The secrets to a long and happy life

As counsel for a long and happy life, the people of Okinawa in Japan said one thing which I found particularly fascinating and it was this. They counted an “adequate” amount of stress as a major contributory factor to their celebrated longevity and general state of happiness. In their estimation, insufficient stress is almost as damaging to man as too much stress. Science has for long shown that the body wears down faster during times of crisis and sustained stress has been proven to have a degenerative effect on neurons which can lead to memory loss, depression and even high blood pressure. The popular saying amongst people in the medical field is that 70 percent of illnesses are caused by stress. Don’t quote me but in our dear country where the majority of people have sadly become inured to unending suffering, this may well be closer to 90 percent!

However, reciting from the book, Ikigai – the Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, “After observing a group of test subjects for more than twenty years, Dr. Howard S. Friedman, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, discovered that people who maintained a low level of stress, who faced challenges and put their heart and soul into their work in order to succeed, lived longer than those who chose a more relaxed lifestyle and retired earlier.” This goes against the grain of common belief that those who live best and longest are those who are “fortunate enough” to live a totally stress-free life. As if to confirm this, many of the supercentenarians (those 110 years old and above) interviewed as part of the research for Ikigai, attributed their unusually long-life span to, “living intense lives and working well into old age”.

Man needs to be adequately stretched in life for life to have meaning and this will subsequently determine both the quality and length of life. And so, the “profit” referred to in the scriptures which says, “the plans of the diligent leads to profit” refers not just to economic profit, but profit to the quality of man’s life. This means that when a man fails to plan his life and fails to make certain things a way of life, such as being diligent and working “sufficiently” hard, it’s inevitable that his life will be missing something which God has intended he should enjoy.

This also means that where God states with much grief that His people perish due to a lack of knowledge, part of what He means is that by not taking the time to familiarise ourselves with His instructions, coupled with our propensity to disregard the ones we do know, we deny ourselves the abundance of profit inherent in those instructions. And so, we perish when we really shouldn’t and fail to live our best life; this best life being very different to what we have come to believe the best life should be. I’m yet to be convinced that there exists in this world, any greater manifestation of wisdom than to adhere to Godly admonition, always given for man’s benefit.

According to the people of Okinawa and the word, “Ikigai” which in a fairly rough translation means, “the happiness of always being busy”, a long, successful and fulfilling life is a goal one can only hope to attain by being routinely busy and not from living a “life of Rily” by loafing off, enjoying the “good” life and avoiding anything even remotely taxing. This Japanese life philosophy of Ikigai, is what the French may call one’s raison d’être – one’s purpose for existence or finding one’s life purpose. The lasting benefits of this discovery to body, mind and spirit can hardly be matched by any other. To borrow the words of the authors of Ikigai, “having a clearly defined Ikigai brings satisfaction, happiness and meaning to our lives”, and I find myself in agreement with the Japanese who believe this ultimately translates to good longevity.

Driven by his own personal experience of how he survived the dreaded World War Two concentration camp Auschwitz, Victor Frankl, the famed Austrian Neurologist developed Logotherapy, a concept of psychology which says the driving force of every individual is to find meaning in life; and that this meaning will be found when one discovers one’s purpose. He went on to posit that, “our health depends on the natural tension that comes from comparing what we’ve accomplished so far with what we’d like to achieve in the future.

What we need, then, is not a peaceful existence, but a challenge we can strive to meet by applying all the skills at our disposal.” Frankl came to this conclusion when the manuscripts of his life’s work was confiscated by vindictive German soldiers as he arrived at Auschwitz. Looking back a little later in life, he realised that what fuelled his will to survive the cruel treatment meted out to him there was his goal to write the manuscript all out again. He faced the stark reality of an imperilled legacy and he was not going to allow it. He found a reason to live.

As if to buttress this point, in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” Frankl reproduced one of Nietzsche’s most famous quotes which says, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

And there was Frankl’s Ikigai.

As we approach the dénouement of this article, I find the following quote by Frankl to be quite apt: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

You’ll agree with me that he didn’t fail in living out his own submission.

It’s time now for us to return to the likes of Friday, who I mentioned in Part One of this article, came to see my wife and I as the lockdown began to take a bite. He pleaded with us to find work for him to do within our house so he could take care of himself. “Anything,” he said. You may recall our response which was that we had nothing for him to do for the moment but went ahead to give him the little change and provision we could. You may also remember that we saw Friday when we stepped out an hour or so later and though we met him drunk, we still asked him to come the following morning as there was something he could do for us after all. Like I said last week, Friday is yet to come.

Contrary to the essence of the Japanese Ikigai and Frankl’s theory which says adequate stress and a goal to live for are the secrets of longevity and happiness in life, to the likes of Friday, the good life means taking the path of least resistance and grabbing any pleasure that may come their way. Such people need no enemies in the village, as that would just be an overkill. Indeed, life may have thrown Friday a lemon but at liberty to choose what to do about it, the thought of converting it into lemonade just seemed too much like hard work.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time

Source: Business Day

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