What is your Ikigai?

It was a lazy Sunday morning and I was sipping my cup of happiness and staring at the blue canopy that was covering my terrace. I was lost in the morning freshness watching the bird’s fly! It seemed that the green mango tree with its lanceolate leaves was beckoning me. And the foliage surrounding the parapet felt like a green ornament adorned by the blue sky.

“What is your ikigai mom? “My trail of thoughts was interrupted by a familiar voice. “Wha… ” I exclaimed,” what is my what?” The word was new to me, though I had heard about it, but was unsure about the meaning. “Your ikigai ” my daughter repeated, “your purpose in life?” “Oh, I never thought about it”, I said.

Living the life of a doctor and that too an anesthesiologist was not easy. You were constantly on your toes and giving anesthesia to your patients and bringing them back safely was the only thing I had been doing over the years. Though this pandemic had given me some spare time to reflect upon my life.

“Here read this, it is an international super seller.” She showed me a book titled, ‘IKIGAI‘ the Japanese secret to a long and healthy life! The book was intriguing and as I went through the chapters it enraptured me. Ikigai is hidden deep inside each one of us, the book read. The simple life of people in Okinawa, a Japanese island where most centenarians lived, fascinated me.

We keep living a double life, captured in our own routine and forget about our ikigai; which is the reason we get up in the morning. We need to search for it. The question kept coming to my mind.

  • What is your passion in life?
  • What is your mission?
  • What is the reason for your being?

The purpose of your life is so important in Japan that the idea of retirement simply does not exist. The sense of purpose plays an important role in their health and longevity.

So, the most important things for a long life are not just diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle. But also, your ikigai, your circle of friends and the security of your family. So now the question is how to find your ikigai? The answer to your question, “What makes you feel the happiest?” is your ikigai!  So, find it. Your existential purpose in life!

The most down moments of my life are when I have nothing to do or look forward to, I reflected. My constant creativity keeps me going, I pondered. So, to keep me going in life, I need my dessert of creativity, as the food of routine work is not enough for me!

One thing I loved about the Japanese philosophy is that they believe in teamwork and the feeling of brotherhood. The negativity of jealousy about others only pulls you down bringing down your own productivity. I believe in the maxim that you should be your own competitor. Excel for a better tomorrow and reflect upon your life. See whether your today is better than yesterday.

Hara Hachi Bo!! It is a Japanese fitness mantra, which means, eat only till you are 80% full. Eat less to live longer. So that extra dessert on your plate is not necessary. Variety is the key to a healthy diet and so serve a rainbow on your plate.

Your mind is a powerful tool for your journey towards longevity. Focus on the positive things in life, practice yoga and meditation. The mind dictates your body. So, a healthy mind is needed for a healthy body. Logotherapy is helping people discover themselves. They don’t create the meaning of life. They discover it.

I loved the example given for logotherapy; about a grief-stricken elderly doctor who had lost his wife and had come to Viktor Frankl, for the treatment of depression. Frankl asked the doctor a question. What if you had died before your wife? The doctor was horrified even thinking about it. And without a word left Frankel’s office, finding peace with his present situation. So, it is about the way you think that can bring you peace.

Stress is accused of killing longevity. A lot of stress is responsible for premature aging. Stress was good for the flight or fight response. But the constant flow of cortisol in the body is responsible for health problems and chronic fatigue syndrome.

However, some amount of stress is good for you. A study conducted by Dr. Howard Friedman, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, showed that those who faced challenges and worked hard to succeed, lived longer.

Sitting is the new smoking. Sedentary lifestyle can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. So, walk for 20 minutes per day, participate in social activities, join a sport or dance. Make small changes in your routine to stay fit. Sleep is very important and it strengthens the immune system. The pandemic has taught us the importance of immunity. Be happy and sing your heart out. It is good for your lungs. Don’t worry if you are not good at it.

Stay active and don’t retire. Keep doing your bit. Our fingers are connected to our brain so use them creatively. Those who stop doing what they love, loose purpose in life. Surround yourself with friends and positive people.

Reconnect with nature. Gardening is another stress buster and gives you peace. It recharges you. Live every moment of life as if it were your last; and follow your Ikigai!!

So, here’s wishing you a happy and purposeful life!

By Dr. Kiran Vyawahare
Consultant Anaesthesia & Pain medicine.

President ISA NCB.