Ikigai: old people useful and happy

Publish date 10-09-2022

by Sandro Calvani

For seniors over 65 years of age, having ikigai (compared to not having it) is associated with a 31% lower risk of developing motor or functional disabilities and a 36% lower risk. % of developing dementia. Furthermore, ikigai is associated with a sharp decrease in depressive symptoms, despair and psychological distress, as well as greater happiness, satisfaction with life, through useful activities in everyday life and with social results (for example : frequent participation in hobby clubs and helping others). Some of these effects are stronger for men than for women and among people with high socioeconomic status. These are some of the results of an in-depth study published in early April 2022 by the Lancet, the best international public health journal. But this is not a new miracle medicine.

Ikigai (生 き 甲 斐) is a concept of Japanese origin that refers to living in order to find joy and satisfaction in everything that we do and everything that surrounds us. The literal translation into Italian of ikigai is "a reason for being", or "a purpose for life", but in several Asian countries the local concept of ikigai means also find the balance between one's passion, mission, profession and vocation.
Ikigai is a continuous process of improving the purpose of life, which never ceases until the moment of death. Ikigai is applicable to all social levels and its effectiveness does not depend on the amount of the pension, even if in several Asian countries with older companies the coverage of public or private pensions is close to 100%. Ikigai is not pursued as a future goal, it is seen instead as an attitude to improve every day and improve things and people around us, always increasing their holistic balance.

Whether it's growing flowers, engaging in playful activities such as playing bowls or chess, making origami or telling stories to children in kindergartens, the list of activities for having ikigai it's very long, so no one can say they can't find something they really like. In Asian societies and cultures in rapid and sometimes disordered transformation, a growing and widespread ikigai helps to maintain a social bond and a tacit consensus on some fundamental principle of peaceful coexistence.

The happy participation of older people in civic affairs and their inclusion in social services enliven and improve the attitudes of younger groups, with very positive effects on employment and the economy. In China and Japan, for example, seniors 'choirs and bands and seniors' sports are popular with national matches of many Olympic Games. The ikigai activities receive public grants, regulated by real public councils of seniors in Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, which have a say in social housing, public transport, urban parks, museums, theaters and many other cultural activities.

Sandro Calvani
NP May 2022

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