When my family and I first touched down in Vietnam, we were quickly embraced by the chaos of Hanoi.
Citizens were bustling in the streets trying to make a living, the music of hundreds of thousands of scooters ricocheted through the roads, and the utter danger of attempting to cross the street was confronting me at all times.
Find a way to be happy and just smile
As we set sail across a river outside of Hoi An, I had no idea what to expect; I mean, all I knew was that we were here and we were going to take some photos.
As we made our way into Thanh Ha village I was immediately captivated by the aura of its residents.
Perched up on a veranda that looked as if it had seen millennia, an elderly man was smiling. He lives in a broken down shack which many of us would never dare to sleep in. He was clad in dirty clothes, a colourful piece of fruit in hand and his teeth shining yellow with the greatest expression of cheer tugging at his lips.
As I made my way through the village, my eyes wandered around all the rundown houses, yet I continued to notice happy and playful people everywhere I turned. Eventually, I was taken to a group of children, who were all playing an intriguing game with a pack of cards.
Two girls stood in the middle of a giant circle as two boys sped around them at full speed, attempting to dodge the playing card that the girls were whipping at them. As the children noticed me they slowed their game as they became enamoured by the presence of someone who wasn’t Vietnamese.
“Hello, hello, hello what’s your name,” the children said, an excited melody in their voice.
“Xin Ciao! My name’s Jacob. What’s your name?” I replied, unable to quell my joyful giggles.
After a few minutes of their little English practice, one of the boys began to pick up speed on his bike, ready to begin the game again. Though we may not have been able to say much to each other, “Xin Ciao,” and “Hello” were our only shared words that let us cross the language boundaries.
I feel that so many of us get caught up in the material world. We are constantly trying to find a means to make us happy, and when that falls through, we feel depressed. We spend so much time searching for joy that we forget to even feel it.
It’s as if we are caught in a cycle of searching for happiness, then becoming sad when we don’t get what we want. In doing this, we lose sight of the simplistic beauties that are worth smiling about.
These children were overjoyed to just be playing their simple game with a pack of cards, while I barely blink an eye at that opportunity. Our elderly friend on the porch was overjoyed just to show us his house and a new fruit he was trying.
Learn to love what you do
Beyond the moments of laughter and smiling that I noticed in the village, I also realized that the people of Thanh Ha seemed to genuinely love what they do.
Continuing through the village, we eventually made our way to acres of beautiful fields of rice. Crouched between the trees were elderly women harvesting, who would work the fields for hours on end.
While many of us walked past, I was captivated by one particular farmer who, under sweat and mud, wore a captivating expression of joy. I asked a fellow traveler how to ask someone, “what are you doing?” in Vietnamese.
“Bạn đang làm gì đấy?” I inquired, my voice straining to match the Vietnamese tones.
Elated by my interest in her work, the woman began to show me exactly how she was harvesting the rice.Though I had to communicate through a fellow traveler, the smiles and laughter were able to transcend the language barrier.
This woman is a perfect example of what it means to love your situation. She may have to slog through hours of hard labour, but she still finds a way to share her pride in her work with a joyous expression.
This sheer contentedness really struck me. I feel that so many of us are caught up in a series of negatives about our current situations. It may be our work, our relationships, or just the fact that we’ve missed our bus on the way home after a long day. It doesn’t matter what it is; we simply have a tendency to latch onto to this idea that everything is going wrong and that the world is against us.
Yes, sometimes things do just go wrong, but finding a way to see the positive in any given situation is an invaluable skill. The world can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be negative.
As we wrapped up our day, my group member and I sat around on hammocks and chairs by a lake, watching the sunset and enjoying a beautifully sweet sugar cane drink. As I lay there, reflecting on the day, I understood something that I think many of us overlook.
From the elderly woman in the sugar cane fields, to the children playing their card game, I noticed that each and every one of the people I met in Thanh Ha truly valued human connection and sharing their lives with other people. Each person wore a smile on their face, and was eager to share their life with us. They truly wanted us to become a part of their world and to feel the happiness that they do. This is not exclusive to the people of Thanh Ha, but they really made this experience stand out.
I think there is something to be said about sharing our joy with other people. When we think of things that will make us happy, many of us look to a new promotion, a new car, or new phone. I believe that we often forget to realize just how much happier we can feel when we share parts of our life with each other.
We can obtain as many material things we want, but if there is no one to share that joy with, what’s the point? I believe that regardless of how much we have, sharing life with people is what makes or breaks our happiness.
While we may try to find our happiness in things, or preserve it through the photographs we take, there are these moments that we should notice and simply live in. They are brief, and they are rare, but they remind us just how grateful we can be for being around people we love.
As it’s put in the film Into The Wild:
“Happiness is only real when shared.”