Secrets to the aloha spirit

Hawaiians are the most content people in the country. What can the rest of us learn from them?

Essay by Kaui Hart Hemmings; Hawaii guide by Kathleen N. Brenzel, Jeanne Cooper, Peter Fish, MacKenzie Geidt, and Matthew Jaffe

It’s true that days here typically involve socializing, family, help from family (lots of date nights), beautiful places that are easy to get to, physical activity, and recreation that’s totally free. There’s also a lot of spontaneity, which I think is common for those of us who live here—we make room for the unplanned.

“You don’t do that in L.A.,” says my friend Matt, who is visiting with his wife and son. He’s an actor in L.A. but grew up in Hawaii and longs to return permanently. “In L.A. you plan things months in advance, no one stops by, and—” His wife jumps in at this point. “The mothers hover. You invite their kid over, but they stay and helicopter over their child, making sure you don’t feed them the wrong kind of hummus.”

I understand. San Francisco was the same. It’s a beautiful city, but the best experiences required planning and time. As a parent, there seemed to be a set course of activities to choose from, kind of like circuit training, and I had the feeling after going from playground to playground each and every day, that I was missing something that was only available to certain people.

I think what’s different, here in Hawaii, is that everyone can have paradise. No one is missing anything. We have equal ownership of the surf, the sand, the hiking trails, the sunsets, and it’s all near to all of us. We have shared experiences. Foodies and the just-plain hungry flock to food trucks and to “plate lunch.” There’s a melting pot not just of cultures but of economics. Judges, developers, carpet cleaners, cashiers—they’re all in the lineup at the Kewalo Basin surf spot before work.

We lob around the term “aloha spirit” quite often. It’s an elusive phrase, but at heart I’d say it has to do with inclusiveness, and an ability to welcome spontaneity into one’s life.

We are known for slack-key guitar, which is appropriate. It means to loosen the key, and that’s what we are able to do while maintaining busy, productive lives. This isn’t to be confused with dolce far niente: the Italian sensibility of pleasant idleness. It’s quite the opposite. We don’t lounge in the beauty—it beckons us to hike it, paddle it, surf its swells, snorkel its reefs. And it’s part of our jobs in some way, a responsibility to ourselves and our children to teach these lessons in free fun, in working with what we have, which becomes a true and endless appreciation.

A visitor from London noticed this. We were on the beach (yet again), watching the sun sinking toward a ship, the ocean cast in a silvery light. “Even though you see it every day, you all still seem to appreciate it,” she said. “You’re all still in awe of sunsets.”

Yes, we have strife, traffic, arguments, and stressful days. Many of my friends amend this by surfing before work. Many amend with sunset cocktails. But I think we all feel, when we look at our lives, and see the people spending money to travel to explore what’s in our backyard, that we’ve gotten away with something. So, while our lives may be vastly different from one another’s, there’s this shared pride and affection for a place that’s inextricable from our selves, and a knowledge that this paradise is all ours. I think this makes us pretty happy.

Next: Locals' favorite spots in Hawaii

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