Ikigai: The art of staying young while growing old

Group of people planting vegetable in greenhouse

Image: Rawpixel.com/Bigstock.com

I had a relative who loved being busy. He had established and run his own business for many years. He loved building and creating useful objects for his business and his home. In retirement, he moved interstate and bought the management rights to a high-rise building before ‘retiring’ again.

His wife was busy with charity work, bowls, and catching up with friends. This wasn’t his idea of an interesting life, although he did sometimes play bowls (and golf).

After he’d renovated the home and garden, he became ‘itchy’ to try something else. He wanted a purpose in ‘retirement’—something that was different, where he could meet different people and his new life would be meaningful.

An advertisement in the local paper for a labourer caught his eye. He applied for the job and was successful. He loved the work, enjoyed the camaraderie with the other workers and liked the hours (starting and finishing early to avoid most of the heat).

What he really enjoyed was that he had a reason to get up and get going in the mornings. He also had a purpose and a passion where money was secondary to the activity.

Having a reason to get up the morning is important at any stage of life. Having purpose and passion in retirement, however, is very important. We should have a reason to swing our legs out of bed and onto the floor.

In their book, Ikigai, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles reveal that the Japanese don’t have a word for ‘leaving the workforce for good’ (retirement). In fact, ‘having a purpose for life is so important in Japanese culture that our idea of retirement simply doesn’t exist.’

The authors explain that ikigai roughly translates to ‘the happiness of always being busy’. The title of this post: ‘Ikigai: the art of staying young while growing old’ is one of their chapter headings. And staying young while growing old is certainly true for the inhabitants on the Japanese island of Okinawa where there are far more people aged over 100 than anywhere else in the world.

The authors of Ikigai write that those they observed had a ‘primary and a secondary job’ with produce from their vegetable gardens being sold at a local market. And the locals didn’t put all their eggs in one basket when it came to other aspects of their life, such as interests and friendships.

Garcia and Miralles found there were 10 rules of ikigai: not retiring; being unhurried; not overeating; having good friends; moving their bodies; being cheerful; reconnecting with nature; expressing thanks; living in the present; and following their passion.

They add that not knowing your ikigai, means you then have the task of finding it.

I’m not sure Mr Relative achieved 10/10 according to the rules of ikigai, but he certainly had purpose in his ‘retirement’.

Jill Weeks is the author of 21 Ways to Retire and co-author of Where to Retire in Australia and Retire Bizzi. She is a regular contributor to ABC radio.

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Category: Ageing, Attitude, Lifestyle, Working

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