Is Living Aloha Happiness

By Emily Parrish

May 6, 2014

While most think Hawaii is simply white sand beaches and rolling mountains, there is more to the ohana lifestyle that make its inhabitants some of the happiest in the world.  Hawaii is a place where happiness abounds.  From the vacations packages on TV and the print brochures at the airport, everything about the Hawaiian culture promotes its carefree and stress free lifestyle.  With one of its many mottos “live life to the fullest,” it is a place to relax and unwind for the locals and the tourists in search of one thing: happiness.  As you begin to divulge yourself into what truly is living aloha, ask yourself, is Hawaii the happiest place on earth?  Hawaii’s key to promote its healthy and happy culture is based on a number of things, namely “hawaiian time”, great weather, active lifestyle, optimism, excellent healthcare, and a strong sense of community and family.  Conclusively, the culture and life on the islands of Hawaii reflect aspects of happiness as seen in the view of Aristotle.

What view of life and happiness does the culture of Hawaii promote?  Born and raised on the island of Oahu, I experienced first-hand Hawaii’s tropical island paradise.  Minutes from the deep, blue, ocean and pristine white sandy beaches is the norm.  First and foremost, the atmosphere, the landscape, and the views shock and awe its visitors and locals.  Never once could I say I got tired of waking up to the sound of rushing waves, the smell of fishy ocean water, and the never-ending blue in the distance.  Contrastingly, on the windward side the mountains lined with lush tropical greenery peering through the clouds provide the upmost experience with nature and breath-taking views from up above.  While the islands’ astonishing views draw in visitors from afar, there’s more to living in Hawaii that bring happiness to its visitors then simply the shock-and-awe of its scenery.

The climate in Hawaii allows for year round exposure to what the islands have to offer.  With the average temperatures in Honolulu around the 70s, locals soak up plenty of sun and health benefits by spending so much of their lives outside.  People in Hawaii tend to eat better and exercise more. More than 60 percent of Hawaiians exercise – second only to Alaska. [2]  And the Hawaiian diet, which is heavy on fresh fish, legumes, vegetables and fruits, also helps protect the body against diseases.  Having a positive disposition is derived from the Aloha spirit.  Hawaii residents are optimistic that their cities are getting better, according to Gallup data.  A growing body of research is linking happiness with good health and longevity. People with a positive life outlook may enjoy better sleep quality, and Harvard researchers have found that happiness may boost immune system functioning and decrease the risk of heart disease. [2]

Hawaiian life is slowed-down and low-stress, giving the islands’ inhabitants a major health advantage.  Less than one-third of Hawaiian residents say they’re stressed out on any given day, making them the least-stressed state population in the country.  According to locals, the slowed-down life is just enjoying time with friends and family stopping by, and taking time to laugh and tell a story, even on a busy day.  The longer lifespan in the islands is due to the laid-back lifestyle. [2]   Statistics show Hawaii locals not only live longer but they’re less stressed and happier than residents of any other state.   A 65-year-old in Hawaii will live another 16.2 years on average, as compared to another 10.6 years in Mississippi, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In addition, locals of Hawaii, Hawaiians, continue to get happier as time goes on. For the past four years, Hawaii has taken the top spot in Gallup-Healthways’ statewide well-being poll. [2]

Hawaii residents prioritize spending time with family and friends.  Growing up in Hawaii means heading out to the beach every weekend for a cookout with friends and family members all around.  Hawaiians care more about personal relationships and rich experiences and “less about money.” Even though people have to work, they make more time for things that have value to them, such as family, friends, and life experiences.  Ohana is another Hawaiian concept which means family. People in Hawaii have a community ohana, a friends’ ohana, even a work ohana. [1]   Working for the common good or community brings happiness to everyone.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle believes happiness comes when people seek pleasure, wealth, and good character or virtue.  Aristotle claims that nearly everyone would agree that happiness is the end.  “Thus it seems that happiness is something final and self-sufficing, and is the end of all that man does.” [3] We desire money, pleasure, and honor only because we believe that these goods will make us happy. It seems that all other goods are a means towards obtaining happiness, while happiness is always an end in itself.  Happiness is more like the ultimate value of life as lived up to this moment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potential as a human being.  For Aristotle, this happiness is our highest goal. Some people think of happiness as physical pleasure or honor, but this is because they have a distorted view of the good life. Happiness is living in accordance with reason by using the highest aptitudes.  According to Aristotle, a life filled with good works is happiness. Honor, wealth, and power are not important, but, rather, happiness is created by activity that causes people to act in accordance with virtues they possess. The well-lived life is possible if a person has the ability to choose and engage in worthy pursuits. Aristotle stated that “happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace.” [3] He believed that freedom from having to be occupied was leisure, and leisure was a necessary condition for happiness. According to Aristotle, happinesscan only occur if people have leisure, or time to freely choose activities for themselves.

Hawaii is a way of life and a way of thinking.  The native concept of “pono,” which is found in the state’s motto “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono” or “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness,” is applicable to life and crucial to understanding why the Hawaiian culture brings happiness and cultivates virtue among its people.  Actor Jason Scott Lee grew up in Hawaii and described living the concept of “pono” in Hawaii means living “with a conscious decision to do the right thing in terms of self, others, and the environment.” [1] Aristotle believes that good moral character leads to happiness, and in this case the Hawaiian culture parallels the ideal society in which happiness in the form of morality is incorporated into the daily life of everyone. [1] People in Hawaii accept everyone as part of their ohana.  There is a sense of community among all the people of Hawaii, no matter what background.

People who live in Hawaii are less stressed as they have many distractions to their daily responsibilities.  Their life is not limited to work and school or financial responsibility.  Aristotle says that happiness is having leisure time and time to freely choose activities for themselves.  Living in Hawaii allows for the leisure lifestyle without stress and just relaxing on the beach, enjoying the views, or going for a walk.  The slow pace of life opens people’s eyes to what’s truly important in life—family, health and well-being.

In one sense living in Hawaii does cultivate virtue as identified by Aristotle, but in another sense, living the “Hawaiian Life” only creates temporary pleasure for its people.  As stated by Aristotle, happiness is the final end.  People travel to Hawaii in search of happiness brought on by the beaches, beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery, but in actuality, their misperception of what happiness is gives them a false idea of what they are actually obtaining when living aloha.  Hawaii in itself is a luxury which does not define happiness.  The Hawaiian living cannot be happiness because happiness is “self-sufficing, and it is the all that man does,” whereas the island lifestyle is dependent its inhabitants and their culture.

So what does the Hawaiian culture view as an individual’s happiness?  There is no single definition for happiness as exemplified by the Hawaiian culture.  Living Aloha is just a temporary step to happiness— a pleasure that only lasts for a finite period of time.   As Aristotle states, happiness is the end of life.  So living aloha can only be something on the road of life.  While there are aspects to the Hawaiian culture which do provide some happiness as identified by Aristotle, ultimately, living aloha is not happiness for it is not the final end.