, to increase our chances of reaching a state of flow and thereby getting in touch with our ikigai: Don’t look at any kind of screen for the first hour you’re awake and the last hour before you go to sleep. Turn off your phone before you achieve flow. There is nothing more important than the task you have chosen to do during this time. If this seems too extreme, enable the “do not disturb” function so only the people closest to you can contact you in case of emergency. Designate one day of the week, perhaps a Saturday or Sunday, a day of technological “fasting,” making exceptions only for e-readers (without Wi-Fi) or MP3 players. Go to a café that doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Read and respond to e-mail only once or twice per day. Define those times clearly and stick to them. Try the Pomodoro Technique: Get yourself a kitchen timer (some are made to look like a pomodoro, or tomato) and commit to working on a single task as long as it’s running. The Pomodoro Technique recommends 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest for each cycle, but you can also do 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest. Find the pace that’s best for you; the most important thing is to be disciplined in completing each cycle. Start your work session with a ritual you enjoy and end it with a reward. Train your mind to return to the present when you find yourself getting distracted. Practice mindfulness or another form of meditation, go for a walk or a swim—whatever will help you get centered again. Work in a space where you will not be distracted. If you can’t do this at home, go to a library, a café, or, if your task involves playing the saxophone, a music studio. If you find that your surroundings continue to distract you, keep looking until you find the right place. Divide each activity into groups of related tasks, and assign each group its own place and time. For example, if you’re writing a magazine article, you could do research and take notes at home in the morning, write in the library in the afternoon, and edit on the couch at night. Bundle routine tasks—such as sending out invoices, making phone calls, and so on—and do them all at once. Advantages of Flow Disadvantages of Distraction A focused mind A wandering mind Living in the present Thinking about the past and the future We are free from worry Concerns about our daily life and the people around us invade our thoughts The hours fly by Every minute seems endless We feel in control We lose control and fail to complete the task at hand, or other tasks or people keep us from our work We prepare thoroughly We act without being prepared We know what we should be doing at any given moment We frequently get stuck and don’t know how to proceed Our mind is clear and overcomes all obstacles to the flow of thought We are plagued by doubts, concerns, and low self-esteem It’s pleasant It’s boring and exhausting Our ego fades: We are not the ones controlling the activity or task we’re doing—the task is leading us Constant self-criticism: Our ego is present and we feel frustrated Flow in Japan: Takumis, engineers, geniuses, and otakus What do takumis (artisans), engineers, inventors, and otakus (fans of anime and manga) have in common? They all understand the importance of flowing with their ikigai at all times. One widespread stereotype about people in Japan is that they’re exceptionally dedicated and hardworking, even though some Japanese people say they look like they’re working harder than they really are. There is no doubt, though, about their ability to be completely absorbed in a task, or about their perseverance when there is a problem to be solved. One of the first words one learns when starting Japanese lessons is ganbaru, which means “to persevere” or “to stay firm by doing one’s best.” Japanese people often apply themselves to even the most basic tasks with an intensity that borders on obsession. We see this in all kinds of contexts, from the “retirees” taking meticulous care of their rice fields in the mountains of Nagano to the college students working the weekend shift in convenience stores known as konbinis. If you go to Japan, you’ll experience this attention to detail firsthand in almost every transaction. Walk into one of the stores that sell handcrafted objects in Naha, Kanazawa, or Kyoto and you’ll also discover that Japan is a treasure trove of traditional craftwork. The people of Japan have a unique talent for creating new technologies while preserving artisanal traditions and techniques. The art of the takumi Toyota employs “artisans” who are able to make a certain type of screw by hand. These takumi, or experts in a particular manual skill, are extremely important to Toyota, and they are hard to replace. Some of them are the only people who know how to perform their exact skill, and it doesn’t seem as though a new generation is going to take up the mantle. Turntable