I never really knew what travel writing was all about. Sure, I’ve read an article here and a blog there, sensing that I, too, would like to write while traveling. My imagination led me to believe that throughout my travels I would need to be diligent, carving out a few hours every other day, sitting down and squeezing out a piece about where I had been and what I had seen. I imagined it a chore, a job. And to write more frequently, one of my New Year’s resolutions, is a part time job. But to my surprise, suddenly, on a quiet morning in a southern archipelago along the western coast of Thailand, I can’t help but to write! Pure inspiration, awe struck! To have found such a beautiful place filled with beautiful people! From the inside and out. Radiating love, compassion, honesty, and truth. Living in a simpler way than mine despite the modern times.
Here it is all smiles. Not a half smile and a nod, Southern (United States) hospitality kind of way. Not in a smile because it’s polite, gentile, and you have to kind of way. Not in a kill them with kindness, but behind their back kill them with negative words and judgement kind of way. No. These are the most authentic, ear to ear, wrinkle up your bottom eye lids, keep eye contact while passing to the point that your head turns and you’re no longer looking where you’re going just to continue smiling back, radiating joy kind of way! It’s wonderful!!! And it fills you up with so much joy in return. I often find myself laughing at the end of a smile, which usually results in a joyous laughing face right back at me.
Have you seen that 2011 movie titled Happy? The documentary that interviews and even measures the happiness of various people around the world? From time to time it bubbles up in my memory. (Spoiler Alert! Sort of… But seriously, if you haven’t seen this film, treat yourself! It’s 75 minutes of well put together interviews, current psychological concepts, and facts about human happiness.) I’ll continue… After watching this movie, on a surface level I couldn’t believe that the happiest person interviewed was an incredibly, incredibly impoverished man who ran the streets of Calcutta, India, barefoot, transporting people in his rickshaw. When not working, the film showed his shack of a living quarter in the slums just outside of the city where he resided with his family. He never stopped smiling in the film.
Although my mind could not grasp that he was THE happiest man in this movie, as there are quite a few other interesting individuals interviewed, on a deeper level his happiness was understandable to me. And from my studies, experiences and experiments with Yoga, I knew that circumstances aren’t what make you happy – a point even the movie makes by reporting that circumstances have only a 10% impact on one’s happiness. Still, my beliefs were challenged, and continue to be challenged. Beliefs deeply ingrained from various sources including my Western “civilized” culture that would argue wealth and opportunity bring happiness rather than perspective and gratitude.
“Happiness is not what makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.”
Finding the actions to bring you more happiness can be daunting. Remembering times when I was in a total funk that would last weeks, I would want to be happier. I thought I was trying to be happier, and yet the funk continued. Next, I would try to change various circumstances, drop various responsibilities, claim I was working on self-care, and then gift myself something out of my budget. Still no improvement on the funky situation. Sometimes a new understanding of happiness is needed, as provided by the above quote by David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk known for his work on the interaction between spirituality and science.
It’s the simple practices, not related to our circumstances, that increase our happiness. The practice of gratitude. It is this kind of practice that leads to happiness as a way of life. And it is the way of life for the small fishing communities found on Koh Libong in the Trang Islands of Thailand. It's a simpler way in modern times.