Danny Kim’s Aloha Journal: A Daily Practice in Gratitude

Kristen Nemoto Jay
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

It’s the beginning of April, two weeks since the start of stay-at-home initiatives for Hawai‘i and most of the world, yet Danny Kim — founder and creator of the “Aloha Journal” — has been keeping busy. Other than writing every day in his popular, prompt-filled journal, he’s been spending quality time with his two teenage daughters.

“They hadn’t used the ‘Aloha Journal’ until this quarantine,” beams Kim through a FaceTime interview. “With all of us at home, they started working on their ‘Aloha Journal’ and said they really like it.”

The term “like” is a humble understatement as many other “Aloha Journal” owners have taken a proactive approach to their own leadership and mindfulness journeys by writing out their thoughts and goals for the day. Similar to a gratitude journal, the “Aloha Journal” breaks down facets of how you’re feeling; how you may show up to accomplish the goals that you want to achieve; and how you may create more aloha in your life by leading as an example.

“The goal of the ‘Aloha Journal’ is to experience aloha daily by living and sharing the best version of yourself,” said creator Danny Kim.
“The goal of the ‘Aloha Journal’ is to experience aloha daily by living and sharing the best version of yourself,” said creator Danny Kim.

Although it seems like a simple task — writing out one’s thoughts on paper — Kim says there’s something cathartic about putting pen to paper and reintroducing thoughts and ideas to yourself, that you cannot describe in words.

“[Writing down thoughts] helps to really focus on what’s important,” said Kim. “Especially right now, there’s a lot going on in the world around us. It’s natural that our minds will become filled with so much clutter, and important to express and share it with yourself and someone else.”

Kim’s own personal quest in managing his emotions comes from constant reminders and self-reflection exercises that he continues to this day within his “Aloha Journal.” It hasn’t been easy, but taking little increments of change each day has helped him these past couple of years.    

In 2018, Kim was going through a mid-life crisis. To others around him, things seemed to be perfect, at least professionally, within Kim’s life. By 2018, he built a résumé that many would dream to boast of within their LinkedIn profile. He dedicated 25 years of his life to leadership and personal development at Bank of Hawaii, earning a lead role as senior vice president, accolades that included Hawaii Business Magazine’s “20 people to watch over the next 20 years” in 2015 and Pacific Business News’ “40 under 40” award in 2010.

His successful career and thriving network were much deserved and appreciated, yet, Kim says — on the inside — he was unhappy.

“I wore all these masks to show I was okay when I was really not,” said Kim. “I had all the reasons to be happy but deep down I wasn’t.”

Kim sought to find solace in therapy and yoga to help himself get better. When things began to reshape in his life, Kim decided to take what he had learned and build it into something for others going through hard times. He then began to focus his attention on younger people. Why wait, Kim thought, to build important self-care skills of gratitude and self-reflection and introduce them to young ones much earlier in their lives?

“I wanted to help young adults with their emotional health,” said Kim, who wished he had an outlet to learn and grow when he was younger. “Especially in Hawai‘i, we tell our kids ‘be humble,’ yet we also say be the best and don’t do anything to ruin the family name. So, when we ask each other ‘how are you doing?’ the general response is ‘I’m good’ or ‘fine’ because we’re programmed not to share our real feelings. That’s the issue I wanted to grasp and understand: what we can do to make our kids more in touch with their feelings.”

Fourth graders from Ala Wai Elementary School show off their “Aloha Journals” with their teacher, Lori Kwee (back center), Principal Michelle DeBusca (back left) and Danny Kim (far right). (Photos courtesy of Danny Kim)
Fourth graders from Ala Wai Elementary School show off their “Aloha Journals” with their teacher, Lori Kwee (back center), Principal Michelle DeBusca (back left) and Danny Kim (far right). (Photos courtesy of Danny Kim)

To help him on his quest, Kim joined the Omidyar Fellows program, a 15-month commitment that encourages, teaches and leads a network of change makers who aim to make a “positive movement on Hawai‘i’s most pressing issues.” After participants dedicate, research and explore their individual causes to the program, the cohort graduates into the Forum of Fellows, a collective of unified leaders who take what they’ve learned in their 15-month journey to better Hawai‘i’s society.

