Is This Japanese Concept the Secret to a Long, Happy, Meaningful Life?
A great number of people have an issue with not knowing their path or purpose in life.
There is a great concern whether the short time spent on this planet would be filled with more meaningful content or with mindless and unimportant things.
These types of thoughts are mostly the concerns of younger generations due to the current times that are extremely different from the times that our parents and grandparents have been living or lived in.
Nowadays, the focus has shifted to more material and shallow thinking where people are spending most of their time working on their public image instead of working on themselves, internally instead of externally.
In further writing of this text, you will find out more about certain life aspects and thought processes that present themselves as obstacles to a happier and fulfilled life, a greater focus will be on a certain Japanese concept that revolves around the betterment of one’s life.
At the end of the text, you will find a questionnaire that will help you assess whether you lead a happy and fulfilled life and whether you need to follow this concept or you are good where you are on your own right now.
THE FOCUS ON WRONG THINGS
Before starting with the main concept that can help you in finding happiness and meaning in your life, a few things that prevent you from finding them will be discussed here.
As previously mentioned, this is the time where the majority of new generations have been growing up in times where the internet has an important place in societies, in more ways than one.
In order to find happiness and meaningfulness, people go to different lengths instead of just focusing on themselves. There are many things that can help you find your own meaning.
To name a few interesting ones, simply enjoying life one day at a time, trying to focus not on the question of what is the meaning, but finding one that suits you and your personality the best.
The less you bang your head on the ultimate question, the more you will focus on the multiple answers that can make you happy and fulfilled.
Another misguided focusing aspect of missing out on happiness and meaningfulness is the aforementioned internet aspects. People nowadays focus and mold their entire lifestyles and states of mind on the ever so popular internet influencers.
The one thing that the influencers fail to mention is that not everybody can have their perfect lives, their financial situation, and their fancy clothes.
Another point is that the viewers are not mimicking the influencers, but the internet personas created by the influencer.
That can be detrimental to younger viewers who do not understand the meaning of the performance of a character actor.
All in all, the need to listen to the internet gurus and influencers who are mostly there for the views and clicks is should not be the focal point or the source of life answers to most young generations.
Another internet phenomenon that should be mentioned is the rise of social media sites.
There have been a huge number of various social media sites popping up in these past few years, and they have scarily become an impactful part of our daily lives.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are known to be used by approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide in 2019, according to Statista, and the number is expected to slowly increase yearly if previous years’ rise in numbers is taken into account.
As with the various media influencers, where the perpetrator are the people who are close to us: family, friends, close or distant relatives, or acquaintances who post pictures daily of their new material stuff or travels, presenting their life as the one perfect show that everyone should watch.
There are many negative impacts these social media profiles cause, as the decrease in self-esteem, and the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the people, but the most significant one is a mental health issue.
The fact that most of the social media friends are just that – friends or people who you know, who are close to you, is the fact that makes an impact on you and makes you question your own worth when comparing your own life to their digital one, which can lead to various degrees of depression.
To clear things up, internet is not a bad thing, it is actually an amazing source of information and interconnectedness that is beneficial in multiple ways, however, sometimes some people do not utilize it in a perfect and intended manner or they simply misunderstand certain things about the internet and its aspects that are known to bring the mood and expectancy of some people down.
The ability to have an immeasurable amount of information under your fingertips is amazing but can be harmful to some people.
Having this huge amount of information at your disposal can make you feel bored and unfulfilled, but there is a way to find happiness, love, and meaning in your life.
One of the crucial steps is to stop measuring yourself to others, especially if you are doing it on social media platforms. The next step is to work on yourself and establish healthy habits.
There is one concept that is sure to help or at least interest you in finding peace and tranquility in your life, and it is called Ikigai.
THE JAPANESE CONCEPT CALLED “IKIGAI”
Ikigai originated in Japan and is described more as a way of thinking rather than a lesson that can be learned.
History of Ikigai is not entirely known, except the fact that the way of life and its understanding originates on the Island of Okinawa, which is the smallest and the least populated main islands of Japan, known for the long life longevity of its island inhabitants, and for their disease-ridden environments and organisms.
Ikigai in its rough English translation means “thing that you live for” or “something that makes you get up in the morning”.
The Japanese concept is practically a helping tool to help you find a reason for being, and it consists of finding and understanding your inner self.
Due to the fact that the whole concept of Ikigai rests on finding your inner peace and understanding self, each person has their own personal demons and problems, as well as their personal way of obtaining inner peace through Ikigai, making every person’s Ikigai unique and personal to them.
Ikigai can be considered a philosophy of the people of the Island of Okinawa, which they came across unexpectedly.
