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Living A Life of Gratitude: 4 Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn from Thai Culture

By Lynne Wester

Travel changes you—it makes you a different and often better human. I've had the privilege to travel a lot in my life, and most recently, I spent over three weeks in Asia and the Middle East. This was my first big exploratory trip since the pandemic—something I used to do annually. I do these annual trips to experience different cultures, and study gratitude and generosity across the world. Every time I travel, I learn more about myself than I expect, and this trip was no exception.

One of my stops this time was Thailand, and I have to tell you: I'm smitten.The people of Thailand are amazing. Their core beliefs align with the way they live their lives—and their culture is intoxicating. From the crowded Bangkok night markets to the ruins of Ayutthaya, I was immersed in a place that exudes gratitude. Expressions of gratitude in Thailand are not just part of their Buddhist religion—they're woven into their everyday lives.

One of my favorite travel tips is to speak and listen to the locals—Did you know, for example, there are no capital letters in the Thai language? That one really resonated with me! When I spoke with different people of Thailand, I absorbed and listened, not just to what they were saying, but to the way they said it as well. I think what impressed me most about their culture of gratitude was the way it was effortless, innate, and went far beyond surface interactions. Kind and unassuming—our profession can learn many lessons from Thai culture.

The Thai people believe that all other behaviors grow out of generosity—and at times, those who have the least, give the most. Some people wake early every day to prepare offerings or meals for temples or monks and see it as a part of their daily routine. No matter how poor, there is always plenty to feed others, and their generosity is beaming off their faces. This reminds us that it's not the amount of the generosity but the thoughtfulness behind it that matters most.

Another thing that struck me in the hustling, bustling capital city of Bangkok was that even though the traffic seems chaotic, no one honks. It's just not a part of their culture.

There is an order to the chaos in Bangkok's crowded streets, markets, and alleyways—whether it be the floating markets, the food stalls in Chinatown at night, or the entrances to the temples, there were always small kindnesses, courtesies, and an ever-present affability. No one person is more important than the whole. Each individual person seems to move within the larger crowd in a complex dance—that dance is beautiful to behold, and the peacefulness of the crowd was overwhelming.

In Thailand, I also learned that most Buddhist men, at some point in their lives, become monks, not for a lifetime, but for the right time. My tour driver, Nueng (that was his nickname because he was the firstborn in his family, so he was called number one!), was a monk for nine months when he was 23 years old, and my tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Deng, was a monk for 14 months when he was 24.

What I learned about them being monks was profound. Living as a monk involves seeking enlightenment in a very concentrated and pared-down way. One of the things monks do while training is they remove all outside distractions. Picture yourself taking the time to remove all the many distractions from your life. It made me think of time spent improving ourselves and our work—imagine if we took that time to simplify and refocus our efforts. To be able to remove the outside world and focus on the gift that is our life, would be a true gift indeed.

So how can these lessons be applied to fundraisers?

  1. Live a life of gratitude and generosity, the rest will come

  2. Stop and listen to the stories of others

  3. You don't always have to make noise to be first in the bustle of the world

  4. Remove distractions wherever you can and focus on the core of your work

Have you traveled anywhere and been able to immerse yourself in the culture? What are some of the lessons you've learned from the privilege of travel? Share your experiences in the comments—we'd love to hear them!


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