Kim focused his mission on improving the social and emotional well-being of Hawai‘i’s young adults. He narrowed down his efforts to the situation of Hawai’i-raised kids who move back home before completing and graduating from a mainland college. Although today’s generation is very technologically savvy, Kim discovered that many struggle with connecting and creating friendships in their new uprooted environment. Kim further revealed that local students would also experience culture shock and yearned for the “spirit of aloha” that they once felt back home in Hawai‘i. It was this finding in Kim’s research that led him to ask the question: Rather than looking for aloha, why don’t you bring it with you?

“I asked myself what if I build a program or seminar that brings more aloha spirit and self-compassion to ourselves and those around us?” said Kim. While he understood that there were a lot of self-help or mindfulness classes out there to teach healthy habits, Kim said in order for anyone to experience a world filled with more aloha they must practice it themselves.

After more brainstorming sessions on what a habit-forming routine looked like, Kim decided a journal would be the best tool to use.

“A journal has always helped me in the past so I thought about implementing that same routine into this idea,” said Kim. “The intention is to help create more aloha through one’s own self-reflection.”

But how do you teach or learn how to embody and share the aloha spirit? Kim quickly learned, after meeting and attending weekly seminars by Pono Shim, President and CEO of the O‘ahu Economic Development Board, that the embodiment of aloha cannot be taught, but rather, must be learned through one’s own practice. Shim, who was a former student of the late Aunty Pilahi Paki — a renowned Hawaiian author, poet and philosopher, who wrote extensively about the true meaning of aloha — shared with Kim the acronym of “ALOHA”:

Akahi — kindness (grace), to be expressed with tenderness;

Lōkahi — unity (unbroken), to be expressed with harmony;

‘Olu‘olu — agreeable (gentle), to be expressed with pleasantness;

Ha‘aha‘a — humility (empty), to be expressed with modesty;

Ahonui — patience (waiting for the moment), to be expressed with perseverance.

“All of these words work well with each other,” reflects Kim, who, after he had learned this acronym, realized that his journal idea could then be used as a tool to look at one’s life as a journey while envisioning how to incorporate various attributes of the aloha acronym. “I envision this journal as a voyaging canoe. You’re out in the dark, but you’re using the stars to navigate. You don’t need anything else to realize that all the answers are already within you.”                 

Today, the “Aloha Journal” has morphed into a great leadership tool across all ages, businesses and organizations. Kama‘aina Kids, Marcus & Associates, Hawai‘i Health at Work Alliance, the Ceeds of Peace Conference 2019 and Hawai‘i State House of Representatives have all proudly displayed and donned a copy of Kim’s “Aloha Journal.” Lori Kwee, a fourth-grade teacher at Ala Wai Elementary School and attendee of Kim’s “Aloha Journal” presentation at the Ceeds of Peace Conference last August, was moved to learn Kim’s story and thanked him after his talk. After they exchanged contact information and Kwee expressed her interest in integrating a daily journal into her students’ daily activities, Kim generously donated “Aloha Journals” to Kwee, each of her students, the school librarian and principal. Since then Kwee has implemented the “Aloha Journal” within her students’ weekly routine habits and has seen tremendous results in their demeanor and work ethic.

“My students have expressed greater feelings of calmness, tranquility, focus and joy,” said Kwee. “They told me that they felt peaceful and calm while writing and thinking about their intentions and gratitudes.”

The success of the “Aloha Journal” stems from its ability to individually shape a person’s life first and then help others second. Kim says the most important factor about the “Aloha Journal” is that it helps each person realize that they are enough and worthy of love. Once that is engrained, that person’s example of aloha will naturally extend to those around them. Kim hopes he can continue to bring the spirit of aloha throughout the Hawaiian islands, which he believes will eventually expand through all corners of the world.

“The more self-compassion we can give ourselves the more we can give back,” said Kim. “What many realize after they start journaling is that the love and happiness they’ve been looking for, they had within them the whole time … Instead of saying what you have to accomplish today and getting stressed over it, try to see what you are grateful for today. Then you can look at your to-do list as a gift. The fact that you were able to open your eyes this morning or breathe in air; there’s so much to be grateful for. We just have to stop looking so hard to find it.”

To learn more about the “Aloha Journal” or purchase a copy, go to thealohajournal.com.


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