The life philosophy of an average resident of the Island of Okinawa is different from the life philosophy of another person from another country.
The average human from any part of Europe or North America or another continent or country is mostly to work enough to make a living, and then happily wait for their retirement years to come when they can finally rest and do whatever they want to do.
The goal of the average human from the Island of Okinawa, in terms of work or a job, is to do their favorite job until they are physically or in the manners of health, unable to do so anymore because they find their job fulfilling.
The whole point of Ikigai is to find something in your life, to find a source of a certain thing that makes your life worthwhile.
If you cannot find a source, make something to become your source. Ikigai can help you rearrange your focus on the development of your mental strength, thus making your life valuable.
Ikigai can spontaneously come into being by your willpower and resilience to the hardships that might be befalling you, and it cannot be forced on to someone.
If you wish to analyze this Japanese concept of happiness and apply it to modern times, Ikigai can be roughly broken down into 4 basic questions that you should ask yourself in areas that are considered important.
You have to clearly know what you love to do because you will easily pick up and develop that skill better if you love to do it.
The second one is to find what you are good at because you can easily develop it into something that you can live off. The third question is “what can I be paid for”?
That means finding something that you know how to do and being able to earn a living by doing it. And finally, ask yourself what does the world need. Look at the needs of the world and contribute in a way.
This is a crash course on Ikigai, even though it is a long process, by asking these questions, you have to find a balance between these four aspects in order to find meaning, love, and happiness in your life.
In scientific explanations, the acquittal of Ikigai or any other method which helps you in finding your inner peace helps you in balancing the secretions of three neurotransmitters that are important for mental wellbeing.
The first neurotransmitter is Dopamine, which is, among many things, responsible for the sense of pleasure in our brain; The second transmitter is Serotonin, which, in a large pool of functions, acts as a neurotransmitter that activates the feeling of happiness; and finally beta-Endorphin, whose mission is to activate the feeling of earning or reward in our brain.
The people of Okinawa all follow Ikigai as their primary life philosophy, and the high amount of Dopamine, Serotonin, and beta-endorphins is found in their bloodstream due to them following Ikigai.
The first person who came upon this philosophy is Dan Buettner, an author, and public speaker, who, while exploring the longevity in people in different countries, now dubbed “Blue Zones” by him, found out about the life philosophy of meaningful life from the residents of the Island of Okinawa.
Ikigai can also be used to improve not only your life but also your work, as it can help you set specific goals that can help in career advancement and being a more active person, in the sense of taking more action instead of being a passive spectator at your work.
If you wish to learn more about Ikigai and how to use it in your workplace, here is an article that might interest you.
THE CONCEPT OF MOAI AND ITS FOUNDATION OF FRIENDSHIP
In addition to Ikigai, there is another aspect of the Ikigai, which is presented as the value of surrounding yourself with a supportive group of people, a concept called Moai in Japan, particularly on the Island of Okinawa.
Moai can be viewed as an inseparable part of Ikigai, but it is an interesting concept on its own, as well, as it concerns another part of wellbeing that is linked with your friends and their personalities.
The history of Moai can be summed up with the facts that in its past, the people of the Island of Okinawa formed groups of people from the island with the intention of helping each other in completing various tasks, whether it was as simple as helping someone around the house to collecting money to build a house or buy a plot of land.
Nowadays, the Moai groups have been evolved into support groups, where they emotionally, and in every other way, support each other, thus strengthening their friendship bonds further.
Moai bonds were established early in childhood and were nurtured until the very end of the lives of those people.
All in all, social connections are immensely important to one’s mental and spiritual wellbeing, surrounding yourself with a group of people who support you in various ways can be extremely beneficial.
Studies show that people who have close friends and are occasionally social have fewer health issues than the ones who have minimal friends and social interaction.
In addition, have in mind that live interaction, the so-called “face to face” is miles better than the ones over conducted over the Internet, as Susan Pinker has discovered, because people who enjoy face to face conversations are always surrounded by their family and friends.
If you wish to learn more about the positives and negatives of online and live interaction, here is an interesting article to read.
In conclusion, people who are surrounded with a group or groups of friends who fit each other and are emotionally supportive, exhibit less stress, are happier and live longer, and feel that they are fulfilled and lead meaningful lives if we take the examples of the people of the Island of Okinawa, and their life philosophy of Ikigai and Moai.
Before you is a questionnaire with a couple of questions regarding whether you lead a stressful life and whether you need to follow Ikigai, or simply need to find your inner peace.
Are you sometimes worried about the future?
The most widely spread itch that bothers every human on the planet. It is for the best to put the thoughts about the future aside, as it will only bring further worries about something you cannot control. One should focus on the present and on themselves instead of the ever-changing future.
