The Secret to Happiness? Staying Busy, According to This Japanese Philosophy
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Too little time and so much to do translates to a helluva lot of stress. Between work, relationships and trying to stay healthy (the farmers’ market followed by a spin class means Saturday’s a wash), it’s fair to say that we’ve got a lot on our plates. If only we could chill out a little more, then we’d be happier, nicer and all around better people, right? Well, according to our Japanese friends, this might not be the case.

Introducing ikigai (pronounced aki-gay-aai). It’s a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “finding your purpose” or “a reason to get up in the morning.” The term comes from the words iki (life) and kai (the realization of hopes and expectations). The theory is that by finding your ikigai and keeping busy with your purpose, you will enjoy a long and happy life.

Sounds a little New-Agey, but it turns out that science backs this idea up. In a seven-year longitudinal study of more than 43,000 adults, researchers found that participants who identified as having ikigai were more likely to be alive seven years later, even after taking other factors (like smoking, disease and exercise) into account.

So how does one achieve this elusive ikigai? It takes time and reflection. To find it, try asking yourself questions like: What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What does the world need from you?

Those with a strong sense of ikigai report finding it through work, hobbies or relationships. Which is kind of shocking, since we’ve always thought relaxing by the pool would translate into long-lasting contentment. But on the island of Okinawa (where residents are renowned for their longevity), there’s no such thing as retirement. People stay active throughout all stages of their lives, and it's thought that the accompanying sense of responsibility and being needed contributes to a healthy, happy life.

But here’s the catch: There’s a difference between being busy and being stressed. Juggling a million deadlines and struggling to keep up with your workload? Not very ikigai. Waking up in the morning with plenty of energy and excited about the day’s work ahead? Oh, so ikigai.

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