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Live long, live well and live happy

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Live long, live well and live happy

Feeling justified in taking our eyes off work and focusing on whatever takes our fancy is the privilege commonly known as retirement. JUDY RAFFERTY turns to the Okinawans to reflect on what makes life worthwhile.

Retirement just might be one of the few perks of ageing and ORCLS can contribute to our understanding of what makes life worthwhile, especially as we age.

ORCLS – the Okinawa Research Centre for Longevity Science –was established in 1997 after the Okinawa Centenarian Study reached fame proportions. The study began in 1975 and is the world’s longest continuous study of centenarians.

Okinawa was an independent kingdom with a close relationship with China for more than 400 years and was annexed by the Japanese in 1879.

According to data from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2015, the Okinawans had 81 centenarians per 100,000 head of population, compared to 48 in Japan, 37 in France, 32 in Italy and 20 in the US.

On average, the centenarians stayed functionally independent until their mid-90s. The question asked by the study is why do the Okinawans live so well and for so long?

The answer is multifactorial of course, but seems to be largely to do with diet, social practices and genetics.

As a psychologist assisting people with aging and retirement, I am particularly interested in the social practices. There are two of significance – one is termed moai and the other is ikigai. To quote from the ORCLS website:

“One cultural tradition that has encouraged supportive relationships is forming a moai. A moai is an informal group of people who meet regularly, share common interests, and support each other. In times of need, moai provide financial and emotional support that gives members a greater peace of mind that their ‘tribe’ has their back.”

Also: “Okinawans each embrace their own ikigai which means sense of purpose in life. An ikigai gives their lives purpose, responsibility and a clear reason to begin each day.”

Do you have moai? It might be made up of your family, your patchwork group, woodwork group, online card group, church group, yoga buddies or early morning swimming group. If you don’t have one, perhaps make finding one your new year resolution.

Do you have ikigai? The West has taken the idea of ikigai and made a diagram. Of course! That is just what we do in the West.

With the diagram, we can draw it on a white board and use it to motivate employees and backup a mission statement. However, there is always something useful to be found in a handy diagram and in this diagram, there are three very important parts. They are:

  • Doing what you love
  • Doing what you are good at
  • Doing what the world needs

One activity probably won’t tick all three circles but perhaps you can find a couple of things in your life that will mean there is something of worth in each circle.

And here’s the trick to making ikigai work for you. Spend time in each of those circles. Don’t just do what the world needs, don’t spend too long doing what you are already good at, don’t do what you love without considering what the world needs from you.

Even if your knees are no longer quite what they were, try to move nimbly and regularly across each circle spending a time in all three. Bring your ikigai to your moai and live a longer healthier life.

 Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.

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