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Sylvia Warren graduated from Oxford in biology, after diversions in precious metals, parasites, and archaeology. She now works for Blackwell’s as their University of Oxford Liaison.

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Sylvia Warren

Publishers seem to think that their readers are incapable of living their lives properly. Everyone else has discovered the big secret of having a fulfilling and happy life, but we just haven’t quite got the concept. Last year the big thing was the Danish idea of Hygge, where unless you had 15 feet of hand-knitted cosy scarf wrapped around you, homemade cakes, and a special china cup to drink herbal tea from, you just were not relaxing properly. Luckily, from ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ to ‘Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well’, we could buy instructions on how to Hyggeify our lives, and thus be happier, healthier, and just…well…better.

Another year has passed, and Hygge is dead. Sorry about that, please throw away all of your Danish-inspired fox mugs and snuggly blankets, because this year we are all about Ikigai. What is Ikigai, I hear you ask? Well, it’s a lot less cosy to start with, and a lot more practical. Ikigai is the Japanese concept of how to live a happy life; based on Japanese longevity, and centred on five key pillars that give you a reason to get up in the morning. So far, so Hygge 2.0 – which is another example of how to live your best life by reading platitudes about being happy and carving out time for yourself. Even the titles are similar, with ‘The Little Book of Ikigai’ and ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’ set to be this season’s new big trend in lifestyle books.

Does this concept have a little more seriousness than Hygge? Ken Mogi, author of ‘The Little Book of Ikigai’, is a neuroscientist and author, and has published over 30 scientific papers such as ‘Awareness of the relationship with others’ in ‘Neuroscience Research’, although it is not a particularly prestigious journal. The other big title, ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’, is written by Héctor García (despite the name, he was born in Japan). He is an ex-CERN researcher and former software engineer. The scientific basis seems inconclusive – slapping a label on a way of life isn’t necessarily a mark of success – I wouldn’t necessarily trust a scientist who works overnight in the lab to tell me how to live, although it is easy to see that they have found their passion.

So what exactly is this secret of a happy life? Succinctly, it seems to be living in the now, mindfulness, finding your joy and passion in life, laughing, not eating too much, and being with friends. Gosh, what a revelation. I am sure we can expect more books on this subject in the run-up to Christmas (until next year that is, when I am sure we’ll be introduced to yet another ‘100 per cent satisfaction or your money back!’ guide to fulfilling lives).

- Sylvia Warren