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‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’: Does happiness lie in your purpose in life?

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Ikigai is the idea that having a purpose in your life is key to happiness. Curious whether ikigai and longevity have a causal connection, software engineer Hector Garcia and writer/translator Francesc Miralles set out to interview the residents of Ogimi, Okinawa, the so-called Village of Longevity. Their resulting book claims that ikigai is “The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.”

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.
208 pages
PENGUIN, Nonfiction.

It’s an assertion the book fails to live up to: They don’t connect ikigai with longevity in any convincing way. Instead the book is a patchwork of platitudes about diet and exercise, broken by interviews with centenarians and discussions of trends in psychotherapy. Their conclusion is correlation passed off as causation; the book is self-help painted as pseudo-philosophy.

It’s frustrating because there are many uncertainties about the aging process, and the lifestyles and psychological make up of centenarians are as much part of the conversation as genes and cell division. There is laudable scientific inquiry in the questions the authors ask but little evidence of anything more than journalistic exploration in their search for the answers.

For a self-help guide there is useful stuff here, but it’s nothing you can’t get from the “Tao Te Ching,” a personal trainer or Einstein’s famous quote about relativity and spending time with a beautiful woman. This may prove as popular as Marie Kondo’s book on the ancient Japanese art of tidying up, but as a contribution to the science of aging, it offers little.