Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ikigai and Art Making: A Sense of Purpose


Dan Beuttner discusses the cultures and lifestyles that seem to contribute to health and longevity in this Ted talk. He touches on two ideas above and beyond diet and activity levels, which we all basically are already aware of, that strike a strong chord with me as an artist.

The first is a concept the Japanese call “ikigai”, for which there is no exact word in the English language. It translates as “ a reason to wake up in the morning.” Beuttner references research that suggests longevity is linked with having a sense of purpose in life.

My own life as an artist, which began 20 years ago in my early 40’s, fills me with great energy and enthusiasm for living. Being a maker, a person who engages in a creative process because it provides deep satisfaction as well as continual challenge, is a choice that fills my life with purpose. Whether I live to be a centenarian is far less significant to me than being able to focus my attention on creating the joy in living and expressing that refreshes and revitalizes us all on every level -- physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The second concept Buettner discusses in this talk also emerged from interviews with Japanese centenarians who live on the islands of Okinawa. Each person born in this isolated area becomes part of a group of five or six other people throughout their lives who form a social network of support. The presence of this number of people to  encourage, comfort and share with adds so much to their quality of life that these close groups have become recognized as a factor in healthy aging and longevity.

Most of us are not Okinawans. We have lived in numerous locations, had countless friendships, work associations and even intimate relationships over the course of our lives. Often this means we do not share a lifelong history with others around us, nor have the comfort and continued support that these long-term affiliations offer.

While many contemporary artists seize on this disconnectedness and alienation as their subject matter, I find myself moving towards the potential and promise of being human. I see creating and making as ways to infuse life-affirming, uplifting energy into the world. Our culture is barraged by images and words based on fear and violence; should our art mirror the ills of our culture or offer focal points that slow our whirling brains and give us a pause to reflect on the meaning and potential of our own – and all human -- existence?

I hope you will find Mr. Buettner’s research and images as intriguing and thought-provoking as I did. As a person who chooses to live to my fullest potential, it seems that perhaps the secrets to a long and happy life and a quiet, peaceful death are quite simple indeed. I hope that I am headed in that direction.



  1. thank you so much for bringing this talk to notice. brilliant stuff

  2. I'm popping over via prophet-of-bloom blog...happy to have found your spot, very good things residing here! Off now to read some more but I wanted to tell you that this is EXACTLY what I needed to read this morning... :>]

  3. same comment as India..wonderrful. lyndax

  4. Thank you Jeanne, that's a great talk and post.

  5. Great advice, thanks for sharing.

  6. I haven't viewed the talk but I certainly will. I was not aware of the formal concept ikigai or of the Okinawan tradition but I have had similiar thoughts and feelings as I have grown older. Art is a great energizer and I feel blessed to have this passion. Thank you for this interesting post.

  7. Thought id stop by and say hello. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon,pa.

  8. Excelent article . I completely agree with that.
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