Ainokea: On Stress in the Aloha State

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I’m going to assume that you can guess.  That’s right.  According to a Gallup Poll, Hawaii is the least stressed state in the nation.  And while I know you’re thinking that it’s because folks who live here spend all day surfing in crystal clear waters at the base of Diamond Head, you’re wrong and I want to spend this post explaining why.

When you learn that Hawaii is the least stressed state in the nation, you have to understand some other statistics to have the full picture:  Hawaii is regularly listed among the most expensive places to live in the nation (Honolulu is third on this year’s list), it’s traffic is the second worst in the nation (although it might rank #1 if you do the calculation a little differently) and the number of people working more than one job to make ends meet is exceedingly high in this state.

The point?

We may have incredible beaches, incomparable mountain vistas and tropical beauty all around us, but most folks on these islands spend long hard hours at work or commuting.

And yet, the people of Hawaii really are incredible.  Laid back.  Content (or maybe sometimes resigned).  I say “the people of Hawaii” here because I don’t feel like I’ve been here long enough to include myself.  And offering that caveat, I’d like to share a list of reasons why I think Hawaii is the least stressed out state:

  • People are nice.  During my daily commute I travel 12 miles in 50 minutes.  You mathematicians know that means I average 14.4 mph.  On a highway.  And you know what?  If I need to change lanes, there’s always someone ready to let me in.  If a pedestrian needs to cross that highway, we all kindly stop.  Because people here are nice.  And, they’re not just nice in traffic.  I’ve been clomping around in my office in a post-op shoe trying to heal a stress fracture and every day, dozens of people I’ve never met stop me to ask what happened, offer sympathy and tell me they’ll pray it heals soon.  It’s hard to be stressed out when there’s so much Aloha floating around.
  • American culture as main-landers know it, is absent.  I love my country and I’m proud to be an American, but folks, there are some things American culture just gets wrong.  Like over-consumption.  Like keeping up with the Jones’.  Like making a perfectly decorated mansion with white picket fences a life goal.  Practically, these things don’t work here.  Over-consumption is cost-prohibitive and white picket fences?  Hey, you’re lucky if you even have a yard here.  But beyond practicality, I think Hawaii’s young statehood and cultural melting pot are its greatest attributes.  “Foreign” cultures are hugely influential here and since looking different from your neighbor is the norm, I get the sense that folks spend less time comparing themselves to one another and more time absorbing the beauty of all those differences…and realizing how much sameness there is.  Instead of pursuing the two-kids-SUV-white-picket-fence-golden-retriever cliche, folks here pursue the best part of the ‘ol American dream:  happiness.
  • Family.  Family, or ohana,  is big in Hawaii and you don’t have to share genes with someone to be in their ohana. When I still lived in NC and after my first close friend had a baby, I developed the habit of calling myself Auntie Sarah to the offspring of friends and acquaintances alike.  I am confident that a good 50% of those parents – who don’t mistrust me in anyway – felt like the designation of Auntie was awkward because we weren’t related.  In Hawaii, I’m Auntie Sarah to kids whose names I don’t know, because community is family.  I know strong family bonds are partly a product of geography:  people tend to live near their families because islands just aren’t that big.  And so, here at last, I’ll give a physical aspect of the Hawaiian islands a little credit:  thanks for being islands, which keep families close.
  • Work Hard, Chill Hard.  Before I explain this one, let me first say that folks on Oahu are very active in all kinds of outdoor hobbies, so I don’t want to imply that folks just sit around on their butts all day.  BUT. But, Hawaii understands the value of not scheduling every moment.  Go to a beach park on any given Saturday or Sunday and you’ll find huge ohana gatherings (use that definition of family I gave above) grilling out and just stone-cold relaxing.  Drive through a neighborhood pau hana (after work)  and take note of how many folks are sitting in folding chairs on their lanais or in the driveway just shootin’ the breeze.  People know how to relax here.  For real.  And they don’t feel guilty about it.

These reasons, in my opinion, are why Hawaii is the least stressed state in the nation.  Not the blue water.  Not the palm trees.  Not the Mai Tais.  It’s all in the way people handle stressors.

A favorite bumper sticker I see during my very slow commute reads “Ainokea”.  If you pronounce that with Hawaiian phonics and use a little imagination, you realize it means ” I no care” (Eye No Cay-uh).  Now, I do know the origins of these bumper stickers, but for me, they conjure up the old slogan of Alfred E. Newman of MAD Magazine:  “What, me worry?”.  And so when I see that particular sticker, I’m reminded not to stress out.  Why worry?  Lucky we live in Hawaii.

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