Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life isn’t the type of book that should be judged by its airy, delicate cover. Written by former CERN engineer Héctor García and personal inspiration author Francesc Miralles, Ikigai is certainly a light and enjoyable read but pulls no punches when it comes to content. It unabashedly tackles some of the most complex philosophical questions concerning happiness, resiliency, and what makes life worth living. In its short length of 194 pages, García and Miralles illuminate an abstract Japanese concept that quite literally describes the life force that wakes us up in the morning and contributes to longevity and wellbeing.
By far the most impressive part of the book is the elegant simplicity with which the authors explain ideas that could easily confuse or frustrate readers. Foregoing jargon and flourish, García and Miralles approach subjects of Eastern philosophy with a gentle touch that can only be described as “just so.” In addition, their intellectual respect for their readers is evident in their reliance on a variety of source materials – from scientific studies to Greek and Roman philosophers – to back up primary source interviews collected in Ogimi, Okinawa.
Subjects covered in the book range from basic concepts of good health such as a diet high in fruits and vegetables and regular, sustained movements to more difficult ideas such as the importance of joy, celebration, and community. Wisely, the authors leave the residents of Ogimi – some of the longest-lived people on earth – to explain their own theories of longevity. By the epilogue of the book, García and Miralles manage to boil down their findings to a 10-step plan for increasing lifetime vitality. Unlike many books approaching health and wellness, though, their plan is simple, actionable, and eminently practical.
Perhaps the reasons for the practicality of Ikigai are twofold: first, the book is simply and clearly organized with a guiding inquiry and a clear thesis directing its trajectory; second, García and Miralles avoid coming off as experts. Instead, they offer suggestions but allow the reader the freedom to develop their own passions and plans in tune with a few basic principles. This approach harmonizes completely with the main topic of the book, which contends that each human being is unique and possesses a purpose that can make only them genuinely happy. There are no prescriptions in Ikigai and certainly no restrictions, which makes it an excellent source from which to brainstorm a healthier life.
While transitions from chapter to chapter and theme to theme are not always as clear as desired, it is not a major detriment to the overall writing, which is crisp and brisk. The book can easily be read over a weekend or taken at a more leisurely pace. Although it certainly does follow in the footsteps of books such as Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, its subject is unique, humane, and easily synthesized with popular lifestyle trends such as that covered by Wiking’s books.
Ikigai is a lovely gift for anyone who enjoys books on Scandinavian lifestyle, enthusiasts of Eastern philosophies such as Zen and wabi-sabi, or anyone just looking for great ideas for a 2018 New Year’s Resolution.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is in stores now. (Penguin, $20.00, ISBN 0143130722).