A couple of months ago I announced that I intended to try and write a blog about retirement as it related to the topic of a weekly article in The Observer colour supplement entitled Inner Life. Each week would be a different topic vaguely related to psychology and the meaning of life. I said I would try and take whatever topic the article addressed and relate it, if possible, to retirement. My regular readers, you know who you are, will have noticed, maybe, that I haven’t been doing this and the reason is that I have been disappointed in the flimsiness of the subject and the fact that each week the article is written by somebody trying to promote their own book. Maybe they don’t want to give too much away and risk you not buying the book. Either way the absence of this kind of blog is not to do with not being able to adapt the article to my blog but simply I couldn’t be bothered to try. Call me capricious (a nice word) if you like but it hasn’t happened. Until a week or so ago.

I read the article entitled, Want to live longer? Find your ikigai, sub-heading, In Japan people of retirement age don’t put their feet up. They harness their ikigai. Before we go any further I had better explain what Ikigai means. It is a Japanese term which, the article says, can be translated as, ‘a reason for being’. To cut to the chase, which is more than the article does, it suggests that people in Japan live longer because, in essence, they don’t retire. They don’t believe in the concept and have no word for it in their language. I wouldn’t know whether this is true or false because I don’t speak Japanese but I’m quite willing to take the authors’ word for it.

Their book by the way, should you wish to explore the area further, is titled, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy life by Hector Garcia and Francesca Miralles. Actually not so much of a secret if you read the article, nor even if you’ve given a bit of thought to the link between keeping active psychologically and physically and living longer. The link is a generalisation obviously, not everybody who keeps active is guaranteed long life, but one that I am quite prepared broadly to accept at face value. Keep engaged (however this may be defined) in your own chosen way and you are likely to live longer and be happier while you’re doing it, living that is. I’m not quite sure if my own dear mother would support the generalisation or contradict it. She lived until she was nearly 95, was not happy but didn’t really engage with anything unless complaining about the state of the world (‘utter chaos’, quote, apparently) might be regarded as a hobby or past-time.

So the article is a bit obvious but maybe none the worse for that and I don’t want to sound smug, too late you say. One paragraph says the lesson we can draw is: Japanese people of retirement age keep engaged with the world around them, moving on to work and activities that demand less responsibility. The idea is to keep mind and body active in order to fill yourself with purpose and ikigai on a daily basis.

I don’t disagree with this sentiment at all and I only have a small amount of irritation at the suggestion that life can only have ‘purpose’ if we continue to work. Maybe that’s too simple a translation but it surely must be possible to feel one’s life has purpose without finding a watered down version of ‘work’ or even to need to engage in activities which sounds a bit like doing it (an activity) for the sake of it rather than because you enjoy the activity. You know the over-obsessive commitment to ‘keeping busy’. Or maybe I’m being too picky.

Certainly the last paragraph is an interesting one. It says (I had to move the paw of one of the dogs to read it as he had come to sit on the sofa at the side of me and sat on the magazine I was referring to. I couldn’t help think this was symbolic in some way like he was telling me, you don’t need to read this to come up with a blog, anyway), the lesson we can draw from the people of Japan … is that we should do less when we are feeling overwhelmed, but keep busy when we feel like doing nothing. Interesting and I quite like it, but it would need unpacking before I could wholly buy into this concept. It reads well but maybe it’s too slick for its own good?

I like the last two sentences better. Don’t overwork, but don’t fritter those hours away either. The answer to longevity may well rely on a balance between the two. As a person who has written a few times about the benefits of a balanced retirement life I am more than pleased to agree with this sentiment / retirement life advice. Whether it needs a whole book (Yes, I’m jealous they got their book published and I haven’t) to put the message across I don’t know and won’t buy the book to find out, although you might.

So there we are, the secret of a fulfilling retirement (another loaded phrase, define fulfilling) is to achieve a balance between all (there’s more than two in my model) the various aspects you have chosen to include in your retirement life style. As always for me the Devil is in the details namely around the phrase – what you have chosen to include. What do we chose to include? How do we know that these are the right ‘areas’? How do we review what we have already chosen and how does this enable us to identify, wait for it, any missing links. There, I’ve said it again. I might as well entitle each of these blogs, other than the vineyard, cartoons, art work and yoga of course as Retirement and the missing link: Part 1,2,3 … 400.


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  1. Jacqui 10 months ago

    Interesting, thanks for sharing this concept, will investigate further. It took me quite some time to settle into a contented retirement and I am definitely Mrs busy all the time because it works for me. However, I try to hold on to the notion of ‘ if it doesn’t give you joy, don’t do it’ and this has led me to some hard decisions but ultimately positive outcomes.

    • Author
      summerhouse 10 months ago

      I very much like the ‘no joy don’t do it’ concept but I struggle to put it into practice I’d better try harder.

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