Do you regularly visit social media sites, for example, Facebook, and Twitter?
The social media platforms can be a bottomless pit full of depression and negative thoughts. It is for the best to not take any post that pops up there seriously and with deeper analysis.
Do you fail to find meaning in your life?
This is the million-dollar question. Having a meaning or the “reason to get up in the morning” is quintessential in leading a happy life. Everybody can find meaning that gives them the energy to get up in the morning. Remember, no matter how small, the meaning is still meaning, so you should definitely start working on it, as soon as possible.
Do you avoid talking with your friends and family?
You should definitely talk to them from time to time. It is rather difficult if you are estranged to your family, but having friends is easier because to get to pick them.
Start small talk with some strangers at work or a coffee shop. Even that small thing can help you feel better, and it makes a great practice for some conversations that will definitely happen in the future.
Do you experience a lot of stress and feelings of negative energy?
Stress is the number one cause of feelings of depression and emptiness. The best cure for stress is relaxation and doing something you love to shift your focus on.
If your answers were mostly negative, then you are probably relaxed and have a meaningful and happy life, keep up the good work.
If you mostly answered positively, then you have to change something about your life. I highly suggest researching more on Ikigai or similar philosophies in order to lead a better and more fulfilled life.
THE THIRD CONCEPT THAT CONTRIBUTES TO A LONG AND MEANINGFUL LIFE: ZEN
Here’s a little extra for you! You must have heard about this one, but… do you really know what it means?
The word Zen is the transliteration of the Chinese word Chan which means “meditation”. The spiritual and philosophical movement of Zen came forth in Japan as the Japanese appropriation of Chinese Buddhist and Daoist teachings.
As well as Buddhism and Daoism, Zen is more a philosophy of living and ethics than a religion per se.
If anything, Japanese are practical people and they narrowed down Zen to the basic concepts of wisdom that all regular people can use in their lives.
Zen these days is sort of independent from Buddhism and Daoism. It can be independent of religion and spirituality too although its depths are rooted in these cultural contexts.
You can use Zen anywhere – in your office, in the elevator, while hiking, running or cooking. There’s no need for rituals, prayers, burning candles and such. You can be a Buddhist and adhere to Zen or you could be a Christian or an atheist.
So what is Zen? It’s a path towards enlightenment, but not in the form of some metaphysical, spiritual mumbo-jumbo. It’s a way of achieving perfect focus in life. It’s a way to manipulate your attention so as to feel that you are present in any and every moment that passes.
To be in Zen means to really be alive and feel alive. How?
The basis of Zen is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness means consciousness and awareness of the present moment, being wary of your thoughts, your emotions, your physical sensations. Letting them flow and pass freely while NOT identifying with them.
In Zen, you are just a neutral and passive observer of your own thoughts and existence.
Some people think that the point of Zen meditations is to stop thinking and to learn how to control the mind so that you can use it when needed and shut it down when it’s a burden.
While it’s true that our wandering minds often get ahead of us and become a nuisance, it’s really difficult to stop the stream of thoughts. You should rather observe it and detach from it.
In Zen, you are both the one who thinks and the one who observes the thoughts of the thinker.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll become passive towards everything in life, it only means that you’ll be more calm and focused and less ego-involved, biased, bitter, outcome-dependent and frustrated.
By refining your ego and sharpening your consciousness, you gain positive irrational faculties such as intuition and you lose the negative irrational traits such as infantile, narcissistic, inarticulate behavior.
You can imagine how just being without meddlesome thoughts can make your brains happy juices flowing and be beneficial for your whole body.
By cleansing from negative vibrations from within, you give way to the heart and a simple, lighter and more complete existence.
Thus, Zen helps you strengthen your willpower and motivation so you can adhere to your daily tasks with renewed vigor and improved focus.
Hopefully, these Japanese teachings will help you excel at what you do.
In conclusion, people nowadays do worry a lot about their future, meaninglessness in their lives. It is due to the times we live in and constant evolution of social media sites and devolution of the good, old, face to face conversation.
Even though all these things contribute to the emptiness in our lives, there is a way to ignore all that and start working on ourselves. By enjoying the little things, and not worrying about the stuff we cannot control, we build resilience.
In addition to building resilience, you can continue to find meaningfulness in your life by following the basic tenets of the Ikigai philosophy, and you will find meaningfulness, love, and happiness in no time.
As long as you try your best to follow the Ikigai, there will be nothing to worry about, and you will definitely see progress eventually, just remember that the goal is important, but it is the long and rocky road that makes us what we are and what we will be tomorrow.
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