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2016 Lessons From "The Land Of Smiles"




We all know that pre-holiday feeling. The excitement, the anticipation, the frantic rush to get everything done at work and finally, the grand shutting off of work email. Well, that was me just before Christmas. I was lucky enough to travel around Thailand with my gorgeous boyfriend for three weeks without a care in the world. 
Anyone who’s been to Thailand will know that the guidebooks and blogs remind you of all the sorts of things you’d expect to read before such a trip; personal safety, how not to offend the Thai people, and maybe less expected if you’ve only ever read news reports on the country, that Thailand is the land of smiles.
How lovely does that sound? A land full of smiles. There aren’t many places that can claim that title. Imagine how different a city London would be, for example, if everyone smiled? As it is, your mental health is questioned if you make eye contact with a stranger. Smiling at them is definite cause for a straightjacket. If it did indeed exist, a land of smiles sounded like the perfect place for relaxation, rejuvenation and adventure. 
However, trailing into Bangkok in heavy traffic late on a Friday night, passing drunk Europeans falling in and out of the mouth of the Khao San Road and an unusually appealing MacDonald’s (it was a long journey), I wondered whether we’d been mysteriously transported back to the UK without either of us realizing! I decided I would spend some time over the next three weeks looking into this land of smiles thing, to find out where it comes from and what it really means. 
The first ten days of the trip were spent more or less in cities, at tourist attractions and joining in with the nightlife. It wasn’t until we got to the beautiful Phi Phi islands that we fully wound down and got into the swing of Thai island life. It was here that The Land Of Smiles title started to make much more sense. Despite thousands of gap year kids knocking back buckets night after night like their lives depended on it, the heaving expat community and long-term recuperation from the 2004 Tsunami, the local Thai people were all smiling.
Some people were still rebuilding their homes and businesses by hand out of pieces of wood, yet they smiled. I saw a local restaurant owner chase a disrespectful tourist out of her establishment, shouting as loud as she could for the entire street to hear, yet as soon as he disappeared she went back to serving her customers alongside her family. And she was smiling.
Having asked around, I was told that smiling is fundamentally linked to the Thai attitude and approach to life. Apparently not all smiles indicate happiness. Smiling is sometimes a reaction to a stressful situation, for example. There is a smile for saying sorry. There are smiles for politeness, nervousness, sadness, admiration, and victory. There is even a smile for hopelessness. 
In short, smiling is a reminder that tomorrow is another day. That whatever the situation is now, it could be totally different in an hour, a day, a week or a month, so why not just acknowledge it, smile and move on. That no matter what the weather’s doing, what you own, regardless of your net worth or what’s happened in your past, as long as you have community, focus and purpose, nothing else deserves too much of your time and energy. And that, I thought, is something worth smiling about for all of us. 
There is so much in here to apply to our daily lives at work and at home. We can all get caught up in what should or should not be happening and place so much emphasis on positive versus negative when in fact, life could be a lot more simple. Sometimes, things just are. Let’s make 2016 a year full of smiles. We can celebrate our wins and acknowledge our losses, find opportunities rather than focus on problems, and invest in our relationships with ourselves and others.
What or who has got you smiling in 2016? Make someone else smile and tag them in this post :-)

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