needles are another example: They’re produced almost exclusively in Japan, where you can find the last remaining people who know how to use the machinery required to make these precision needles, and who are trying to pass on their knowledge to their descendants. We met a takumi on a visit to Kumano, a small town near Hiroshima. We were there for the day, working on a photo essay for one of the most famous brands of makeup brushes in the West. The billboard welcoming visitors to Kumano shows a mascot holding a large brush. In addition to the brush factories, the town is full of little houses and vegetable gardens; heading farther in, you can see several Shinto shrines at the base of the mountains that surround the town. We spent hours taking photos in factories full of people in orderly rows, each doing a single task—such as painting the handles of the brushes or loading boxes of them onto trucks—before we realized we still hadn’t seen anyone actually putting bristles into the brush heads. After we asked about this and got the runaround several times, the president of one company agreed to show us how it was done. He led us out of the building and asked us to get into his car. After a five-minute drive we parked next to another, smaller structure and climbed the stairs. He opened a door and we walked into a small room filled with windows that let in lovely natural light. In the middle of the room was a woman wearing a mask. You could see only her eyes. She was so focused on choosing individual bristles for the brushes—gracefully moving her hands and fingers, using scissors and combs to sort the bristles—that she didn’t even notice our presence. Her movements were so quick it was hard to tell what she was doing. The president of the company interrupted her to let her know that we’d be taking photos as she worked. We couldn’t see her mouth, but the glint in her eye and the cheerful inflection in her speech let us know she was smiling. She looked happy and proud talking about her work and responsibilities. We had to use extremely fast shutter speeds to capture her movements. Her hands danced and flowed in concert with her tools and the bristles she was sorting. The president told us that this takumi was one of the most important people in the company, even though she was hidden away in a separate building. Every bristle of every brush the company made passed through her hands. Steve Jobs in Japan Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was a big fan of Japan. Not only did he visit the Sony factories in the 1980s and adopt many of their methods when he founded Apple, he was also captivated by the simplicity and quality of Japanese porcelain in Kyoto. It was not, however, an artisan from Kyoto who won Steve Jobs’s devotion, but rather a takumi from Toyama named Yukio Shakunaga, who used a technique called Etchu Seto-yaki, known by only a few. On a visit to Kyoto, Jobs heard of an exhibition of Shakunaga’s work. He immediately understood that there was something special about Shakunaga’s porcelain. As a matter of fact, he bought several cups, vases, and plates, and went back to the show three times that week. Jobs returned to Kyoto several times over the course of his life in search of inspiration, and ended up meeting Shakunaga in person. It is said that Jobs had many questions for him—almost all of them about the fabrication process and the type of porcelain he used. Shakunaga explained that he used white porcelain he extracted himself from mountains in the Toyama prefecture, making him the only artist of his ilk familiar with the fabrication process of porcelain objects from their origins in the mountains to their final form—an authentic takumi. Jobs was so impressed that he considered going to Toyama to see the mountain where Shakunaga got his porcelain, but thought better of it when he heard that it was more than four hours by train from Kyoto. In an interview after Jobs’s death, Shakunaga said he was very proud that his work had been appreciated by the man who created the iPhone. He added that Jobs’s last purchase from him had been a set of twelve teacups. Jobs had asked for something special, “a new style.” To satisfy this request, Shakunaga made 150 teacups in the process of testing out new ideas. Of these, he chose the twelve best and sent them to the Jobs family. Ever since his first trip to Japan, Jobs was fascinated and inspired by the country’s artisans, engineers (especially at Sony), philosophy (especially Zen), and cuisine (especially sushi).7 Sophisticated simplicity What do Japanese artisans, engineers, Zen philosophy, and cuisine have in common? Simplicity and attention to detail. It is not a lazy simplicity but a sophisticated one that searches out new frontiers, always taking the object, the body and mind, or the cuisine to the next level, according to one’s ikigai. As Csikszentmihalyi would say, the key is always having a meaningful