Review of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day” by Ken Mogi

 

Japan Land ofthe Rising SunReview of “Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day” by Ken Mogi

I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism lately, even if I can’t force myself into owning less books and magazines. A seriously small closet has made me consider every piece of clothing I own, and the Marie Condo movement similarly inspired me. This led me to a book I reviewed earlier about lessons from elderly Japanese adults, available here.”Awakening your Ikigai” by Ken Mogi, which I found while browsing the shelves at my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose in Washington, DC, seemed like a natural fit for my recent interest. The author is a neuroscientist, who the jacket notes has written many books, most of which do not appear to be available in translation.

My favorite parts of this book.

The book is beautifully designed, in hardback, at a reasonable price. It would be a fantastic gift for someone interested in self-improvement. There were sections I loved- about taiso, the unique form of Japanese exercise; about the concept of starry bowls, and of tradition. The idea of slow, satisfying progress. As an American, I was fascinated by the historical concept of outward luxury and ostentation being harmful for a cohesive society. Having luxury in the lining of clothing rather than outside is a really interesting concept. I think a lot of people are starting to be less interested in items that have giant brand name logos all over them, but the thought that this started hundreds of years ago for different reasons is intriguing to me.

Not my favorite parts.

I felt like sometimes it was unclear where the author was going in each chapter. Each chapter was a like individual jewels, but without any unifying idea to hold the chapter together. The concept for Ikigai is that there are five essential parts (pillars):

  1. Starting small,
  2. releasing yourself (accept who you are),
  3. harmony and sustainability;
  4. The joy of little things;
  5. being in the here and now.

I think it probably would have been natural to develop each pillar in a chapter, but instead, they were often mixed throughout chapters.

The verdict: read it or not?

I think the book is worth reading, with some patience for the idea that it is sometimes challenging to follow the author. There are concepts here that I haven’t seen in any other books, and I think the book could be a good springboard for studying Japanese culture in more depth.

How to Read More Books

How to Read More Books

I often have people ask me how I manage to read so many books with a full-time psychiatry job, writing, teaching, and a family with small children. Last year, I read over 80 books, a combination of nonfiction and fiction (mostly mysteries). The most likely answer is that I do less of other things- I watch only a little television on the weekends (O, “Game of Thrones,” why do you make me wait until 2019?), and reading is really a way of life for me. I learn new things from reading, keep myself cognitively sharp, and in the case of fiction, gain insight into the thoughts and feelings of others. Reading is a valuable use of my time, but also helps me slow down and relax.

In terms of book consumption, fiction is different than non-fiction.

I read fiction mostly on a Kindle or in the Kindle app on my iPad. I get a lot of books from the library, because it’s easiest. I think there are a fair number of people who don’t know that you can register for a library card at your local library, and use it to sign up for their e-library. You visit the virtual library, check out a book, which is delivered instantly to your Kindle. After two weeks is up, the book disappears. The benefits are clear- mostly instant access, free books, and very portable. One downside is that if you reserve several books with a waiting list, and they all “drop” at once, you have some fast reading to do. Or sacrifice the book you weren’t as interested in. The other issue has more to do with the length of time it takes to read certain books- I take longer to read non-fiction, so I never pick up non-fiction by the library via Kindle. Also, Umberto Eco is out for me- his books take me longer than two weeks to read! Books with pictures are not as good in Kindle but generally ok on iPad. I also don’t read poetry on a kindle- sometimes the formatting doesn’t translate very well.

If you’re going to read electronic books from the library, you’ll also need an Overdrive or Libby account (free) and a PDF reader. Though less common, there are some books only available by Overdrive and PDF. Libby is the new version of Overdrive if you’ve not seen it. I don’t think it’s a huge improvement, and I’d rather use my Kindle account if possible, since I share library books with other family members. There are other types of readers, too- Nook, Kobo, etc. You can also get a fair number of books through sites like Project Gutenberg.

I want my own non-fiction books, in paper.

I like to mark up non-fiction books, and take notes. I tend to buy these in paperback, unless it’s a monumentally sized book, in which case it may be easier to have in electronic format. I only buy cookbooks in paper format now- the electronic format was not as pleasurable to flip through.

