Fun Is A Way of Life
In Thailand, ‘sanuk’ has been elevated to an ethos, a way of life – which perhaps the West could learn from. Yes, Fun is a way of life, in Thailand!
Every time I visit Thailand – which is not often enough – I’m struck by how much fun everyone seems to be having. Of course, people have fun everywhere. But in Thailand it’s different. The Thais have elevated fun to an ethos, a way of life – one that, frankly, we would all be wise to emulate.
Every culture has a word for fun, but the Thai word, sanuk, is freighted with more meaning, more reverence, than most. Sanuk is not fun as mindless diversion or frivolity; it’s fun as an intrinsically valuable activity.
Walk down any soi in Bangkok, those wonderfully kinetic alleyways brimming with life – or step into any office for that matter – and you’ll see sanuk in action. It might take the form of gentle teasing, clever word play or plain old silliness. It’s almost always good-natured and always includes an element of social harmony.
“If it’s not sanuk it’s not worth doing,” said Sumet Jumsai, one of Thailand’s best-known architects, as the glorious madness of Bangkok swirled just outside his office. “People will resign from a good-paying job because it’s not fun.”
Fun Is Not Optional
This struck me, with my Western sensibilities, as wildly impractical, and for a moment I thought he was pulling my leg. But for Thais, fun is not optional. In fact, Thais use another term, len, or “to play”, to describe activities like academic research and business meetings – ones that most Westerners don’t associate with playfulness. This seemingly contradictory dynamic can be seen in Thai offices; workers look like they’re joking around – yet, somehow, eventually, the work gets done.
When I suggested that Americans also like to have fun – heck, we invented the frothy concept of Big Fun, epitomised by the likes of Disney World and over-the-top birthday parties, he baulked.
We don’t believe in this work-hard, play-hard mentality
“Yes, but you Americans take your fun very seriously. We Thais do not. We don’t believe in this work-hard, play-hard mentality. Our fun is interspersed throughout the day.” In Thailand, ‘sanuk’ has been elevated to an ethos, a way of life – which perhaps the West could learn from. Read more…