Emails with video links and “You HAVE to see this” usually trigger my delete key. So I’m not sure what made me click and watch Dan Buettner’s presentation based on his book, Blue Zones. (It’s twenty minutes long—eternity in web-time! But I was captured.)
Blue Zones refers to unusual spots on the globe where people tend to live a long, long time. And Buettner and his team of social scientists set out to discover why. What do they have in common? He features one in Sardinia, Italy, another Seventh Day Adventist group in Southern California, but it was the zone in Okinawawa, Japan that caught my attention.
Per capita there are a whopping five times the octogenarians on this quiet little island as there are in the US. And get this. They don’t tend to waste away from long debilitating diseases. After living long healthy lives, many of them simply die peacefully in their sleep. So how do they do it?
It’s not surprising that a low-fat, plant-rich diet is part of their success. (They eat eight times more tofu than we do. But as little of that stuff as we Americans eat, that’s almost not saying much.) They eat off small plates, and they don’t serve family style. Instead they fix plates and then put the food away. Even smarter; they eat until they’re 80% full, knowing it takes twenty minutes for that ‘satisfied’ state to register in the brain.
But here’s what really struck me. These Okinawans have what they call ikigai—it’s their “reason for getting up in the morning.” Their raison d’etre. It’s not some vague notion. They know it, and if you ask them their ikigai, they’ll tell you. Without a second thought, one woman responded, “my great-great-great grandchildren.”
After watching the video, David and I were curious if we could articulate our ikigai. It didn’t take long, and I responded first. “My ikigai is to feed people.” It’s not an obligation or a burden. Nearly everyday I take delight in enriching people’s lives with good food.
David laughed. Ha! His ikigai—to eat dinner—was a perfect yang to my yin.
This Okinawan community distinguishes itself in one final way. They have a half a dozen or so friends for life—“old sames” who are with them for life’s full journey.
When I chose my life partner over three decades ago, I didn’t know our ikigais would be so in sync. Or is it that being on the journey together for so long our ikigais have just synced up?