What Thailand can teach us about kindness

Kindness in Thailand Living Happily Connected

With so many challenges going on around the world, particularly in America, we thought we could use a little inspiration for more kindness and happiness in 2023.

For this three-part blog series, we are looking at what some countries are doing to promote connection and harmony, and what we can learn from them. Let’s start with Thailand – also known as the Land of Smiles. To get a first-hand perspective, we interviewed our eldest daughter Erica, who recently returned from Thailand after a 10-month stay.

One American’s View of the Kindness of Thailand

Erica was in Thailand as part of a Teaching English as a Foreign Language program (TEFL.org), and taught at a Montessori school located in the small community of Samut Sakhon, 40 minutes south of Bangkok.

Her last three weeks in Thailand were spent volunteering in an orphanage located in Chiang Mai, which she said was one of the greenest and prettiest areas she had ever seen.

We asked her some questions on the way to the airport, where she was headed to Vietnam to participate in another TEFL teaching program for six months.

Q. What was your first impression of the Thai people when you arrived to their country?

A. I found the Thai people to be very kind and welcoming. I can see why they call it the Land of Smiles because everyone is so positive and smiley. People would stop and offer their help simply by seeing a concerned look on my face.

On one of my first days arriving in Thailand, I was quickly introduced to the chaos of the Thai roadways. People seemed to drive on every part of the road, and there are little to no street signs or stop lights. After about 15 minutes of attempting to cross the road, an older Thai man pulled over on his motorbike, and started directing traffic out of the way to let me pass.

It was such a simple and unprompted act of kindness that gave me a glimpse into Thai culture.

Q. Any other examples of their kindness that stayed with you? 

A. One weekend we were traveling with some friends to visit a winery, and an unexpected typhoon hit while we were driving our motorbikes. The rain became so bad, we had to pull over and within minutes we were welcomed inside by a Thai family who provided us with warm drinks and blankets.

We spent about an hour getting to know them while they helped us arrange new transport and fixed one of our bikes that had broken down. I will forever be thankful for the family that took us in as their own that day.

On another occasion, I struck up a conversation with a Thai woman while eating dinner at a local eatery and we discussed a variety of topics. One of them was the fact that I was a teacher, and I found out that teachers and elders are highly regarded in Thailand.

We discussed what people made in Thailand and she had asked me what I made as a foreign language teacher. For American standards it was low pay, but she mentioned it was 3x what she made but respected me for the work I was doing. At the end of the dinner, when she left before me, she had paid my bill too, which was incredibly generous of her especially following the conversation of pay differentiation.

Q. Did you have any social encounters outside your work that helped make you feel part of the community?

A. I feel very blessed that I rarely felt homesick while living so far away. Very quickly into moving to Thailand, I was welcomed in by two Thai families, who I started to teach their children as well as the fathers how to speak English.

On my first lesson, they had already invited me to stay over for dinner and go on future family trips with them. Towards the end of my contract it felt like I was saying goodbye to a family of my own. Throughout my time spent there I was able to go on many trips and dinners with them and see a whole new local perspective on Thai culture.

My last week not only had they given me incredible gifts for myself but had also had a homemade dress made for my mom as well.

Q. Where do you think this kind and compassionate culture originates from? 

A. Being that way is part of the Buddhist culture – and most Thai people are Buddhist. You can see influences of the Buddhist culture in everything right from art, architecture, and people. Most of the cities in Thailand feature magnificent Buddhist temples.

What I noticed most about how Buddhism comes into play in the Thai way of living, is karma and the real sense of “treat people the way you want to be treated”.  People in Thailand tend to be kind and safe because they themselves don’t want to experience the opposite. This really contributed to why I felt so safe the entirety of my time in Thailand.

Q. As an American, what do you think our country can learn from the people of Thailand on happiness and connection?

A. I think we can learn a lot from the people of Thailand such as:

  • It is better when we care about someone other than ourselves. People in Thailand go out of their way to help others and are welcoming to others to join their community, which made me feel safe while living in a foreign country. Thai people also believe that unless everyone is happy in a group, no one is.
  • Being more present and not thinking so far ahead helps you to be happier. Thai people stay calm and don’t worry about everything, which makes them one of the happier countries in the world. They are more relaxed and content and go more with the flow of life.
  • Not to be materialistic. Because most people in Thailand have very little, they find contentment and make the most of what they do have. Because they have limited resources, they are more resourceful and innovative, and not wasteful.
  • They don’t stereotype. Unlike in America, if you are of one political party or religion, you are often put in a box and a foregone conclusion. Thai people look at people as individuals and how they live and who they are …not what labels they have or groups they belong to.

If you have you been to another country or live in a country that has some positive examples of social connection that you can share, let us know below.

Also, check out our other blog articles on global connection.


Cher Knebel

Cher Knebel has been a corporate and freelance writer for more than 30 years. In addition to her professional communications work, she is an author, blogger, and researcher on the topic of social connection and its positive impact on health and happiness. She is the founder of Living Happily Connected and author of the book, Withering to Flourishing, 9 Steps to Bloom Again After the Storm, available on Amazon.

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