When I lived in Thailand from May 2011 to September 2012, I became very familiar with the mentality of the Thais when it came to sanuk, which is their word for fun. Throughout most of my life, I have labored under the problem that neither I nor a great many of other people think of me as particularly fun. This is apparently a congenital difficulty, as there are few people in my immediate family that I would consider to be particularly fun in the sense of carefree levity. Enjoyment is something that is certainly easy enough to attain, and adventure is definitely something I appreciate (especially when traveling), but being carefree is not something I can tend to think of ever being a part of my own makeup or my own life experiences. As a result I found myself to be very different from most of the people I saw around me in Thailand, much to our mutual amusement and probably bemusement as well.
It should be noted, though, that the Thai are far from the only people who have a national culture that is based on what is translated as fun in English. The Danish (and Norwegians), for example, live according to a standard that is called hygge, which while translated inadequately by google translate as fun, is defined by wikipedia as being “a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment .” This is a feeling that I can wholeheartedly endorse and enjoy, as I have a great fondness of the cozy and comfortable, time spent in enjoyable conversation and socializing, with a high degree of spontaneous and enjoyable interactions with others. It is perhaps unsurprising that this word has general equivalents throughout the Germanic-speaking world, with the related Dutch concept of gezelligheid, the German Gemütlichkeit, the Norwegian koselig, and the Swedish mysig, all of which involve a high degree of warmth and pleasantness.
What is the space between pleasant warmth, such as the Danish and other Germanic peoples value so highly, and the sort of fun that is an aspect of the Thai national culture and that closely resembles the American view of what is fun? On the one hand, both of these concepts involve enjoyment and happiness, but a great deal would count as comfort and warmth that would not necessarily qualify to many people as fun. For example, it is very hygge (and very Nathanish) to enjoy sitting in one’s pjs by a warm fireplace reading books for hours, but few people would think of that as fun. Witty conversation over comfortable and hearty food is certainly hygge (and Nathanish), but again, few people would consider that sort of thing to be fun in the way that going out and dancing would be. Even when one is engaged in the adventure of traveling to unfamiliar places, as I like to do, one can still find the comforts of hygge, as when one checks into a chalet on the beach in Martinique and finds a cozy couch and some loveseats to sit and read and watch the sun set. In such ways one can find a warm and enjoyable home away from home with a great deal of comfort and enjoyment, as well as somewhat sedate rest after a busy day of travel. And I must admit that it is having places for pleasant rest that is particularly important for me wherever I happen to be.
Indeed, I would have to admit that a great many of my own personal habits are geared towards making places pleasant to visit. It is comfortable to go a place and have one’s preferences already noted, so that one does not have to communicate that one wants one’s tea with a lot of sugar (and not some artificial sweetener), or that one wants a particular dish done a particular way. Being a creature of habit and educating others on those habits makes life more comfortable because at least some places at least some of the time are catered to one’s own tastes and preferences which remain generally stable over time and require less effort than to communicate them anew over and over again. I suspect I am not alone in this. After all, if comfortable and cozy can be aspects of several national cultures, surely my own preference for such things is one of the things that is perhaps least unusual about my personality.