Nestled between Venice and Malibu is the beach city of Santa Monica, California. Between 1920 and 1970, during what is known as the Great Migration of African-American’s leaving the south in search of better opportunities, thousands of African-American families landed in the sleepy beachside country town of Santa Monica.
Over the past century, Santa Monica has been a crown jewel for the people of color that have called it home. To outsiders, Santa Monica isn’t known for its close-knit multicultural community. Out of the estimated 30% of minority residents in Santa Monica, 80% reside within the 90404 zip code, also known as the Pico Neighborhood, which is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the nation.
The Pico Neighborhood is a mecca of culture and defined by the people that live there. I am a descendant of three generations of Pico Neighborhood residents and a product of the cultural influence that the neighborhood has had on my family. As gentrification takes over the country, it has hit Santa Monica with the clearing out of neighborhoods. And thus, there’s been a slow loss of the community that once was.
However, there are still figures, known for decades and between generations that still call Santa Monica home. They are the cultural treasures that remain. One of those is the infamous and community proclaimed, Mayor of 22nd Street. A Hispanic man, known to wave and say hello to friends and strangers alike.
My great-grandmother lived on 22nd Street, and I’ve come to know the Mayor during the summers of my youth spent at her house. Over time, I remembered the kind and gracious essence that he had. I moved back to the neighborhood recently, and one day, I decided to bike down 22nd St., and just like clockwork there, he was, the infamous and community proclaimed Mayor. He was still smiling, he was still waving, and was even saying hi to everyone who passed by.
What was at first planned as a simple hello, turned into a full-fledged hour-long conversation that had a tremendous impact on me due to the wisdom and honest nature of the Mayor. There were many life lessons sprinkled throughout our discussion, but the following four lessons resonated with me the most:
1. Always choose happiness.
Immediately after introducing myself, our conversation quickly progressed to one of the many meaningful insights into life. The Mayor holds a cheerful perspective as he tells me, “Everyday is a blessing, and it’s all about being happy.” It was another 80-degree day, so in my response, I correlate how the weather makes it hard to be unhappy. “It’s a beautiful day, we’re blessed to call this place home, so how can you not be happy?” I proclaimed. The Mayor swiftly interrupts me and mentions that no matter the weather or location, to be alive should guarantee our happiness in all things.
The Mayor reinforced a lesson that I’ve attempted harbored over the past few years, always to choose happiness. There is a finite amount of time that we have on this planet, spend it by embracing the simple joys of life. Make happiness a non-negotiable by measuring the positive impact that your relationships, friendships, and career have on your wellbeing.
During our conversation, the Mayor tells me that happiness should always be your truth and to always follow the joyous path. Happiness will look different for everyone, but it always leads to a life of abundance.
2. Live a life of grace and gratitude.
The Mayor was well acquainted with the maternal side of my family, including my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother. He mentions how their graciousness has impacted him and that I was blessed to have such wonderful women in my life.
A gracious life is a life lived through compassion. For the Mayor, he has impacted the Pico neighborhood with his graciousness. Although he may not relate to everyone who comes across and what they may be going through, he always approaches with a warm heart filled with empathy. An act of kindness goes a long way.
The underlying theme of our entire conversation fell under the topic of gratitude. Gratitude is lived in the present moment and operates from a place of love. It’s a celebration of life as it is and opens the possibility of miracles. Throughout his lifetime, he tells me that he’s learned to be grateful for what he has. It has made him full and appreciative of the good in all things. He goes on to state that if you ever feel empty, it’s because of a lack of gratitude.
“When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you,” as said by Lao Tzu.
There’s a stillness from a sense of ‘enough.’ When you’re grateful, it’s impossible to have a sense of emptiness because you’ll always be full. It’s a crazy world we live in, but be thankful for everything in it.
3. Strive for fulfillment.
Every day, the Mayor waves at passing strangers and neighbors alike and always with a smile. He doesn’t perform this act of uncommon courtesy daily because he has to. Every encounter is an opportunity to touch or make someone’s day, which makes him fulfilled.
Live a life of fulfillment by striving to be fulfilled in all that you do.
Authentic fulfillment is your contribution to others and the world. A life fulfilled is one lived of service to others. The Mayor is a man who enjoys life’s simple pleasures and recognizes that the world is much higher than he is. He is an embodiment of the self that realizes that his existence is only for a brief time. And during that time, the best he can do is care for things as they are.
Show love, give thanks and be grateful for all that is. In a world where we question our purpose and fear a purposeless life, fulfillment offers meaning. After witnessing his lived definition of fulfillment, I reflected on what a fulfilled life indeed looks like for me.
Is it service? Is it love? Is it helping others? Or is it a forever sense of awareness of self? I concluded that it could be a combination of many things just as long as it is true and is measured based on your impact on others.
4. Wealth isn’t material possessions.
The famous Epicurus, once argued,” the key to satisfaction in our working lives isn’t earning a lot of money, but the knowledge that we’re producing meaningful work.”
Look at our president, the Mayor says to me. He’s a primary example that material and monetary wealth isn’t equivalent to real wealth. He may have all the money and the perceived power, but deep inside, you can tell that he is very poor. His possessions and assets may make him wealthy in a conventional sense, but he’s poor inside.
How much money does it take for someone to lose their conscience?
Don’t lose your soul chasing material possessions. Material possessions can’t replace the poverty of the mind. The chase of earning money to buy things to impress people we don’t even like has amounted to stress and lead to unhappiness. You’ll always be wealthy if you have a mindset of wealth.
Wealth is seeing the good in yourself and others. Wealth is confidence in your being and actions. Wealth is the ability in which you give and serve others. At our death bed, we don’t carry our material possessions. The only thing that lives on is our legacy. What will be your legacy, and how will it be defined?