The first word is "Ikigai." The French might call it raison d'être...your reason for living. Some humans find their Ikigai early on, while others seemingly never find it. The truth is, our ikigai is always within us. But even though it is there, deep inside, it still requires a patient search. The Island of Okinawa has more centenarians than any other place on earth. And if you ask them, our ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning. It is believed that having a clear sense of your ikigai will bring you happiness, satisfaction, and meaning to your life. People in Japan remain active long after retirement. Why? Because they have a sense of purpose...they have ikigai. In fact, the Japanese language doesn't have a word that means retirement...at least not in the sense of "leaving the workforce for good." For them, that idea just simply doesn't exist.
The second word is actually a saying and is one of the most common in Japan. It is, "Hara hachi bu." Roughly translated it means, "Fill your belly to 80%" and is repeated before or after eating a meal. Ancient wisdom advises us against overeating. Okinawans eat only until they feel their belly is at 80% capacity. Overeating wears down the body with long digestive processes that accelerate cellular oxidation. Since there is no way to scientifically know when our tummies reach 80% full, the best way is to stop before you are just beginning to feel full. Overeating may give us some pleasure in the short-term but they won't help with living a longer, happier life. Use restraint. In the world of cooking, chefs know that we first eat with our eyes. They understand the importance of making food look attractive and appealing. The Japanese take this one step further and serve their meals on many small dishes. Japanese meals are smaller than they are in many Western cultures. But, it can look like you're getting more. Typically, their meals are served on five plates presented on a single tray. Four plates are small, with the fifth plate (the main course) being slightly larger. Looking at five plates of food can make us feel like we're getting a lot of food when we're not actually eating a lot. Okinawans have a body mass index of between 18 and 22. In the US, it can be 26 or 27. The practice of hara hachi bu is ancient. It seems that perhaps Buddhists understood the value of limiting caloric intake as far back as the 12th century...maybe even earlier.
The third, and final, word is Moai. Moai is a sort of community. it is a group of people with common interests who look out for one another. For many, serving their community (moai) is part of their ikigai. members of the moai set aside a monthly contribution for the group. This monthly payment, a form of club dues, allows them to participate in meetings, dine, and play games...or whatever hobby they have in common. Although the funds collected are used for activities, a portion of the surplus money is given to a member which is usually decided on a rotation basis. In this way, the moai helps maintain emotional and financial well-being of its members. Should a member be experiencing financial difficulties, they are able to get an advance from the group's savings. Some groups are more prosperous than others, but even the poorest of the groups can offer their members a sense of belonging and the gift of a little financial support when it is needed most. Well-being and security help increase life expectancy.
I've learned a great deal from our Japanese friends. Their wisdom resonates within me. I figure that the Okinawans must be on to something. No one wants to live to be 100 if those years are unhappy and without a sense of purpose. But they thrive and live long and happy lives. Ikigai, Hara hachi bu, and Moai are my three new favorite words. And you dear readers, are considered both my ikigai and my moai.