Recipe for Happiness?

kauai-mountain-sceneryOn my recent trip to Hawaii’s garden isle, I was struck not only by Kauai’s perennial beauty but also by the radiance and naturalness of certain local people’s attitudes that seemed to emerge from a wellspring of contentment. Bringing with me a bag full of mainland stress, I wanted access to that source, and fast!

Looking around with my toes buried in the sand on Hanalei Beach, I saw that most vacationing families showcased rather solemn moods, not too far from my own shadow I was trying to elbow off my way, so that I could fully land in paradise and enjoy the alchemy of water and sunshine.

But the more I tried, the harder it seemed to sidestep the nagging murk. “In a moment of no distractions, stuff tends to rise to the surface,” I shared my thoughts with my travel companion. We nodded in agreement, pensive look on our faces, gazing towards the setting sun.

How ironic. Wherever I look there is beauty and opportunity for peace and rapture, but instead, all I am doing is wrestling with myself. Thus, I concluded, our experience consists of about 10% external influence and 90% state of mind.

That evening, we set out to dinner landing at what I already knew was one of the best spots on the northern side of the isle – the Dolphin. Serving elaborate sushi combinations from traditional through invented on the spot creations, the place is locally known for the freshest fish, awesome service and cool atmosphere.

My eyes skipped between the plated edible designs and people’s faces. I was intrigued each time I spotted a happy soul, but none seemed as possessed with passion and joy as the sushi chef. Finally, I had to ask. “What’s your secret for being so happy?” The tall middle-aged man, who just finished preparing a roll for us ginned ear to ear. Per our request, he filled the inside with soft-shell crab and coated the rice with Hamachi and something “special,” as a surprise.

“Great question! Just by asking it, you made my day,” he smiled, inciting an explosion of dopamine in my brain. He then went pensive for a bit, fist perched on hip, before reciting a list of things he was grateful for – his grown kids, his fabulous parents and now serving people while doing what he loves. “I guess that’s it. What makes me happy is making other people happy.”

And happy he made us for sure, I said to him after trying our first roll. It was heavenly.

Later that night, I had an opportunity to ask again. This time, my sister and I were invited for dessert to a beautiful home that belonged to another one of those jolly non-native locals.

Originally from Laguna Beach, his life changed irreversibly when he took his first yoga class about a decade ago. Having already raised a family, he sold his businesses and home, packed up and moved to the middle of the Pacific.

Sipping on a coconut drink mixed with a spoonful of passion fruit and lime, I had to ask. “It is hard not to notice how happy you are. How are you able to maintain such positive outlook all the time?” I’ve known him for merely two days but this man had a wide smile permanently etched on his lips and there was light radiating out of his eyes.

“Are you asking for my recipe for happiness?” he chuckled, as was his custom, every minute or so. This man exhibited the patience of a monk and exuberance of a child. Just being in his company felt uplifting. “Well, there are several keys. I would have to say that the first one would have to be acceptance,” he said adding that there is no point fighting with the world.

Just hearing that immediately began rearranging things in my mind. There is no point fighting. Things are as they are. Makes so much sense!

“I locked myself out of my car today,” he continued. “I had two choices – either to get pissed or stay calm and resolve the situation. I chose the latter and it worked for me. Not to say that I don’t get pissed. Believe me, I do. But in most cases it is actually easier to take a deep breath, accept things and move on. It works great especially with the second key.”

“What is that?” I asked at the end of a long exhale, already feeling better, having realized that resisting my own shadows would never get me anywhere. What if the shadows wanted to tell me something important?

“The second key is gratitude. And there are so many things you can use it for, so many reasons to be grateful,” he grinned again and I mirrored him at once. “Just being here is such a blessing. Having a body that works as well as it does, so that I can keep doing yoga. Making new friends, like you. Eating a mango that grows in my garden. All that is so wonderful!” he smiled and I smiled with him. “Speaking of, ready for the mango desert?”

We were. And he was right. Gratitude shifts the equation towards the positive. Life can be such a mixed bag of things, it is what we choose to focus on and embody that ends up influencing us. It is the glass half-empty/half-full scenario and our inclination will always color the lens of our perception. Again, it is 10% the environment and 90% state of mind.

As I ate my coconut covered mango slices, I encouraged more gratitude to pour onto my plate. With every bite, I felt the light sensation grow in me. We were leaving the island tomorrow with many lessons to take home. The would inevitably be more challenges on the road to the future, but as the wise say, it is not about what happens to us but what we do about it. For me, a new starting point will be this: acceptance and gratitude.

Thank you, Hawaiian Friends!

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