How Thailand Taught Me How to Smile

How Thailand Taught Me How to Smile

My older brother once told me that traveling is the best way to get over a loss, a breakup, and just an overall sad time. He had just come back from Dubai and the Maldives (aka freaking paradise). I saw a change in him. He had a glow about him that made me want to be as happy as he was.

Basically, I was in a funk. Every week I would cry about something one way or another. Something or someone always triggered me to cry and think about my mom or other stressful things. After seeing my brother with a genuine smile on his face I realized: “Damn, I really need to stop being a Debby Downer.”



He told me to pick a country I’ve always wanted to go to. The less English-speaking – the better. I thought about Thailand, Spain, France, Costa Rica, Australia, etc. I finally picked Thailand (much credit given to the movie The Beach.). Somehow by a miracle I got so lucky to have one of my best friends travel with me. When I finally purchased the flight I already felt a little different in a better way. It was a scary and exciting feeling knowing that I was going to leave everything I know and see a whole new world. I had the blessed opportunity to see how other people live, love, and see life.

The more foreign - the better!

The more foreign – the better!


Coincidently when I arrived in Thailand my travel buddy told me that Thailand was also known as the “Land of Smiles”. How ironic. I was hoping that some of that would rub off on me. Something I didn’t want to rub off on me was the sticky air and the sweaty, worldly smell of Bangkok. And yes, my hair looked like Monica’s from friends:


Anyway, Bangkok was dense. Think NYC times a million! This place was beyond anywhere I have ever seen before. We decided to visit 3 cities and an island. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and the island of Koh Phangan.

This country was the ultimate culture shock. People have their day jobs and work the street markets at night. Something was a bit different in their work ethic. They were happy. Yeah, imagine that. People….happy….with their jobs. Now that is sadly a foreign concept with us Americans. These people not only worked, but also had nothing. I saw the poorest people who were literally living in mud huts who were the happiest people I’ve ever seen.

Our Floating Market Tour Guide

Our Floating Market Tour Guide

We went Ox riding in Chiang Mai and as guilty as I felt sitting on the back of this Ox I was so intrigued by the smiling infant sitting in a muddy puddle with his dad. I initially felt sad, but then I saw how happy and carefree they were that I felt envious. I felt envious of their happiness and positivity. Why can’t I be like that?


I wondered why I couldn’t be like that. Why couldn’t I be happy? I realized my answer is that I didn’t let myself be happy. I sometimes just wanted to be miserable because I could #firstworldproblems. The worst part is that I made myself feel sad about losing my mom because I felt guilty for feeling happy. I felt guilty for feeling ok with moving on with my life. I felt guilty for sometimes not crying if someone is bringing her up. I felt guilty for laughing sometimes because the only thought I had in my mind while I laughed was, “but she’s not laughing right now.”

I filled my mind with depressing thoughts and hence how I became a Debby Downer. In Thailand I did not hear one person (living in a hut or not) complain about not having something. Thailand taught me how to smile. You know that movie “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”? It was kind of like that, but it was my smile I got back (assuming the plot of the movie through the title – I never saw it lol). I learned to stop complaining about my “first world problems” and appreciate what I had, have, and will have.

A piece of art I saw in the streets of Thailand

A piece of art I saw in the streets of Thailand

Whether you look at your glass half empty or half full… The most important thing is to appreciate that you actually have a glass and that there’s something in it. Appreciating your loved ones around you and accepting every challenge with a smile (knowing that it will build strength) is what Thailand taught me. A smile is worth a thousand words. When I travelled that smile was worth the happiness for the rest of my life.

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