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A few days ago, Collin Johansson sent me an email about the culture of gratitude in Tonga where he lives. I found the email inspiring. So, with his permission, I’d like to share the email with you. Here is what Collin wrote to me (with some edits for better clarity):
I live in Tonga, a small island in the South Pacific. I’ve witnessed the changes over the years here, many good and some not so good. But compared to many places in the world, many people consider this place ‘paradise’. However, happiness isn’t guaranteed. An old friend used to say that ‘Happiness is a state of being’. To be or not to be, is a free choice you make – it has nothing to do with status or wealth.
Your email reminded me of a story of an American lady (Patricia Ledyard) who came here in the 1960s to volunteer as a teacher for the Methodist mission. She was posted to Vava’u, an outer island group further north (beautiful place… so beautiful that they warn you that if you go there you may never come back). Long story short she loved the place, the people especially, and fell in love with an English doctor.
In her book, Utulei, My Tongan Home (Utulei is the village where she lived), she talks of the one most valuable thing she learned from her ‘Tongan’ family and that was that the most appropriate attitude to life was gratitude. People would always show gratitude as was always the proper thing to do. She then explained that, to her amazement, the Tongan social etiquette was based on thankfulness. The Tongan word for hello is Malo lelei which means ‘most grateful that you are well.’ When you greet someone at work or who is working, you say Malo e ngaue which means ‘thanks for your hard work.’ Even when you greet someone that has just arrived, you say Malo e folau which means ‘thank you for making the journey.’ When visiting someone that is sick you greet them by saying Malo e mo’ui which means ‘so thankful that you are alive.’
Nowadays we seem to be so caught up in the world of consumerism and material success that we’ve traded real happiness (through appreciating the important things in life) for the ‘happiness’ that money can buy.
I found it inspiring that an attitude of gratitude is so entrenched in Tongan culture. With the examples that Collin gave, it’s easy to see that such a culture encourages its people to view life in a positive way. For any event, you can see it in a positive or negative light. Seeing it positively, I believe, will increase your level of happiness. No wonder many people call Tonga ‘paradise.’
We don’t have to adopt the Tongan’s vocabularies, but we can learn from their attitude toward life. We should make gratitude an integral part of our lives. See your life in a positive light and you will become happier as a result.
To Collin: many thanks for sharing the story!
Photo by Ibrahim Iujaz