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I can still hear the click-click-click of her flip-flops as she swayed down the hallway. I can see her clear as day, in her white blouse and long wrap-around Thai skirt. Early every morning she would sweep, tirelessly and somehow gracefully, every inch of the house’s teak floor. She would do the laundry, some by hand in a bucket, suds flowing down the pavement beside her while she scrubbed. She rhythmically ironed all of the clothes. She would cook fantastic meals and she would wash the dishes by hand. She seemed content and always had a joking remark at the ready. She had warm eyes, a wide smile and a wicked sense of humor. She was Thongsuk, our maid in Thailand.
All of the foreign families had maids in Thailand, and likely many of the Thai families did too. But Thongsuk was exceptional. Only as an adult do I now realize that she personified the Buddhist ideal of accepting what is. As an elementary-school-aged-child I only knew she was authentic and warm – genuine and funny.
In the afternoons I would meander out to the backyard where I would find Thongsuk. With a sideways glance and a mischievous glint in her eye she would respond, “You have eye!” to my very American greeting, “What are you doing?” Perhaps feeling low due to being deemed “too skinny” during the school day, my latest schoolgirl crush not noticing me, or any other such youthful worries, she never failed to cheer me up and put things in perspective through her presence alone.
Some days I would retreat to her kitchen and sit with her while she worked. I would happily eat the crunchy little fish that she set in front of me with their heads still intact while she bustled about getting that night’s dinner prepared for us. I was fascinated by her little altar to Buddha in her modest maid’s quarters. I felt instantly at peace when I was with her. She was inspiring at a time when I did not know what it meant to be inspired. She was my friend – I loved her.
As an adult, I find myself frequently channeling my Inner Thongsuk. I myself can be extremely restless and distracted. I am always working on a new project and don’t feel content unless I am creating and moving on to the next thing. But I have realized that the secret to being happy is to accept what is. I find peace in having no, or low expectations. I practice being present in mundane chores. I actually enjoy washing dishes by hand and cooking large meals.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have goals and work toward accomplishing them. Thongsuk had an outside life that I knew almost nothing about. I’m sure she had her own worries, goals and struggles. But in today’s productivity-obsessed, fake-positivity-spewing world, how many people do you know who are truly happy or content? My experience is that most people in the United States seem pretty darn miserable.
Expectation is the root of all heartache. Desire is the root of all suffering. The quotations abound. That’s correct, the secret to being happy is to anticipate nothing. If restlessness, unhappiness and misery is all you have to lose, why not give it a try? You just might find your Inner Thongsuk.