Guest column: Multiplying your happiness with ‘ikigai’ | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Multiplying your happiness with ‘ikigai’

Mary Horn and Stephanie Rae Morris
Mind Springs Health

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Mind Springs Health crisis help line can be reached at 888-207-4004.

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“The Blue Zones of Happiness,” a new book from researcher Dan Buettner, observes that one of the common traits of the world’s happiest people is having life purpose.

In Japan, a “blue zone” of longevity, wellness and happiness, ikigai (ik-kee-guy) is the concept associated with “a reason for being, or why I get up in the morning.”

Considering the following three questions starts the process of discovering ikigai:

• What is my passion?

• What am I good at?

• How can I combine those to make the world a better place (and earn a living)?

The influential psychiatrist and psychotherapist Victor Frankyl wrote “the greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.” He noted that happiness occurs when we are dedicated to a cause greater than ourselves. According to Frankyl, meaning and purpose are found through active engagement with life experiences, creative endeavors and a positive attitude. Writing in the Atlantic, James Hamblin, M.D. notes: “Happiness is an active process, not something you get by sitting back and waiting.”

At Mind Springs Health, we teach the powers of positive psychology in achieving happiness.

Meaningful experience is gained through relationships with one another and with the world around us. Both positive and negative experiences shape purpose. Building and improving relationships involves better listening skills and prioritizing time spent together without distractions. Interpersonal effectiveness can be improved through social skills training. Volunteering or participating in community events provides opportunities for social connections and the satisfaction of giving to others. In the “blue zones,” where friendly and civil discourse is the norm, there are many daily positive social interactions with neighbors, shopkeepers and community leaders.

Here on the Western Slope we have some of the most spectacular places in the world to experience natural beauty and abundant wildlife. Research shows that simply viewing nature or walking in the forest activates the brain’s pleasure center. Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese concept of forest bathing, is shown to help calm and soothe emotions. Enjoying local flora and fauna on the Western Slope is as simple as walking out the door.

Passion develops over time and is found through creative accomplishments both at work and with hobbies. Honing current talents or cultivating new skills allows self-expression and interaction with others. Joining groups such as book or sports clubs, or taking lessons, fosters creativity. Journaling can often be used to develop insight and clarify both strengths and vulnerabilities. Enjoying local art museums and galleries, dance and theater troupes, musical venues or attending performances and lectures is inspiring. Creative interests and pride in accomplishments make life more fulfilling and increase self confidence in the search for meaning.

While many circumstances are beyond one’s control, no one can take away an individual’s attitude. Developing a healthy outlook aides the search for ikigai. Reframing difficult situations as opportunities for growth and adventure makes life more fun and hard times tolerable. Humor is a marvelous tool for attitude adjustment. Daily structure is also helpful, as outlook improves with regular routines. In the “blue zone” of Costa Rica, “plan de vida” is the optimistic approach toward daily activities.

Finding meaning in life is especially difficult when struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking or addiction. Taking the first steps in the search for daily purpose may be overwhelming. With the expert guidance of mental-health professionals, discovering “a reason for being” can lift the gloom of depression, relieve anxiety, conquer addiction and promote the will to live. As part of a holistic treatment plan, psychiatric medications may help stabilize mood allowing more energy for the therapeutic process. Finding personal ikigai helps end boredom and isolation associated with mental illness and addiction.

Western Slope communities naturally support an environment encouraging daily purpose and inspiration through free events and activities, open space and trails for biking and walking, with myriad creative arts and athletic opportunities. Mental health care is more available than ever and Colorado is leading the way with innovative practices like telepsychiatry, which provides access to mental-health professionals in rural and remote areas.

Individuals on the Western Slope have daily opportunities to participate in enriching experiences with others as well as our incredible environment. We can take pride in creative endeavors while exploring new talents, and deliberately choose positive attitudes. Optimism is contagious. Like the “blue zones,” waking up each day with a sense of purpose can become a hallmark of the Western Slope!

Post your comments and ideas for making the Western Slope “blue” in the comments on this story at aspentimes.com.

Mary Horn, MN, is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and Stephanie Rae Morris, MA, is an expressive arts therapist at Mind Springs Health. 970-920-5555


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