challenge to overcome in order to maintain flow. The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi gives us another example of a takumi, this time in the kitchen. Its protagonist has been making sushi every day for more than eighty years, and owns a small sushi restaurant near the Ginza subway station in Tokyo. He and his son go every day to the famous Tsukiji fish market and choose the best fish to bring back to the restaurant. In the documentary, we see one of Jiro’s apprentices learning to make tamago (a thin, slightly sweet omelet). No matter how hard he tries, he can’t get Jiro’s approval. He keeps practicing for years until he finally does. Why does the apprentice refuse to give up? Doesn’t he get bored cooking eggs every day? No, because making sushi is his ikigai, too. Both Jiro and his son are culinary artists. They don’t get bored when they cook—they achieve a state of flow. They enjoy themselves completely when they are in the kitchen; that is their happiness, their ikigai. They’ve learned to take pleasure in their work, to lose their sense of time. Beyond the close relationship between father and son, which helps them keep the challenge going each day, they also work in a quiet, peaceful environment that allows them to concentrate. Even after receiving a three-star rating from Michelin, they never considered opening other locations or expanding the business. They serve just ten patrons at a time at the bar of their small restaurant. Jiro’s family isn’t looking to make money; instead they value good working conditions and creating an environment in which they can flow while making the best sushi in the world. Jiro, like Yukio Shakunaga, begins his work at “the source.” He goes to the fish market to find the best tuna; Shakunaga goes to the mountains to find the best porcelain. When they get down to work, both become one with the object they are creating. This unity with the object that they reach in a state of flow takes on special meaning in Japan, where, according to Shintoism, forests, trees, and objects have a kami (spirit or god) within them. When someone—whether an artist, an engineer, or a chef—sets out to create something, his or her responsibility is to use nature to give it “life” while respecting that nature at every moment. During this process, the artisan becomes one with the object and flows with it. An ironworker would say that metal has a life of its own, just as someone making ceramics would say that the clay does. The Japanese are skilled at bringing nature and technology together: not man versus nature, but rather a union of the two. The purity of Ghibli There are those who say that the Shinto value of being connected with nature is vanishing. One of the harshest critics of this loss is another artist with a clearly defined ikigai: Hayao Miyazaki, the director of the animated films produced by Studio Ghibli. In nearly all his films we see humans, technology, fantasy, and nature in a state of conflict—and, in the end, coming together. One of the most poignant metaphors in his film Spirited Away is an obese spirit covered in trash that represents the pollution of the rivers. In Miyazaki’s films, forests have personalities, trees have feelings, and robots befriend birds. Considered a national treasure by the Japanese government, Miyazaki is an artist capable of becoming completely absorbed in his art. He uses a cell phone from the late 1990s, and he makes his entire team draw by hand. He “directs” his films by rendering on paper even the tiniest detail, achieving flow by drawing, not by using a computer. Thanks to this obsession on the director’s part, Studio Ghibli is one of the only studios in the world where almost the entire production process is carried out using traditional techniques. Those who have visited Studio Ghibli know that it is fairly typical, on a given Sunday to see a solitary individual tucked away in a corner, hard at work—a man in simple clothes who will greet them with an ohayo (hello) without looking up. Miyazaki is so passionate about his work that he spends many Sundays in the studio, enjoying the state of flow, putting his ikigai above all else. Visitors know that under no circumstances is one to bother Miyazaki, who is known for his quick temper—especially if he is interrupted while drawing. In 2013, Miyazaki announced he was going to retire. To commemorate his retirement, the television station NHK made a documentary showing him in his last days at work. He is drawing in nearly every scene of the film. In one scene, several of his colleagues are seen coming out of a meeting, and there he is, drawing in a corner, paying no attention to them. In another scene, he is shown walking to work on December 30 (a national holiday in Japan) and opening the doors of Studio Ghibli so he can spend the day there, drawing alone. Miyazaki can’t stop drawing. The day after his “retirement,” instead of going on vacation