According to the Japanese, we all have an Ikigai – a purpose and reason for being.
But how many of us feel as though we’ve found our true purpose in life?
How many of us are clear on the thing or things that bring us blissful happiness and satisfaction, and give our lives true meaning?
Before the arrival of Covid-19, personal wellbeing levels in the UK were rising.
86% of adults in the UK felt that what they did in life was worthwhile, and the average happiness rating for the UK was 7.8 out of 10. Data from the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS)
However, with so many unknowns and uncertainties regarding what lies ahead and what our ‘new kind of normal’ will look like, we can expect people’s wellbeing to suffer.
It is probable that a large proportion of us will encounter challenges over the next few months as change becomes the new normal; whether that is change in profession, family relations, personal outlook or all of the above.
However, if we can reframe our fear of change and instead welcome it where possible, might we enjoy a renewal of sorts?
Might we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and discover our Ikigai?
The benefits of an adaptable mind
Our tendency to stick to routines and do things as we always have could actually be detrimental to our health because our brains need to be revitalised from time to time.
So by exposing ourselves to change, committing to learning new things and exercising our brains in different ways, we can boost our mood and reduce anxiety.
In fact, learning to deal with new situations and responding to different stimuli than that which we are used to actually has an anti-ageing affect on our minds and subsequently, our bodies.
Most doctors agree that the secret to keeping the body young is keeping the mind active and training ourselves to be resilient when we are faced with challenges in our lives.
Self-isolation and the unprecedented spread of Covid-19 is the biggest challenge this generation has faced, and how we cope with the pandemic and social crisis now and once life returns to ‘normal’ could have long-term repercussions for both our physical and mental health.
How to use self-isolation to find your Ikigai
According to the Japanese secret to a long and happy life, people who live the longest share two qualities: a positive attitude and high emotional awareness.
Both of these attributes are closely associated with the discovery of your Ikigai; your reason to get out of bed each morning.
But how does one find their true purpose in life?
One way to discover your Ikigai is through Morita therapy which just so happens to require 21 days of solitude, reflection and a complete removal from ‘typical’ everyday life.
Morita therapy is an extreme approach to self-discovery but we can tailor this Japanese purpose-centred therapy to suit, as long as the fundamental themes of each stage are adopted.
Here are the four stages of Morita therapy that promise to help you discover your life’s purpose:
- Isolation and rest
During the first week of treatment, the patient is required to rest in a room with no external stimuli. That means no TV, books or contact with family or friends. The idea is that you must be alone with your thoughts – observing your emotions and accepting them without trying to control them.
02. Light occupational therapy
During week two of treatment, Morita patients are required to perform repetitive tasks in silence. One of these tasks involves keeping a diary about your thoughts and feelings. This week, you are encouraged to take walks in nature and focus on meditative breathing exercises. You are also encouraged to start gardening, drawing or painting, and are ideally still in solitude; not communicating with friends or family.
03. Occupational therapy
Week three is all about physical movement in nature, such as walking or climbing. Other activities such as writing, painting, knitting or ceramics are encouraged – whichever fully immerse the patient in what he is doing. You can speak to people this week but only about the activities you are engaged in – not the outside world.
04. Return to the real world
The patient returns to society and is reintroduced to a social life but maintains the meditative practices and continues with therapeutic activities undertaken during treatment. You should be re-entering the real world as a new person with a sense of purpose and deeper understanding of self.
Self-isolation presents us all with an unexpected opportunity to put at least some of these actions into practice. If the thought of digital isolation seems too much, why not try limiting yourself to an hour or two per day and evaluate how you feel and a result.
Adapt Morita therapy to suit where you are mentally at right now, or take inspiration from logotherapy which is about adjusting your mindset to break negative cycles and reduce anxiety.
Viktor Frankl founded a school of psychology called logotherapy, which centred on finding reason and meaning in life.
As a survivor of the holocaust, Frankl was tough, independent and entirely dedicated to his principles in the search for meaning.
His experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz showed him that:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitudes in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Man’s Search for Meaning
During the current crisis when so much is out of our control, it’s important that we hold on to ‘the last of our human freedoms’; that is, we can choose how we respond and react to such significant societal change.
Many of us will let social isolation, fear of the pandemic or future uncertainties defeat us. The current changes, if unmanaged, could generate an existential crisis that could result in a depressed nation citing record low wellbeing levels.
Frankl viewed existential frustrations – that is, life without purpose – as a positive thing because these frustrations act as a catalyst for change.
He believed existential crises were typical of modern societies because we are told what to do or how to behave so often that we forget what it is we really want to do.
Therefore, when we are removed from our usual routines we struggle to see ourselves as serving a purpose when really, we haven’t yet discovered our real purpose.
Why self-isolation is the perfect time to find your Ikigai
The principles of both Morita therapy and logotherapy require nothing but time, solitude and commitment. Create your own spiritual retreat – free from distraction and in a low stress environment – at home.
Practice mindfulness and persevere. We are all navigating our way through the unknown at this time, as we have been ejected from the routines we have come to depend so heavily on.
Let’s see this as a time for reflection; a time for positive change; a time to find our Ikigai.
Credit goes to the fantastic, international bestseller: Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. By Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.