This month, I vacationed in Maui for the first time and fell in love with the island. Walking the many beautiful beaches, hiking the Haleakala Crater at sunset, enjoying a roadside gourmet meal of coconut rice and green curry chicken made by a cheerful man from the grill at the back of his truck. Most of all, I loved experiencing the Aloha culture. I had heard about the Aloha spirit but hadn't understood the meaning until I was immersed in it.
When you land in Maui, there is a big sign at the Kahului airport that explains the meaning of Aloha. Among many things, it says, "Aloha is more than a greeting or salutation. Aloha is to be in the presence of life, to share the essence of one's being with openness, honesty and humility. It is a way of being, a way of behaving, a way of life. It is a commitment to being real. It is a commitment to accepting others and giving dignity to who they are and what they have to offer."
Other than Hawaii, I don't know that there is any state in the nation that clearly spells out their values and intention for a good life. The Aloha spirit was so evident while interacting with the locals. I repeatedly heard people say some version of, "I am so lucky. I live in paradise. I have everything I need including family, beautiful scenery and fresh food." In two weeks, I never heard a local resident complain or express cynicism even if they were in the service industry, working several jobs to make a living on an expensive island. My vacation landed smack in the middle of our tumultuous November election and yet there was no tension, conflict or divisive conversations. It felt in extreme contrast to life on the mainland. So much so, that at times I felt as though I was in another country.
When meeting new couples, I have always enjoyed hearing the story of how they met. It's one of my quirks - asking strangers to tell me their story! (Not sure if it's forced habit after all my years spent as a psychotherapist.) I asked this to some of the people I met on Maui, and several times the locals responded with, "I'm the luckiest person on earth. I married my best friend and 30 years later, she is more amazing than ever." That said by one man who lived on a neighboring island with very few people from whom to choose for a partner. Contrast it to a typical city where it is more likely to hear complaints about how tough it is to date or frustration with common marital stressors.
In many ways, we become what we surround ourselves with. The Hawaiian culture inspires a positive and grateful approach for everyone. It would be very strange and out of the norm for a native in Maui to complain about life or to be negative. They have surrounded themselves in beliefs that encourage love and gratitude. They assume that others will embrace the positive Aloha culture.
What's your culture? Whether it's with your business, your team or your family life - what are you surrounded by? How are you contributing to building a positive culture? As we go into the Thanksgiving season, notice whether you are promoting a culture of genuine gratitude and appreciation, or are more focused on the perceived stressors of the upcoming holiday season. Be aware of how you're impacting those around you and what you are choosing to be surrounded by.