If there is one word to describe Thai culture, it is sanuk: having fun together. Thai culture is all about sanuk, it is one of the most important aspects of the society. First you have sanuk and everything else follows. The rule applies to everything: work, school, leisure, chores and so on. Contrast it with puritan western countries: there is time for work and there is time for having fun. As a curious side-effect, Thais are not big readers. Indeed, reading a book is anti-sanuk, as it can be. You deliberately spend time alone having fun (or not) all on your own. I have never seen a Thai child crying. Granted expressing own negative emotions is not something you do in Asia, but how on Earth you would convince a child not to cry is beyond my understanding.

After I got back to Finland after my surprise holiday, on the way home I systematically sought eye-contact with passers-by. Success-rate for a walk from Rautatientori to Kamppi? Zero. Not a single smile either. Doom and gloom everywhere. Sharing a smile with a stranger in Finland is a curious topic as well. When you smile at the stranger, you get something like this in return: anxious tension ⇒ quick awkward smile ⇒ anxious tension. That’s how we roll.

Finland regularly makes headlines as one of the happiest countries in the world. To see what a blatant lie it is, just take a subway ride in Helsinki in November. Any other month in year will do as well too. To be honest though, in some of these surveys they mistake prosperity with happiness. In 2009 local newspapers and tabloids were full of “Finland – the happiest place on Earth”-type headlines. Upon a further investigation it turned out that the results were based on Legatum Prosperity Index, which does not say a word about happiness. It seems that material well-being equals happiness in the eyes of many people. There are lies, damned lies and statistics, as Benjamin Disraeli eloquently put it. You can gather any numbers together, process them and slap it a moniker as happiness on the result. And then you convince everyone that this is the reality. However, taking a look around and especially travelling to other countries might give you a better picture of how things are, but this is a story for another post.

One thought on “Sanuk

  1. smiley Asians vs gloomy Europeans, communitarianism vs individualism, sun vs eternal night. Poor and happy together vs rich and alienated. And yet there is much more luring beneath it, isn’t it? What is happiness? What is freedom? What is well-being? Are smiling Asians/Latinos/Africans really happier than rich but isolated Westerners? A topic for a book length philosophical essay or a nice chat over a glass of beer…

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