Since I moved to Thailand years ago, I’ve become a happier person than I was when I lived in America. Most Americans who live in Thailand say the same thing. As an American living in Thailand, I’ve always noticed how much happier Thai people are too than your average American who always seems to be upset about something. Thousands of western expats move to Thailand every year and, in my opinion, the happiness of the Thais and the relaxed culture has a lot to do with it. But what makes Thais so happy as a people? And why are Thais happier than your average American? It has to do with the culture and their religion – Buddhism.
Thai Culture – Thailand is known world-wide as one of the world’s most relaxed countries and as having some of the world’s happiest people. The Thai phrase “Mai bpen rai” is used by Thais hundreds of times a day and it means “Don’t worry” or “Never mind. Consequently, Thais don’t worry about things and so, they’re happy. Most Thais are calm, relaxed and don’t lose their tempers (or minds) over stupid things they can’t control. After all, “Mai bpen rai” – don’t worry.
Politics? Why would a Thai worry about that? They can’t change who’s in office, as none of us can in the west either, so why waste time worrying about it? When it’s election day they vote, then they have to live with the consequences. Simple really.
Their job? Why would a Thai worry about that? They work hard, yet they have a great time at work. In most Thai jobs, the people they work with become friends and extended family, so going to work is fun. They do their best, they enjoy their jobs and other than that, why worry?
The Muslim extremist violence in the south? Why would a Thai worry about that? The government is working to try to solve it and, although it’s sad that innocent people are being shot and bombed on a regular basis, they have no power to change that other than vote for people who hopefully can. So, why worry?
And you know, Thais have a point.
When I’m back in America, people seem to be up in arms about everything. Up in arms about politics, Muslim extremists, mosques in their town, stories on the news, things President Obama says, the health care system, stupid celebrity stories, and on and on. None of these things are things they can change, but they certainly get their blood pressure and stress levels higher and it makes them unhappy.
In Thailand, Thais read a news story, digest what they read, shrug and move on. Getting bent out of shape about the latest stupid thing Prime Minister Abhisit said is a waste of their time. He said it. The newspapers reported it. Thais laugh about it. Done. Not much point losing sleep over it, now is there?
Buddhism – The Religion of Thailand
Buddhism is the real reason though that Thais are so relaxed and why Thailand is such a wonderful country to live in. 97% of Thais are Buddhist and so Thai culture and Thai lives are based on Buddhist teachings, particularly the premise of ‘walk the middle way’. Don’t be extreme in your views, don’t see things with a ‘black and white’ mentality, see both sides then walk in the middle and avoid the problems extreme views bring.
This ‘walk the middle way’ is translated into every day life in Thailand. It means Thais forgive others quickly for something they did (no hating Muslims here like in the US, even though Thailand has had ongoing extremist Muslim violence for decades). Even when Thailand recently had anti-government red shirt protesters in the streets of Bangkok for three months, which culminated in the burning of buildings and almost 100 people shot, none of the Thais I know who supported the other side (the yellow shirts) hate the red shirts, just a few months later. In fact, most of them can see why they did what they did – whether they agree with it or not.
But what is ultimately fascinating to me about Thais and their religion is, unlike many American ‘Christians’ I know, Thais actually live their religion, in the way they live their every day lives and the way they treat people. American Christians are so 100% sure their religion is correct and everyone else’s is wrong, they spend much of their lives fighting to push their views as “the only way” and to make other people change. Everything the Bible tells them not to.
On the other hand, Thai Buddhists believe in their religion but have no interest in getting anyone else to believe it. If you’re Christian, they respect that, if that makes you happy. You also see this in Thailand with the 2% of Thais who are Muslim. They live their religion, they love their lives, and they don’t try to impose their religious views on anyone. Why would they? It’s not their job.
I left America years ago and, the longer I’m away the less I find I even have interest in visiting it. When I’m in Thailand I’m happy, relaxed and stress-free. When I’m in America, I find the constant stress and aggression of American culture stressful and upsetting. The last time I was in the US, I hadn’t been there ten minutes before I was screamed at by a baggage handler at the airport for getting in his way. Something that would not happen in Thailand as Thais treat everyone with respect.
And, as I’m sure will happen and always happens when I write an article about why I prefer living in Thailand to living in America and why Thais are happier people, I’ll get the usual accusations of ‘America bashing’ (why do some Americans think it’s ‘bashing’ when someone has an opinion about America different to their own), but it’s not that at all.
In fact, I think it’s sad so many Americans are unhappy, stressed and living a life that ultimately doesn’t seem to be giving them much pleasure. Particularly when I look at Thais who, with less money and less material things, make the best of their lives, love every moment of it, take pleasure in being with friends and family and in having a good time.
“Sanuk” in Thai means ‘fun’ and everything in life for Thais – whether work, education, friends, family, religion, politics – should be fun and should make you happy. If it’s not fun and they’re not happy, they’re not interested in doing it and they won’t. Imagine how wonderful America would be if Americans believed the same thing.