or staying at home, he went to Studio Ghibli and sat down to draw. His colleagues put on their best poker faces, not knowing what to say. One year later, he announced he wouldn’t make any more feature films but that he would keep on drawing until the day he died. Can someone really retire if he is passionate about what he does? The recluses It is not only the Japanese who have this capacity; there are artists and scientists all over the world with strong, clear ikigais. They do what they love until their dying day. The last thing Einstein wrote before closing his eyes forever was a formula that attempted to unite all the forces of the universe in a single theory. When he died, he was still doing what he loved. If he hadn’t been a physicist, he said, he would have been happy as a musician. When he wasn’t focused on physics or mathematics, he enjoyed playing the violin. Reaching a state of flow while working on his formulas or playing music, his two ikigais, brought him endless pleasure. Many such artists might seem misanthropic or reclusive, but what they are really doing is protecting the time that brings them happiness, sometimes at the expense of other aspects of their lives. They are outliers who apply the principles of flow to their lives to an extreme. Another example of this kind of artist is the novelist Haruki Murakami. He sees only a close circle of friends, and appears in public in Japan only once every few years. Artists know how important it is to protect their space, control their environment, and be free of distractions if they want to flow with their ikigai. Microflow: Enjoying mundane tasks But what happens when we have to, say, do the laundry, mow the lawn, or attend to paperwork? Is there a way to make these mundane tasks enjoyable? Near the Shinjuku subway station, in one of the neural centers of Tokyo, there is a supermarket that still employs elevator operators. The elevators are fairly standard and could easily be operated by the customers, but the store prefers to provide the service of someone holding the door open for you, pushing the button for your floor, and bowing as you exit. If you ask around, you’ll learn that there is one elevator operator who has been doing the same job since 2004. She is always smiling and enthusiastic about her work. How is she able to enjoy such a job? Doesn’t she get bored doing something so repetitive? On closer inspection, it becomes clear that the elevator operator is not just pushing buttons but is instead performing a whole sequence of movements. She begins by greeting the customers with a songlike salutation followed by a bow and a welcoming wave of the hand. Then she presses the elevator button with a graceful movement, as though she is a geisha offering a client a cup of tea. Csikszentmihalyi calls this microflow. We’ve all been bored in a class or at a conference and started doodling to keep ourselves entertained. Or whistled while painting a wall. If we’re not truly being challenged, we get bored and add a layer of complexity to amuse ourselves. Our ability to turn routine tasks into moments of microflow, into something we enjoy, is key to our being happy, since we all have to do such tasks. Even Bill Gates washes the dishes every night. He says he enjoys it—that it helps him relax and clear his mind, and that he tries to do it a little better each day, following an established order or set of rules he’s made for himself: plates first, forks second, and so on. It’s one of his daily moments of microflow. Richard Feynman, one of the most important physicists of all time, also took pleasure in routine tasks. W. Daniel Hillis, one of the founders of the supercomputer manufacturer Thinking Machines, hired Feynman to work on the development of a computer that could handle parallel processing when he was already world famous. He says Feynman showed up on his first day of work and said, “OK, boss, what’s my assignment?” They didn’t have anything prepared, so they asked him to work on a certain mathematical problem. He immediately realized they were giving him an irrelevant task to keep him busy and said, “That sounds like a bunch of baloney—give me something real to do.” So they sent him to a nearby shop to buy office supplies, and he completed his assignment with a smile on his face. When he didn’t have something important to do or needed to rest his mind, Feynman dedicated himself to microflowing—say, painting the office walls. Weeks later, after visiting the Thinking Machines offices a group of investors declared, “You have a Nobel laureate in there painting walls and soldering circuits.”8 Instant vacations: Getting there through meditation Training the mind can get us to a place of flow more quickly. Meditation is one way to exercise our mental muscles. There are many types of meditation, but they all have the same objective: calming the mind, observing our thoughts and emotions, and centering our