How to find your happiness: The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai
Is today a repeat of yesterday? Rob Bell explains how the Japanese concept of Ikigai can help you wake up with a sense of wonder and purpose.
Rob Bell is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and spiritual teacher. His books include Love Wins, How to Be Here, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Velvet Elvis, The Zimzum of Love, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars. He hosts the weekly podcast The Robcast, which was named by iTunes as one of the best of 2015. He was profiled in The New Yorker and in TIME Magazine as one of 2011’s hundred most influential people. He and his wife, Kristen, have three children and live in Los Angeles.
Rob Bell: I’ve met more people who, essentially, somewhere along the way picked up: 'You go to school, you get trained in something, then you go get a job in that and then you do that job and that’s your career and then you die.' But then they got into this thing and realized they don’t actually want to do this with their life. Or nobody wants this particular trade anymore. You make eight-track players; people aren’t buying eight-tracks anymore.
There’s this weird thing about the market where if you go in with, 'Well, this is a thing that I do,' there may be forces beyond you that like: 'No one wants to pay for that anymore.'
And so over the years, I kept meeting people who had this very single track 'this is what I’m supposed to do' thing and then it disappointed them for reasons out of their control or simply, “I got trained to do this thing that I don’t like to do.”
Then I stumbled on this Japanese word “ikigai” and ikigai essentially is that which gets you out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it’s translated as 'your reason for being'. And in Japanese culture they have this very well thought through idea of ikigai: that you never stop working out your ikigai—what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning. And so in this season of life, this is what you’re doing but that may change. It may shift. Somebody you love may get sick and so you need to care for them. You used to do this and now that industry is sort of dried up but now you need to go back to school because you need to now go do this.
And they had this really interesting idea that when you no longer have something that gets you out of bed in the morning, then you’re kind of dead, even if you’re still alive. And the reason why I find that fascinating is you can be successful, you can have a nice job, you can have a nice house, you can do all the stuff that everybody says, “Hey, you’ve made it,” and yet wake up in the morning with a profound sense of dread like, “Ugh, another day?” And despair is a spiritual disease. Despair is when you believe that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today.
Despair is when you look ahead into the future and each day is just another version of this. What we really want, no matter how educated, sophisticated, accomplished we are, we want to wake up in the morning with this sense of anticipation.
Like, “Look what I get to do today!” The great Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “I didn’t ask for success, I asked for wonder.”
And I love that because for many of us we were trained for success. Here’s how you work hard and multitask and network and get stuff done and climb the ladder. What we weren’t taught oftentimes was to ask, “Is this ladder even leaned up against the right building?”—which is a different set of questions. It exerts a different set of muscles.
It’s one thing to be successful. It’s another thing to wake up and think, "Check out what I get to do today! How great is this?”
It’s as if success asks this question, “What more can I get?” And then there’s this other question, very different, that comes out of ikigai, understanding your life is a craft that you’re endlessly working out—and that question is: “Can you believe I get to do this?”
It’s like you have this thing that’s been sort of buzzing in your mind and heart. Like, "I would love to go try that." But then all those voices come back in of who you aren’t. “You don’t have enough resources. You’re not smart enough. You haven’t gone to the right schools."
By the way who you aren’t isn’t interesting.The long list of things you haven’t done or where you haven’t been or who you don’t know or money you don’t have. It’s so boring! Who you aren’t isn’t interesting.
And then when you are finding your path and when you are saying yes to whatever it is that’s sort of welling up within you that is filling you with a sense of wonder and anticipation: who other people are in relation to your path isn’t interesting. Because often what happens is we think, “I would do that but so and so is smarter, and so and so is faster, and so and so has more endurance and can work harder. And so and so always gets…” Not interesting. It’s not interesting. You finding your path, the only question is, “What is the thing that you’re here to do, and what is the next step?”
And fear often raises its voice and fear lists all the ways it can go wrong. And by the way, the best thing with fear is to talk back to fear. Because fear is like, “You could lose a lot of money. People might not understand this. I mean you might really fail.” And the thing you do with fear is talk back to fear. Because fear thinks it’s quite intelligent. It’s like, “I’m here to warn you of all the bad things that could happen. And you probably haven’t thought of this and this and this.”
And here’s the thing you do is you talk to fear and you say to fear whenever fear is like: “You know what? This could really, really be a giant catastrophe. This could be a mess. You could really fail.” What you say to fear is you say to fear, “I know.” And then you smile. “I know. I know.” Because fear has no idea what to do with that. “I’m aware of all that.”
Life is difficult enough. You might as well be doing something that fills you with life. It’s going to beat you up enough, you might as well be getting up in the morning with some sense of, 'I’m headed somewhere. I’m a step closer to being my true self today.'
And you know you’re making progress when all those voices come and say, “Who are you to do this? Who do you think you are?” You know you’re making progress when you start talking back to those voices, and you have an even better question which is: 'Who am I not to do this?'
There will always be somebody smarter. There will always be somebody who knows more people. There will always be somebody who’s traveled to more places and got better grades in school and has more money. There will always be somebody better. But you can say, “But who am I not to do this?” And that’s interesting.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? If your only answer to that question is: 'My alarm clock,' then firstly, that's detention, and secondly: where is your sense of purpose? Spiritual teacher Rob Bell explains how his discovery of Ikigai—a Japanese life philosophy—crystilized a problem he was seeing too often, in most people he met. In your late teens or early twenties, you typically land on a path that you follow for the rest of your life. You picked a degree and now you're stuck. You made a decision and now it seems too late to choose again. That can lead us to a deeply unsatisfying place, where today is just a repeat of yesterday. Ikigai contains "this really interesting idea, that when you no longer have something that gets you out of bed in the morning, then you’re kind of dead, even if you’re still alive," says Bell. Your reason for being should shift many times over the course of your life, and looking at your life as containing many seasons— rather than one long stretch—can be a better way to frame and find fulfillment. Ikigai asks four key questions, at the center of which you can find your purpose: 1) What do you love? 2) What are you good at? 3) What does the world need from you? 4) What can you get paid for? Rob Bell is the author of What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything.
Can Impossible Foods beat other brands — like Beyond Meat and Tyson — in the war to dominate the alternative meat industry?
- The Impossible Burger will be available in 27 Gelson's Markets stores in Southern California starting Sept. 20.
- Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods sell plant-based burgers in restaurants, but only Beyond Meat sells products in grocery stores.
- Tyson could begin to edge out these smaller companies with its unique meat product that contains plant and animal components, appealing to health-conscious "flexitarians."
Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.
- "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
- New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
- It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.
At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.
As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.
But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.
Just as sharp as the whippersnappers
To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.
First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.
The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.
The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.
An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.
How to ensure brain health in old age
While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."
To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.
Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.
For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.
The move comes one day before more than 1,500 Amazon employees are set to walk off the job as part of the global climate strikes.
- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday plans to swiftly combat climate change.
- Some parts of the plan include becoming carbon neutral by 2040, buying 100,000 electric delivery vans and reaching zero emissions by 2030.
- Some Amazon employees say the pledge is good but doesn't go far enough.