As I stumbled out of bed, I was trying to count how many drinks I had the night before.
Was it two glasses of wine or three? Did I add two or three tequila to this margarita? What else did I drink?
I was hungover and embarrassed. It wasn’t just a Tuesday morning, I got drunk without leaving the house.
This was around six months after the pandemic started. Working from home for six months, being unable to see friends – not being able to do many things.
Until then, I thought I had coped well with being home alone. I didn’t feel like I had to drink alcohol. There was just something to be done.
But as the pandemic continued and there was no end in sight, I realized that I needed to change, or at least find better, healthier ways to cope with being stuck at home. I challenged myself to give up alcohol and instead relax with yoga for 30 days.
It was around this time that a friend introduced me to a new concept – Ikigai. It is a Japanese word with no precise translation into English. When you combine iki, which means “to live” or “to be alive,” with the word “gai”, which means “what is worthwhile and what is of value,” you get what Héctor says is “what life means.” makes it worth living in “García and Francesc Miralles, the authors of two books on the subject.
I asked myself: in the past six months, had what made my life worth living become alcohol? I started flipping through García and Miralles’ latest book, The IKIGAI Journey, to look for something more.
A few years ago, García and Miralles traveled to a park in Tokyo known as “Centennial Village,” where people with the longest life expectancy in the world live. They interviewed the oldest residents in the area to learn the secrets of a long, happy life.
From this research, they outlined four components for Ikigai: passion, mission, profession and calling. These four elements overlap in different aspects of life. For example, passion and profession overlap in your talents. Profession and calling overlap in what you can pay for. Calling and mission intersect in what the world needs. And mission and passion intersect with what you love.
According to García and Miralles, our world tends to be centered around the intersection of work and vocation. This makes sense considering we can get paid to pay our bills and make a living.
“However, if we ignore the other component of ikigai and just focus on making money continuously, our entire lives can become meaningless,” write García and Miralles.
As an individual, I was locked in quarantine alone with the rest of the world, and I realized that without the usual distractions – going to the movies, going to sporting events, or going on vacation – I was really just concentrating on work Monday through Friday. and i didn’t feel fulfilled
No wonder you drank so much, I thought to myself. My life had been empty and I filled the void with liquid. I realized that I had to find new ways to stay fulfilled.
In their book, García and Miralles guide readers through 35 “stations” designed to help people find their Ikigai. This includes goal-oriented activities such as performing an altruistic act of kindness on a daily basis, as well as attainable philosophical states such as allowing you to be “carried away by the accidental and other coincidences of your life”.
You don’t have to go through all the stations to find your Ikigai. But the goal is that if you try at least some of them, you will find some kind of fulfillment and a life worth living.
When I read García and Miralles’ book, I immediately noticed one station – the fourth station where I spent time developing positive new habits. They ask readers to think about which habits determine their life, which make them feel good, and which are harmful or use up energy.
“It is said that humans are ‘creatures of habit’ and it is true that habits are essential to our survival as they are mechanisms that help us automate tasks without constantly having to make decisions,” write García and Miralles . “If we had to think about every single move we make during the day, we could be exhausted.”
If there’s one thing I’m known for among my friends, it’s a creature of habit. I tend to eat in the same restaurants, order the same things, and set a similar schedule for myself each week. It makes life easier, but it’s also a kind of comfort blanket. Before the pandemic, most of my habits were healthy: I watched a weekly movie with a colleague on Thursdays; I had dinner with my family over the weekend. But during the pandemic, I mostly stuck to the bad habits without being able to make the healthy ones.
García and Miralles suggest replacing bad habits with good ones, and I did this by swapping drinking for yoga. But I wanted to go deeper. I thought about how my drinking had turned out in the first place.
It started after I started a new, more stressful job. My way of dealing with this was to come home and have a glass of wine. Only one. But as the job got more strenuous, one glass turned into two and two into more, plus some whiskey that was also mixed in. I realized that soon I was no longer drinking to relax, but because I thought it would help me sleep. So I replaced my nightly glass of wine with a nightly cup of tea before bed.
Not only did it work, it was satisfactory. I had something to slowly sip while reading a book or watching Netflix, which helped me fall asleep at the same time.
When I replaced my beer with yoga after work, I felt another sense of achievement. You don’t feel like you’ve achieved anything after half a liter of beer. But with yoga in the evening, I was proud when I finished. Some days I got deeper into a certain pose than the day before. On other days it was just because I made it my goal to show up on the mat even when I didn’t feel like it.
I followed a 30 day guide I found on YouTube by Adriene Mishler. Your “Yoga with Adriene” videos have received tens of millions of views. They are easy to follow, and each lesson has a goal – something to focus on, like breath, balance, thoughts, and so on.
I felt stronger. Not only physically from yoga, but also mentally. A week later, I was proud of myself that with a non-alcoholic beer in hand, I could still have fun at Zoom’s happy hour. Feeling able to face both of these challenges, I began to take on more keys in finding my Ikigai.
The 19th stop to find your Ikigai is analog: set up a screen-free time slot every day. So every night before bed I decided to start reading for an hour without a break from my phone or TV.
I also went a step further. I decided to cut my screen time overall. Before the pandemic, my screen time report was normal, but during the pandemic my screen time doubled as the nights of Doom scrolling grew longer and longer.
I started setting reminders on my phone to spend more time off my screens, and with them all the arguments and bad news from Facebook and Twitter. After a week the habit returned to normal. My weekly screen time dropped 15 percent, then 25 percent, and then 33 percent. Not only did I spend less time on my phone, but I was present. The nights I usually “watched” a basketball game while flicking through my cell phone were now moments when I actually took the time to appreciate an athlete’s skill or a coach’s vision.
As my 30 days came to an end, I realized the changes that had occurred in me, both physically and mentally.
I was more present. I was stronger, more flexible and could breathe more deeply. My blood pressure went down. Did I find my Ikigai? I’m not sure, but I definitely lived a fuller life. I wondered if I was feeling unfulfilled even before the pandemic and if it took me six months of quarantine to realize this.
“We can spend days, months and years in our routines, caught up in our everyday responsibilities,” write García and Miralles. “Over time, however, we will wonder whether we are really living our lives or just getting through to meet other people’s expectations.”
In any case, I was grateful for these new things that I had achieved.
A few months have passed. As I write, we are still in a pandemic. I don’t do yoga every day and still drink, but nowhere near as much. I’ve invested in other hobbies like puzzles, tennis, and long walks. These are healthy activities that keep me busy and feel fulfilled. In a way, they are the building blocks of staying happy. And while I know every day isn’t going to be happy, at least I have the foundation to keep myself going.
For me it is this foundation that makes life worth living.
“You will build the compass that will help you travel in step with your Ikigai,” write García and Miralles. “In the [the] If you feel lost in the future, you can always come back to it to get back on track. “
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Jesus Jimenez is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News. He eats, breathes and sleeps Texas Rangers baseball. He also loves to run, travel and shop for cool socks.