CALMNESS and tranquility might have been in short supply over the last four months, but it’s always worth striving for and maybe the answer can be found in Japan.

Ikigai is the art of finding calm the Japanese way. Most cultures have some sort of notion about attaining calmness, tranquility, ‘centering’ and peace, and Ikigai might be the most accessible and effective of all.

Scandinavia’s ’Hygge’ (pronounced Hyoo-guh) is conscious appreciation of the present, or ‘living in the moment’ and has gained widespread understanding and attention in recent years. But in Ikigai there's another contender for this ‘state of grace’ mantle.

Ikigai is about improving and extending life, enhancing health, mental balance, greater happiness and less stress. The literal translation is ‘reason to live’ but its looser interpretation is ‘your purpose in life’ or ‘your reason to get up in the morning’.

And what it boils down to is finding things that give you pleasure and purpose and being mindful of them.

Ken Mogi is a Japanese neuroscientist and author of ‘The Little Book of Ikigai’. He points out that in the West we are prone to big ambitions and grand goals. However Ikigai can come in the form of pretty much limitless small and maybe even insignificant elements.

He lists running, spotting birds and butterflies, writing scientific papers and watching Alan Partridge episodes! There is no rule about what constitutes ikigai, it is what works for you.

Mr Mogi explains: “There is no hierarchical structure. Enjoying the morning sun is as important as writing a book. Everything contributes to the joys and purpose of life."

This has nothing to do with climbing the social ladder or attaining grand recognition. He points out the big achievements, as many perceive them, might only be attainable once a decade - and that does not sustain contentment or happiness. It’s the full spectrum of smaller pleasures and privileges that sustain us and form an ongoing positive equilibrium.

There are Japanese islands and entire communities where reaching 100 years old and remaining happy and relatively active into such advanced ages is the norm. And ikigai plays a big part in the lifestyle.

On closer examination it appears that the common threads among these ikigai are simple, yet physically active and purposeful thoughts and actions. Fishing for the family, holding grandchildren, karate…

It comes as no surprise that these communities don’t have a word for ‘retirement‘ in their dialect!

A study by Sendai’s Tohoku University School of Medicine asked 55,000 people aged 40-79 if they had ikigai in their lives. Those who answered “No” were much more likely to be unemployed, exhibit poor physical and mental health and show signs of cardiovascular disease.

OK, so it cannot be claimed that ikigai is the sole reason behind the differentials , but it’s an interesting observation nonetheless.

Ironically, although the entire notion about ikigai is to separate out ambition and self-seeking desire, the adoption of it can lead to greater opportunities and more success. A happier and more positive person is going to find themselves more open and responsive to good possibilities and more likely to find themselves in a place to attract them.

Appreciating smaller things and taking smaller steps make more things seem attainable and will also guard against ‘meltdown’ and despair when things don’t perhaps go as wished.

“Labours of love and paying attention to small things”, these are what Ken Mogi believes are paths to general ‘success’. He also believes that ikigai is a path to real perspective and that the ability to keep things in perspective is vital for a happy life.

Ways of achieving ikigai will be in my next column.

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