Learning Thai has opened up doorways of insight into Thai culture and a deeper understanding of what lies in the minds of Thai people. It has also revealed some important life lessons:
Life Lesson 1: Focus on the Mind
As a Westerner, I am used to hearing about the brain, but rarely about this deeper concept known as the mind. It’s common to hear Thai people referring to their จิตใจ (‘jit jai’), or heart. This word is a combination of ‘mind’ (jit) and ‘heart’ (jai).
You may hear Thai people saying that their ‘jit jai’ is ‘sabai’, or feeling at ease, content, not busy in the mind. When you ask them how they are feeling, they speak straight from the mind. They give importance to the mind, which is their leading force in life.
If your mind is happy, your life is happy.
If you change your mind, you change everything
Life Lesson 2: Give
Thai people are some of the most giving and hospitable people. Regardless of how much they have, they know how to give with a full heart and a big smile.
One example that stands out clearly in my mind was a trip south to Chumphon. In a matter of a few days, I experienced 3 situations that left me feeling the warmth of southern Thai hospitality…
1. On a visit to a temple, I happened upon a festival and a group of Thai aunties fed me a piece of cake from a larger cake that was for all of the temple visitors, as they taught me about the significance of the festival. They made sure everyone there received a piece.
2. One morning, sitting and having a traditional Thai breakfast, a group of older men came along – men that gather at this spot daily for morning (Thai traditional) coffee talks – and struck up a conversation, asking how foreigners feel when Thai people refer to them as ‘falang’. With their best efforts at English, they shared their perspectives, and when everyone was full and finished with breakfast, they insisted on paying our bill!
3. The next morning, eating breakfast, the head chef and Aunty owner of a local curry shop happily gave a bundle of bananas from her farm.
Life Lesson 3: Be Grateful
Aligned with the idea of giving is gratitude.
One pattern I have noticed after living here for some years is the respect and gratitude that Thai people show towards their parents. They regard their parents in the highest respect, as the givers of life and opportunities. You may find many children working and learning side-by-side with their parents, learning real life skills from a young age. In interviewing the children or adults at various restaurants, I find that it is not uncommon for people’s purpose in opening up a restaurant, or working, to help and give back to their parents. To return many of the favors their parents have done for them throughout their lives, whether by giving money, happiness, or comfort back to their parents. When chatting with one of the owners at Raan Mai – Baan Café for example, she enthusiastically shared about her driven intention to help and support her father. Without having any knowledge about wood or coffee, her dream eventually came to successful fruition as a result of her gratitude.
Thai people recognize that those who have done favors for them — their mothers, fathers, teachers, or anyone who has done something good for them, or made them come to an important realization, or helped them develop or change — should be people worthy of their gratitude.
Contemplating about all of these people I have encountered really gave a hit to my heart… The question arose in my mind as to why it wasn’t a natural thought in my mind to give back to my parents for everything they have done for me, for my entire life… That is, until I came to Thailand.
Life Lesson 4: Make your life happy
A common trend I have observed in speaking with Thai people, no matter what position they hold in this world, is this notion that having “enough” is well, enough. The main goal for many Thais seems to be the desire to be happy — to live a happy life with just enough, and to be happy doing the best they can with what they have. For them, it isn’t about how much they have, but how fulfilled they feel in their minds.
I once shared a conversation with a van driver who easily opened his heart to share his life’s story. He told me of his past and how he used to chase material things and money, thinking they would bring him happiness…which he found out later that it did not. He shared how happy he was with his present-day work, that he is happy to work with young children, who bring his life joy and a sense of fulfillment. This, he explained, is the real happiness for him. He told me that he doesn’t need much money or presents but that “making himself happy is the biggest gift he can give himself”. My perception did a complete 180 after hearing this man speak his truth. I realized that his social status or job did not matter one bit compared to the immense joy he had found in his life. This is the largest asset one can have in their lives.
Where the Western perspective emphasizes external sources of happiness, Thai people seem to have found the real deal intrinsically.
It is no wonder that Thailand is known as “the land of smiles”.
Life Lesson 5: Sabai Sabai
‘Sabai sabai’ is a phrase you will encounter often here in Thailand. It is the English equivalent to ‘chill chill’ or ‘take it easy’. In essence, this means ‘don’t take things so seriously’, relax about them, and don’t worry too much.
This phrase can be used to lighten up a situation or reassure people that they don’t need to be so serious and their minds not too busy with thinking. It is a good reminder to not take life so seriously and to be relaxed no matter what situation you meet. Everything will pass, and most things are never as big as we think they are.
Life is as serious as we make it out to be…But with a simple ‘sabai sabai’, it can feel a lot smoother and happier.
Thank you to the Thai people for being great teachers, and for giving me many good lessons along the way.
Thank you, Thailand, for inspiring me to be a better person and giving me the tools I need to live a fulfilling life.