Peering into the water of the South Pacific with snorkel gear wrapped around our heads while rapidly kicking our flippers in a fight against the current, my wife and I were in the middle of one of the coolest experiences of our lives. Directly beneath us were what looked like a thousand fish of exotics colors – unlike anything you’d find off the shores of North America. Beneath the fish were sharks… about 8-10 foot long Lemon Sharks and smaller Black Tips. I was scared as hell before jumping in. I’m a mediocre swimmer, and the water was rough, but more importantly, I had never swum with sharks before; never mind being in the middle of the ocean with no one around to help us if something went wrong.
The International Language of Happy Energy
We were, however, with a native to French Polynesia who goes by the name Tanoa. He barely spoke English but had aura and energy about him (also, he swam as gracefully as a merman). Watching him inspired exploration and adventure.
Wearing what you and I may refer to as a swimming thong of sorts, Tanoa calmed my nerves and urged me to take the plunge into shark-infested water as he had a few seconds prior.
Although we spoke different languages, Tanoa’s confidence and boldness are globally understood. He was the happiest, freest spirit I’ve ever met. And I thought, “hell, if this happy dude in a thong who seems to be high on life unlike any person I’d ever seen is jumping in with the sharks, I’m going in.” Plus, my wife was watching so I couldn’t chicken out.
Thirty seconds into our shark swim and Tanoa shot like a bullet down about 5 meters in the water to pet the biggest Lemon Shark of the bunch on its back. Afterward, he gave me the thumbs up, likely to calm my nerves.
What a rush.
Gratitude is Happiness
After swimming with the sharks for twenty minutes, Tanoa said something to my wife and me in broken English along the lines of “come on guys, I want to show you another place.” I hopped back into his boat, and with a nod, he threw me a beer and yelled to no one in particular, “bye-bye babies. Thank you.” I later realized he was thanking the sharks for letting us swim with them.
Cruising in his boat out to the next spot somewhere in the middle of the South Pacific, I started to hear what sounded like a ukulele. Sitting at the front of the boat, I looked back. It was Tanoa… ear to ear smile on his face, boat whizzing along the water at probably 35 mph with him captaining, and there he was jamming away on the ukulele and singing in his native tongue while gazing at the sky. He wasn’t doing it to put on a show. It made him happy and was as natural to him as you and I brushing our teeth.
Arriving at the next spot, I noticed the water was crystal clear, shallow, and turquoise. It wasn’t the deep blue like with the sharks.
Tanoa threw some food into the water, and within about thirty seconds, dark black silhouettes began to surround our boat. They were stingrays. As if the sharks weren’t scary enough…
Bird in the Hand
But, once again, Tanoa, with his calm yet energetic demeanor and high on life spirit, jumped in and I felt compelled to follow suit – as did my wife. Soon enough we were surrounded by stingrays with tails two, even three feet long. I was nervous, and Tanoa knew it. He thought it was pretty hilarious. As he was loudly laughing at my nervousness, birds began to circle due to the fact he had dropped food in the water. Seemingly mid-laugh, Tanoa snatched a seagull out of mid-air!!!!!!!!!!
With the bird grasped in his hand, which it was pecking the hell out of, his laughter increased. After petting the bird, he lobbed it back into the air, yelling in English, “bye-bye baby. Thank you.” He said the same thing when we left the stingrays for lunch to his family’s private island.
By this point in the day, I had learned Tanoa was in his forties, came from a large family and started one of his own, never spent a day in school, and had one of the most beautiful personalities I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And I think it’s because he has maintained his youthful spirit while being incredibly grateful to the world around him. He still gets immense joy out of the same things he did at 10-years of age. He takes nothing for granted. You can tell. And he loves to share his love with others.
Getting to Paradise
Having arrived at his family’s private island, Tanoa routinely said, “thank you, Mommy,” after picking a coconut off the ground or leaves from plants he used to cook. He informed my wife and me that his ‘Mommy’ had put in the effort to plant fruit and vegetable trees/bushes throughout their private island so they, and guests such as ourselves, could eat. Polynesians, from what I gather, have a very matriarchal society. And he spoke, again in broken English, about all the work his mother had done to make the island ‘Paradise.’ And Paradise it was.
Tanoa made us the most incredible lunch – a tuna dish with coconut, fruits, and veggies that would rival any chef’s best seafood dish while serving us lobster and even a bottle of Moet. And he prepared this incredible meal with an ear to ear smile on his face. He was so proud to be hosting us.
After lunch, we pulled away on the boat, and Tanoa once again thanked his “Mommy” who was somewhere on the island at that point and would not have been able to hear him. But that wasn’t the point for Tanoa. It’s about gratitude. Gratitude increases happiness.
Tanoa has found Paradise. Not merely because he lives in what many of us North Americans would call ‘Paradise’ (30 minutes from Bora Bora), but because he LIVES. He is present, all through his waking hours. He practices gratitude, many times a day, and never misses the details. He’s attentive. For example, somehow he just knew, throughout the day, when I wanted a beer. I never had to ask once and yet there was always a cold one waiting when I felt like having one.
Tanoa never left his youthful spirit. Or perhaps he never let it leave him. We’re told to mature while growing up. I doubt Tanoa ever once was told that; if he was, then he never listened. And he’s probably the happiest person I’ve ever met.
It was just one day, but my wife and I will never forget it. Swimming with sea creatures aside, we’ll always remember the Tanoa-mindset. He’s found Paradise, and it’s in his head.
PS – Entrepreneurship, like life, is an adventure. Sometimes we could all use a map along the way. Let me help with that. Subscribe to my newsletter below. Only my best content will land in your inbox.