Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

Secret to a Long and Happy Life

July 16, 2021

During this long period of COVID-19 pandemic, people falling victim to this epidemic, getting hospitalised, living under house quarantine and periodic lockdown etc., the worst suffers, physically, seem to be those who are aged, say above 75 years. 

Those whose health is good with faculties functioning with medical intervention or without, manage by pursuing some physical activity — beginning with helping in the kitchen (some have become experts in chopping, peeling vegetables and cleaning meat!), taking to gardening even if they live in apartments (what for the balconies are meant and also the plastic flower pots!), developing interest in domestic pets like dogs, cats or birds, learning more about the smart phone and entering a new world of computer games and obscene (to some), sensual activities etc., etc.

Old age is no doubt boring as much as tiring. If left to be alone with children separated and health not good — often visiting doctors and being treated with tablets (drugs!), if not hospitalised — it is worse. Ask any old man. Age is only a number. Old in body but young at heart (another way of saying ‘he is a dirty old man!’). Now is the time for an old man to realise the advantage of marrying a  much younger woman! Hellow!! However, she should be in better health than our old man to have the advantage! Did you get me Steve?

I have read autobiographies of a few famous (if not famous who will read them?) lawyers, doctors, professionals and found them regretting their inability to pursue their passion and profession due to old age. These people had hoped to die with their boots on, as the saying goes. They had hoped to fade away doing what they had been doing all their life, for over 50 or 60 years, with passion. But the age had taken its toll. The famous lawyer is unable to stand before the Judge. In one case a merciful Judge provided him a chair close to him and in another case the lawyer who was hard of hearing was made to sit by the side of the Judge!

Same with doctors. There was a case where a surgeon was unable to proceed and half way through the surgery calling his assistant to take over. Another time, the scalpel slipped from his hand. All because of the infirmities of old age. Poet can write ‘Death, be not proud.’ But is he bold enough to write ‘Old age, be not proud?’ No. It is then, left alone or with the spouse, one thinks of old age homes. Choosing one itself is a big headache. Worse is when one needs to depend on others for taking a shave, bath and physical movement, even to take food. Answering nature’s call? Like being pushed to hades. God forbid. Wheel chair is beckoning !

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Why do I write in this manner? I am provoked by my friend K. Vijayakumar, former Joint Director of Information and Publicity, who sent me a book on my birthday last December 27th titled “IKIGAI — The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.” His optimistic note on the inner flap of the book is, ‘Let this art of staying young while growing old motivate…’ Motivate what? To meditate? Well, it has motivated me to write this column. A good pastime in these days of pandemic. Here I go.

First let me declare that there is no secret as the sub-title of the book claims. Second, there is no mystery in the word IKIGAI. It means a Japanese word suggesting a concept that “the happiness of always being busy.” It also explains the ‘extraordinary longevity of the Japanese on the island of Okinawa’ where 25% of the people with over 110 years of age live. This island Okinawa has a place called Ogimi known as ‘Village of Longevity.’ Reason: Partly attributed to a fruit Shikuwasa — a lime-like fruit that packs an extraordinary antioxidant punch. Eating it could be that secret !

Those in government or private service aspire for retirement. The book says there is no word in Japanese that means ‘retire’ — leaving the workforce for good as in english. It seems, having a purpose in life is so important in Japanese culture and, therefore, the idea of retirement simply does not exist there !

So in old age, how do you meet the definition of ‘retirement’? Having a ‘purpose.’ Old man can’t do hard work. So he avoids strenuous exercise. Therefore, keep moving here and there, take a walk or work in the flower or vegetable garden. However, equal importance is given to ‘mental exercise’ which keeps old man’s ability to react to his surroundings.

The book says the ‘mental workout’ like playing a game offers new stimuli and helps prevent the depression that can come with solitude. Now I know why I used to see a group of old men in my club meeting daily to play cards or join in for the ‘tambola.’

If people seem older than they are, it is primarily because of stress they undergo, says the book. However, paradoxically, the book says that while sustained, intense STRESS is the enemy of LONGEVITY, low levels of STRESS have been shown to be beneficial ! And, hear this. Living with low levels of stress tend to develop healthier habits, smoke less and drink less alcohol. Now does it mean practicing the latter — smoke less, drink less alcohol — is the secret of developing low levels of stress? GOK.

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And here is one top secret   — to keep the body young keep the mind active! The book talks of many practices useful for longevity like yoga and drinking green tea.

Finally, Ikigai is simply an art of living. Of course, it has nothing to do with our Sri Sri Ravishankar, the Godman. It enumerates the rules of IKIGAI for long life and healthy living. They are:

1. Stay alive; do not retire. 2. Take it slow — no hurry, no rat race. 3. Don’t fill your stomach, don’t eat like a pig, nay like a glutton. 4. Surround yourself with good friends (difficult to shop!). 5. Get in shape for your next birthday — lose weight. 6. Smile. The best dress one can wear is ‘smile’ some say. 7. Reconnect with nature — does not say if it is for answering the call of nature! 8. Give thanks to nature, which gives you free light, air, and to your ancestors because of whom you are here.  9. Live in the moment. Forget the past and damn the future. You are here and now. That’s what Osho Rajneesh also preached — this is the glorious moment, don’t miss it you fool. 

And what did Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam say? “Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why: drink ! for you know not why you go, nor where.” Further, “Dead yesterdays and unborn tomorrows, why fret about it, if today be sweet.”

10. Follow your ikigai. If you yet do not know what ikigai is, then your mission is to discover it. After all, long life is no guarantee for a happy life.

At the end there is neither a secret nor a known formula for a long life and if one makes it long, there is no formula to make it a happy life. It is a matter of luck and chance. Let us count our blessings and endure the miseries.

Tail-piece: Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa in an interview to The Illustrated Weekly of India had said: In old age, every day is a bonus. Life becomes a burden if one is not keeping good health.

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