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The Importance of Joy and Saying Yes

Author: Dr. Angela Williams Gorrell

For where we were, the carnitas tacos were surprisingly delicious. I grabbed another one and tried to remember what country Lukas was from. “That’s right,” I thought to myself, “Slovakia.”


I was sharing plates of tacos with people from Slovakia, Japan, and Spain, people I had just met a few hours before.


It was my first night at my new coliving community in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I first read about the concept a few months ago. Remote workers and digital nomads gather at various coliving communities to work and share life with other people.


As a writer and speaker for a living, I work remotely most of the time. The idea of working alongside of others while exploring a new place and enjoying weekly activities sounded inspiring.


It is difficult to work alone most of the time.


I did my homework and discovered that Chiang Mai is one of the best spots in the world for digital nomads. And the coliving community I discovered had incredible ratings, specifically for the ways it brings people together.


Within thirty minutes of arriving, I knew why.


I found myself talking about work and life with six people, most of whom had their laptops out but were happy to stop work and chat for a bit. And then I was invited to dinner for that evening.


I joined nine other people from eight countries across the globe. They joked that I had come all the way to Thailand to eat Mexican food. Note to readers: It is the only time I had Mexican food in Thailand.


In my near month in Chiang Mai, I consistently experienced joy—sometimes exuberant, sometimes quiet, often times centering. I wondered, why do I feel joy here more regularly than in the United States? What is going on?


Upon reflection, I realized that joy consistently found me in Thailand for several reasons. For one, the meals. At home in the States, I generally have to schedule a meal a week or two in advance with friends. People are so busy that it takes days to get onto their calendar. Or so it seems. Maybe I just assume no one can do a meal tonight…


At Alt-Chiang Mai (my coliving community) I was invited to a meal every day. There is something about regularly sharing meals with others that nurtures joy.


There was also a spirit of openness. People were open to learning from others who come from different cultures and backgrounds, but also open to new experiences.


Want to try yoga in the park? Sure.

Want to go to the rock-climbing gym? Yes.

Want to join me for bachata class? I will try anything once.

Have you ever had an ice bath? It’s rejuvenating and great for inflammation. Sounds horrible, but why not?!


It seems like the spirit of “yes” made all of us more courageous. And when we open ourselves to others and to new activities, we live freer, we live more open to recognizing beauty and goodness. We are more likely to stumble onto joy.


Then there was the colliding. The space is set up in such a way for coworking and coliving that you cannot go anywhere without running into people. So spontaneous conversations were always happening. And people were intentional about stopping to connect.


Everyone pretty much assumed that anyone they came across had something meaningful to share, something they could bond together over. I wonder, how often do I assume these kinds of things about the people around me in my everyday life?


The pandemic taught us all how to work remotely and distance ourselves from others even while near one another. So it seems many of us have lost the desire and ability to do small talk.


While small talk may seem shallow initially or we may think we have more important things to do or prefer efficiency over everything else, when we neglect small talk, we miss opportunities to relate with others. We miss opportunities to form new relationships, deepen current relationships, and feel connected to others.


I have wondered, what might it look like to carry what I have learned into my life in the states?


I am committed to spontaneously asking people to meals and more intentionally cultivating relationships with others over food on a regular basis. I am going to do my best to find time to work alongside of others and to stop every once and a while and truly relate with them, even if it means doing this at a café that is not intentionally designed for coworking. I am going to try to say “yes,” more to activities that intimidate me and embrace freedom and curiosity and wonder. And I am going to try and assume that I can find a point of connection with every person I cross paths with.


In other words, I am going to re-embrace the art of small talk with the intention of living open to joy. 


Next time a group of strangers invites you to share plates of tacos, consider saying yes. Or better yet, be the stranger who invites others to share plates of tacos.


Joy just might find you.

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