One of the more popular Thai words is Sanuk, which may be translated into “fun”. In Thailand, it means much more than in the West and especially the US. In Thailand it reflects how life should be lived.
When immigrants come into the US, many are amazed by how hard people work in America. They have grown up on the idea that All Americans Are Rich (a fallacy of course), and few realized how America got that way. It is because Americans take their work seriously (too seriously?). Americans seldom take more than two weeks vacation time from the job, and many take much less. Except for government employees and the privileged Union workers, most Americans have no problem working 10, 12 or 14 hours in a day. And people in America usually consider work as work, not as play, not as “fun”. This work ethic permeates throughout American life. And most Americans are stressed, and will work till they drop, far past normal retirement age (the terrible economy given to us by our leaders is also a major factor in this).
In Thailand, the philosophy is different. Work, life, shopping, doing anything should be Sanuk. It might appear that the Thais are more inclined to play than to work or that they mix work with play. However, a closer examination of the meaning of the word Sanuk should show that whether it is work or play, the important requisite is that one should be able to derive satisfaction and pleasure in what one does, no matter what it is.
It also ties in to the Buddhist concept of immediate intuitive awareness in daily life. Westerners spend a lot of time experiencing doubt, anxiety, worry, despair over what may happen in the future, or have regrets over the past. Taking pleasure in the moment, whatever the nature of the activity, helps to promote confidence and conviction and offset negativity.
If we were to walk round with a smile on our face, people would feel happier. That’s the Thai way of living, but absolutely not the way people do things in America.
So while Westerners may interpret the Thai Sanuk way of living as “putting fun first”, that is incorrect, and its true meaning is deriving a sense of pleasure from the essential, often mundane or difficult tasks of everyday life. Thais are not irresponsible people, on the contrary, they accept many responsibilities such as taking good care of children and the elderly in their family, and being part of community efforts to accomplish certain needed community tasks that are not generally done by Americans and other Westerners. But it is all done in the name of Sanuk.
Quite clearly, the more profound meaning of Sanuk is one of deriving satisfaction from every moment of the day, good and bad. And it is my contention that if in America we start incorporating a little more Sanuk in our lives, we will live healthier and happier. If a company could grasp the concept and make it part of their way of treating employees, they would become the envy of all and a place where everyone in the industry would want to be employed.
How to do business the Thai Sanuk way?
Make the business like an extended family, incorporating social interactions with work. When it is a slow period, make the lunch hour longer and have everyone join together as a group in a restaurant on the company.
Realize special needs of certain employees, such as illness, pregnancy or a death in the family by giving support, time off to get personal tasks completed, and great understanding and sympathy.
Never allow anyone to yell at another for a bad job. Instead offer congratulations when tasks are done well, and encourage others to join in getting the job done.
Invite employee family members to be part of social events at the job.
In fairness, it has to be recognized that doing the business the Thai Sanuk way is not all that is needed for everything to work in a business. The American custom of putting “the customer is first” and the “Yes, We Can” attitudes are often not part of a Thai business, and these are areas where they need improvement.
See Also: Hai-kiat: Giving Respect in Thailand
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