focus on a single object. The basic practice involves sitting with a straight back and focusing on your breath. Anyone can do it, and you feel a difference after just one session. By fixing your attention on the air moving in and out of your nose, you can slow the torrent of thoughts and clear your mental horizons. The Archer’s Secret The winner of the 1988 Olympic gold medal for archery was a seventeen-year-old woman from South Korea. When asked how she prepared, she replied that the most important part of her training was meditating for two hours each day. If we want to get better at reaching a state of flow, meditation is an excellent antidote to our smartphones and their notifications constantly clamoring for our attention. One of the most common mistakes among people starting to meditate is worrying about doing it “right,” achieving absolute mental silence, or reaching “nirvana.” The most important thing is to focus on the journey. Since the mind is a constant swirl of thoughts, ideas, and emotions, slowing down the “centrifuge”—even for just a few seconds—can help us feel more rested and leave us with a sense of clarity. In fact, one of the things we learn in the practice of meditation is not to worry about anything that flits across our mental screen. The idea of killing our boss might flash into our mind, but we simply label it as a thought and let it pass like a cloud, without judging or rejecting it. It is only a thought—one of the sixty thousand we have every day, according to some experts. Meditation generates alpha and theta brain waves. For those experienced in meditation, these waves appear right away, while it might take a half hour for a beginner to experience them. 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. We all carry a spa with us everywhere we go. It’s just a matter of knowing how to get in—something anyone can do, with a bit of practice. Humans as ritualistic beings Life is inherently ritualistic. We could argue that humans naturally follow rituals that keep us busy. In some modern cultures, we have been forced out of our ritualistic lives to pursue goal after goal in order to be seen as successful. But throughout history, humans have always been busy. We were hunting, cooking, farming, exploring, and raising families—activities that were structured as rituals to keep us busy throughout our days. But in an unusual way, rituals still permeate daily life and business practices in modern Japan. The main religions in Japan—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shintoism—are all ones in which the rituals are more important than absolute rules. When doing business in Japan, process, manners, and how you work on something is more important than the final results. Whether this is good or bad for the economy is beyond the scope of this book. What is indisputable, though, is that finding flow in a “ritualistic workplace” is much easier than in one in which we are continually stressed out trying to achieve unclear goals set by our bosses. Rituals give us clear rules and objectives, which help us enter a state of flow. When we have only a big goal in front of us, we might feel lost or overwhelmed by it; rituals help us by giving us the process, the substeps, on the path to achieving a goal. When confronted with a big goal, try to break it down into parts and then attack each part one by one. Focus on enjoying your daily rituals, using them as tools to enter a state of flow. Don’t worry about the outcome—it will come naturally. Happiness is in the doing, not in the result. As a rule of thumb, remind yourself: “Rituals over goals.” The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow. Using flow to find your ikigai After reading this chapter you should have a better idea of which activities in your life make you enter flow. Write all of them on a piece of paper, then ask yourself these questions: What do the activities that drive you to flow have in common? Why do those activities drive you to flow? For example, are all the activities you most like doing ones that you practice alone or with other people? Do you flow more when doing things that require you to move your body or just to think? In the answers to these questions you might find the underlying ikigai that drives your life. If you don’t, then keep searching by going deeper into what you like by spending more of your time in the activities that make you flow. Also, try new things that are not on the list of what makes you flow but that are similar and that you are curious about. For example, if photography is something that drives you into flow, you could also try painting; you might even like it more! Or if you love snowboarding and have never tried surfing . . . Flow is mysterious. It is like a muscle: the more you train it, the more you will flow, and the closer you will be to your ikigai. V MASTERS OF LONGEVITY Words of wisdom from the longest-living people in