I listen to audiobooks on the train and bus, and on the exercise bicycle in the morning.

I just started this- I used to be a podcast listener- but I get through about an extra book a week this way. You can also borrow these from the library!

I read in small pockets of time.

I always have a book with me, so I don’t miss little bits of time. I read during breakfast (I know- not very mindful), at lunch if I am not having lunch with a friend, and before bed. I read when my kids are reading, or if they’re watching cartoons- they regard reading as something that everyone does at this point.

I don’t have a formal speed reading regimen.

I’ve been reading every day since I learned to read. I’m at this point, a pretty fast reader. But I don’t have never taken a speed reading class- to me this seems like making the point of reading to consume more, but to me, reading is an activity to be savored. Life is already too fast as it is. Why speed up reading?

Calm app review: worth the money?

Calm app review: worth the money?

I have been a dedicated Headspace user, and in an effort to let some of the many subscriptions I have run out, I started using the Insight Timer app, which I still highly recommend [here]. However, Groupon had a discount on the Calm app, and I took the opportunity to try it out for a year at a much reduced cost. I was particularly interested in Calm since it was named App of the year by the App Store in 2017, and has such good reviews.

The good….

Like Headspace, Calm has many different series of meditation classes, each building on the last. There is a good selection, from beginning meditation with several levels of guidance, to anxiety, sleep, relationships, self-care, etc. There’s a body scan version of meditation, for fans of Andy on Headspace. There’s an “insight of the day” which I particularly like.

Like the Insight Timer app, there is relaxing music, with the purpose of helping you sleep, focus, or simply unwind with nature sounds. The music is a little repetitive, and many consist of short loops of music played over and over for 30 minutes or so. Still, some of it is nice to focus on other tasks with, since the music is so simple- it isn’t distracting.

The masterclasses are new for the app, which mostly seem like well-researched options. In particular, the “Rethinking Depression” masterclass has classes on exercise in depression, sunlight, nutrition, social connection, sleep, and negative thoughts, all of which have basis in the scientific literature. I haven’t listened to the entire group of sessions, so I can’t speak about every claim that the instructor makes, however. There’s also Masterclasses on rest, breaking bad habits, and social media/screen addiction. My only quibble is that there is officially no official “screen addiction” diagnosis, but I understand what the instructor is getting at.

The interface is easy to use, engaging, and as advertised, calming. I have had no crashes or bugs. It keeps track of how long you’ve been meditating daily, and can write to Apple Health. It also keeps track of streaks, to help motivate you into meditating more often!

The not-as-good…

Calm works best on a subscription and it’s not cheap. In fact, $59.99 per year seems like a lot to me, though you can get it for $12.99 per month and $299.99 lifetime. Groupon had a sale, and I think it was $39 for a year, which was worth trying for me. Another negative: I haven’t seen a ton of updates and new features since I bought the premium app, other than a few Masterclasses, which I discussed above.

Each meditation ends with some nice quote, which I love, and supposedly you can share it on Facebook or Twitter, but that has never actually shown up as a quote on my Facebook feed, which is a bummer.

Features that the Jury is still out on…

Calm is one of the only apps (maybe the only app) that has a bedtime story function. There are a variety of stories, mostly excerpts of classics. The narrators are of varying qualities and I found some quite monotone. There’s a kids’ bedtime story function, and some of those stories can be found in the regular adult bedtime stories. I tried a variety of the stories with my children who fight sleep as if it is the enemy, and though they LOVE to be read to, they were thoroughly unimpressed by the stories.

I discussed the music above- it can occasionally be repetitive but is overall nice. I particularly liked the nature sounds. However, the music on Insight Timer, which is free with some non-essential paid functions, is more interesting, and mostly not loop generated.

Will I renew next year?

I’m uncertain. I will probably wait to see if there are any great features I can’t live with out, and then consider either Stop, Breath and Think plus the Insight Timer for music, or just stick with the Insight Timer altogether.

There are a TON of new meditation apps since I last reviewed them- which ones do you like? Let me know in the comments below!