The Thai philosophy of Life

Sanuk, mai pen rai and lots of sabai sabai

Sabai Sabai. In Thailand you can find peace and relaxation everywhere.
Sabai Sabai. In Thailand you can find peace and relaxation everywhere.

To get an insight into the philosophy of life of the Thai people, it is useful to take a look at three important words in the Thai language:
sanuk, sabai and suay, with the often-heard expression mai pen rai they encapsule the image of the “land of smiles,” of an easy, enjoyable life.

Potential trouble is better dismissed with a mai pen rai ("it doesn't matter"). Mai pen rai is like a magic formula, with which any unpleasantness or looming dispute can be dismissed from consideration. You don't just want to save the face of the other person, but also your own. So, any sadness or displeasure is smiled away. Buddhist teaching tells us that all life is suffering, so is this not a contradiction? Not at all, the Thais successfully manage to square this particular circle.

Sabai means pleasant, cozy, or comfortable. Life should be sabai. Instead of "How are you?" one asks here, "Are you feeling good?”

Sabai dee mai? To which one replies sabai dee, “feeling-good”.


The word Suay means "beautiful". The Thai people are real aesthetes. When buying something, suay is an important consideration. The purely external appearance is often much more important than its functional use or the value.


Sanuk means something like "have fun". Everything one does is rated according to whether it is fun.  What is not sanuk is better left alone, but sometimes, of course, one must do things that are not sanuk, so then the question arises of how to liven it up to make it sanuk and thus more enjoyable. Thais are wonderfully pragmatic, and as is well known, pragmatism takes precedence over reason, and this is very pronounced among the Thai people, and can be sensed everywhere.

Back to: Country & People