A person in the middle of a ring light.

Would You Repeat This Day for the Rest of Your Life?

A Japanese case study in fulfillment.

For a long time, my answer to that question would have been a resounding no. Not only would I not want to repeat that day, I would barely be willing to acknowledge my presence in that current moment. My days were filled with dread, both psychologically and physically. Psychologically in the anxiety I was working through. Physically in the job I held. One that left me so unfulfilled, I would end many a workday in tears.

That was my life for far too long.

However, through intention, I’ve worked to build something more meaningful for myself over the years. It’s not perfect. I still have many a flaw and many a bad day, but things are considerably better than in the past. For instance, yesterday I took the day off. I drove to San Diego, rented a kayak, and spent the morning at sea. All the while I was smiling to myself thinking, This is my Wednesday! How lucky am I! A flood of gratitude washed over me, unlike the waves I sat atop.

 

Check your gut

Would I repeat yesterday for the rest of my life? No, of course not. It’d get boring after a while. That’s not really the point of the question though. It’s not about living the exact same day over and over again. Rather, it’s meant to make you wonder: if every day were like today, would that be a good thing? Or even, if every week/month/year were like this one, would I be pleased with that?

Your answers are telling.

As soon as you saw those questions, you likely had a response come to mind. What was it? Was it an all-out affirmative? Or was it a sadness deep in your chest? Was it peace? Or was it an angst that you quickly tried to ignore? Think about that as I discuss some real-life examples of this Groundhog Day scenario come to life in Japan.

 

Two examples of meaning

Hayao Miyazaki is the director of popular anime films like Spirited Away.

Every Sunday, you can find him in the studio drawing. During holidays you will find the same thing. Even now after he’s retired, he continues to show up to the studio to draw. While he announced that he will not create any new films, he did say that he will keep drawing until the day he dies.

Hayao finds immense fulfillment in his work.

Jiro, of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, has made sushi every day for 80+ years. He runs one small restaurant with his son, even though the place has three Michelin stars and they could easily open more locations. Jiro explains that he’s not in it for the money. He’s in it for the craft. He values “good working conditions and creating an environment in which they can flow while making the best sushi in the world.”

Jiro shows up each day because, like Hayao, he finds tremendous fulfillment in his work.

 

The power of being deliberately busy

Okinawa, Japan is a blue zone – a region of the world “where a higher than usual number of people live much longer than average.” One major factor that makes the area special is that the people have a strong sense of ikigai.

Ikigai is a Japanese word that roughly translates to, “the happiness of always being busy.” Though what it really means is having a purpose in your life. Something you spend time on each day because you want to. It can be one thing or many things. It is both about fulfillment and spending your time each day cultivating that fulfillment. Not sitting idly, but intentionally spending your time on fulfilling acts.

Ikigai is about being busy with things that fill you up.

 

The stereotypical old man

Picture an old man sitting in a rocking chair. He wakes up, gets dressed, goes to the porch, and sits. From sunup to sundown the old man is in the chair. When it’s time for supper, he rises slowly, his joints creaking all the while. He shuffles into the home where he eats, sleeps, and does it all again.

This is the stereotypical retirement in the US.

Now picture an old man tending his vegetable garden in the morning and singing karaoke with friends in the afternoon. He is moving all day long. He is smiling and engaged. His vegetables continue to grow and his friends embrace him when he arrives. His life is one of ikigai. He does things that he finds meaningful and does them in a way where they are the focus of his time.

This is the “retirement” associated with those of the Okinawa region – though they don’t consider themselves retired.

In fact, “(There is) no word in Japanese that means ‘retire’ in the sense of ‘leaving the workforce for good.’ Retirement as we see it is not looked upon favourably since it implies that once you retire you will cease to do anything at all, become a burden on society and stop following your passions.”

 

Move forward with intention

You don’t need to repeat this day for the rest of your life. However, let’s pretend that you do. Each day is a mirror of today. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Because in some ways, life can be like that. You fall into a routine and wake up five years later still in a job you hate. Still with a partner you don’t like. Still out of shape, but still being billed for the gym.

Life can become a Groundhog Day where everything stays exactly the same, except you continue to age. Where you stop growing or pursuing your ikigai. Where you sit in the rocking chair all day, waiting to go to sleep and do it all again.

Ask yourself – Would I repeat this day for the rest of my life? If the answer is no, it might be time to make a change. Your next step is to figure out what that change needs to be. Experiment, explore, and test. Your better life is out there. Go find it.

“What you seek is seeking you.” – Rumi

 

References

Thanks to the book, Ikigai by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, for providing the stories of Hayao and Jiro as well as the concept of ikigai.

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