A New Outlook for The New Year

Research shows that the idea of ikigai—or a sense of life worth living—can help bring more contentment and longer, better health to those who practice it. 

doris dayA growing body of research shows that 5 factors can contribute to improved health and longevity and happiness.1-4 At the 20 Tips in 20-Minutes session at the Fall Clinical Dermatology meeting held in Las Vegas, NV, earlier this year, Doris Day, MD, in practice in New York, NY, told attendees that thinking about the Japanese concept of ikigai—or a sense of life worth living—can bring an improved quality of life and a more rewarding professional life (Figure 1). 

Her first tip was to “know your ikigai.” She said, “We talk a lot about the balance between work and family and all the things we are interested in and I think if you ponder this and look at this on a daily basis you can really find where your perfect balance is. It is always a work in progress.” 

“Ikigai is something that I focus on in both my presentations and my life and I teach it to my children,” Dr Day continued. “It is a combination of that which you love, that which the world needs, that which you can be paid for, that which you are good at, and the next levels is your passion, your mission, your vocation, and your profession. The center of that is your ikigai,” she said. 

Dr Day encouraged attendees to try and find that central balance and center around yourself and everything you give will be so much better from that.

According to García and Miralles in their book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life5, “The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigai—a reason to jump out of bed each morning. And according to the residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa—the world’s longest-living people—finding it is the key to a longer and more fulfilled life.” (Figure 2)
ikigai graph


Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones of Happiness and The Blue Zones, also writes of ikigai or as it is referred to in the Blue Zone of Costa Rica “plan de vida,” or reason to live. According to his book, The Blue Zones are 5 places in the world where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. The concept of “Blue Zones” grew out of the demographic work done by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain outlined in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology, identifying Sardinia as the region of the world with the highest concentration of male centenarians. Pes and Poulain drew concentric blue circles on the map highlighting these villages of extreme longevity and began to refer to this area inside the circle as the “Blue Zone.”7 

Through his research, Mr Beuttner defined the 9 characteristics of Blue Zone residents:

  • They move naturally—finding ways to move more during daily life
  • Waking up with a purpose—they know what their purpose is each day
  • Lessened stress—they perform routines to de-stress or avoid it altogether
  • 80% rule—they stop eating when their stomach is 80% full, rather than 100% (or more)
  • Legume and bean-based diets—they eat less meat in general
  • Drink alcohol moderately—and regularly (moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers)
  • They find a place to belong—all but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community
  • Family first—before all other concerns, they value family
  • They source the right tribe—attend social circles that supported healthy behaviors

Incorporating some of the Blue Zone concepts and ikigai in your life might lead to a new outlook and more vitality for the new year.

ikigai cover

1. Tomioka K, Kurumatani N, Hosoi H. Relationship of having hobbies and a purpose in life with mortality, activities of daily living, and instrumental activities of daily living among community-dwelling elderly adults. J Epidemiol. 2016;26(7):361-370. 

2. Mori K, Kaiho Y, Tomata Y, et al. Sense of life worth living (ikigai) and incident functional disability in elderly Japanese: The Tsurugaya Project. J Psychosom Res. 2017;95:62-67. 

3. Sano N, Kyougoku M. An analysis of structural relationship among achievement motive on social participation, purpose in life, and role expectations among community dwelling elderly attending day services. PeerJ. 2016;28;4:e1655. doi:10.7717/peerj

4. Koizumi M, Ito H, Kaneko Y, Motohashi Y. Effect of having a sense of purpose in life on the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases. J Epidemiol. 2008;18(5):191-196. 

5. García H, Miralles F. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. New York: NY: Penguin Books; 2017.  

6. History of blue zones. The Blue Zones website. https://bluezones.com/about/history/ Accessed December 1, 2017.