Aloha 2015!

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Aesthetics of joy hawaii rainbow

This new year opened for me in Hawaii, a place I’ve only recently discovered but have come to love over the past year or so. It is the Rainbow State, so of course it makes sense that it is kind of a spiritual home for this blog. And in fact, it’s unusual to spend a week in Hawaii and not see a rainbow. This one appeared as I reached the top of a walk near the Makapu’u Lighthouse on Oahu, a light drizzle falling over a crowd holding up their selfie-sticks to get rainbow selfies for their Instagram feeds.

While I was in Hawaii this time, I learned about something locals call aloha spirit. It came up in conversation with our waitress over dinner one night, about the differences between Hawaii and her native Austin, Texas. “The aloha spirit they talk about is real,” she said. Her hometown she described as “cool”—people there aspired to being cool, to keeping more of a distance. But in Hawaii, the culture is to be warm, caring, generous—“and if you don’t share that, you’re not in the flow of things,” she said.

This reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago, about how cool is the enemy of joy. It’s not cool to be so open and trusting, but it is joyful. And the joy you feel in Hawaii is not just the sunshine or the big skies or the rainbows. It’s the people. Everywhere you go, you end up in conversation. Don’t plan to rush out of the coffee shop or the yoga studio or the supermarket without sharing where you’re from and what you’re up to while you’re here. And if something happens to you, like your car battery dies in the middle of a parking lot, a stranger will come out of nowhere and empty the substantial contents of his trunk onto the floor looking for jumper cables (thanks, Hector!). He will probably offer to take you hiking too.

I’d heard that the word aloha means more than just hello, so I searched for a full definition.

alo: 1. sharing 2. in the present; oha: joyous affection, joy; ha: life energy, life, breath

Using Hawaiian language grammatical rules, we will translate this literally as “The joyful sharing of life energy in the present” or simply “Joyfully sharing life”.

I’ve been dancing around the idea that there is some kind of connection between the aloha spirit I heard about and felt, and the feeling of joy—and there it is, embedded in the definition. Aloha is a joyful way of being, a greeting that is also a philosophy about how to increase joy in the world around us. By being open, by sharing, and by focusing on the positive, we cultivate a more joyful dialogue with others.

It stuck with me when the woman I met described being “in the flow of things,” because it begs the question as to whether one can practice aloha spirit on one’s own. Maybe aloha spirit is an impossible notion in a city like New York, where the flow of things is hectic, rushed, and anonymous. Perhaps that kind of herky-jerky “flow” makes aloha’s other-directed sweetness unsustainable, in the same way that Hawaii’s climate and pace of life foster it. But I do think we can start to make our own flow based on our interactions with the world, and that whether you call it aloha spirit, or generosity, or “go ahead, why don’t you take that seat on the subway,” it can start to ripple outwards.

So, aloha 2015! And here’s to each of us finding our own way of bringing joy to this new year!

January 7th, 2015


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    Discussion (2 Comments)

  1. Sherry Crowson on January 8, 2015

    Over the years, working in retail and teaching, too, I have discovered that the world reacts to how you present yourself to it. People come up to the counter to check out, talking on their phone, completely oblivious to the person waiting on the, or worse, acting as if we were an inconvenience to them. Students who sit sullen and resistant, whose thick fog of self-involvement is all but impenetrable. It’s hard for the world to get in, when you keep pushing it away, hard for people to bring you joy if you slam the door in their face. Joy is one of those paradoxical things, the more you give away the more you have. You find helpful people, people willing to talk to you, people bringing you joy in part because you bring that joyful attitude to the world. Everyone has had the experience of meeting someone so joyful you just want to bask in their presence. You would not feel like that if they were closed up, unaware of the present, or unresponsive to the situation or the people around them. Sometimes, when you meet the opposite kind of person, you just want to feel sorry for them, knowing they will go through the world missing so much, like a horse with the proverbial blinders. You want to hug them and say . . . “Open your heart!”

    1. Ingrid on January 16, 2015

      Yes! It’s so true that you get back the energy that you put out. I love this line of your comment: “Joy is one of those paradoxical things, the more you give away the more you have.” So completely true! And you’ve just given me an idea for a new post, your comment having reminded me about a piece of advice I was once given about two types of people in life. More on that soon!


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