the world WHEN WE STARTED working on this book, we didn’t want to just research the factors that contribute to a long and happy life; we wanted to hear from the true masters of this art. The interviews we conducted in Okinawa merit their own chapter, but in the section that precedes it we have provided an overview of the life philosophies of a few international champions of longevity. We’re talking about supercentenarians—people who live to 110 years of age or more. The term was coined in 1970 by Norris McWhirter, editor of The Guinness Book of World Records. Its use became more widespread in the 1990s, after it appeared in William Strauss and Neil Howe’s Generations. Today there are an estimated 300 to 450 supercentenarians in the world, although the age of only around 75 of them has been confirmed. They aren’t superheroes, but we could see them as such for having spent far more time on this planet than the average life expectancy would predict. Given the rise in life expectancy around the world, the number of supercentenarians might also increase. A healthy and purposeful life could help us join their ranks. Let’s take a look at what a few of them have to say. Misao Okawa (117) “Eat and sleep, and you’ll live a long time. You have to learn to relax.” According to the Gerontology Research Group, until April 2015, the oldest living person in the world was Misao Okawa, who passed away in a care facility in Osaka, Japan, after living for 117 years and 27 days. The daughter of a textile merchant, she was born in 1898, when Spain lost its colonies in Cuba and the Philippines, and the United States annexed Hawaii and launched Pepsi-Cola. Until she was 110, this woman—who lived in three different centuries—cared for herself unassisted. When specialists asked about her self-care routine, Misao answered simply, “Eating sushi and sleeping,” to which we should add, having a tremendous thirst for life. When they inquired about her secret for longevity, she answered with a smile, “I ask myself the same thing.”1 Proof that Japan continues to be a factory of long life: In July of the same year Sakari Momoi passed away at 112 years and 150 days old. At the time he was the oldest man in the world, though he was younger than fifty-seven women. María Capovilla (116) “I’ve never eaten meat in my life.” Born in Ecuador in 1889, María Capovilla was recognized by Guinness as the world’s oldest person. She died of pneumonia in 2006, at 116 years and 347 days old, leaving behind three children, twelve grandchildren, and twenty great- and great-great-grandchildren. She gave one of her last interviews at age 107, sharing her memories and her thoughts: I’m happy, and I give thanks to God, who keeps me going. I never thought I’d live so long, I thought I’d die long ago. My husband, Antonio Capovilla, was the captain of a ship. He passed away at 84. We had two daughters and a son, and now I have many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Things were better, back in the old days. People behaved better. We used to dance, but we were more restrained; there was this one song I loved dancing to: “María” by Luis Alarcón. I still remember most of the words. I also remember many prayers, and say them every day. I like the waltz, and can still dance it. I also still make crafts, I still do some of the things I did when I was in school.2 When she had finished recalling her past, she began to dance—one of her great passions—with an energy that made her seem decades younger. When asked about her secret for longevity, she responded simply, “I don’t know what the secret to long life is. The only thing I do is I’ve never eaten meat in my life. I attribute it to that.” Jeanne Calment (122) “Everything’s fine.” Born in Arles, France, in February 1875, Jeanne Calment lived until August 4, 1997, making her, at 122, the oldest person of verified age in history. She jokingly said that she “competed with Methuselah,” and there is no question that she broke numerous records as she went on celebrating birthdays. She died of natural causes at the end of a happy life during which she denied herself almost nothing. She rode a bicycle until she turned 100. She lived on her own until 110, when she agreed to move into a nursing home after accidentally starting a small fire in her apartment. She stopped smoking at 120, when her cataracts started making it hard for her to bring a cigarette to her lips. One of her secrets may have been her sense of humor. As she said on her 120th birthday, “I see badly, I hear badly, and I feel bad, but everything’s fine.”3 Walter Breuning (114) “If you keep your mind and body busy, you’ll be around a long time.” Born in Minnesota in 1896, Walter Breuning was able to see three centuries in his lifetime. He died in Montana in 2011, from natural causes; he’d had two wives and a fifty-year career on the railroad. At eighty-three he retired to an assisted living center in Montana, w