What Are You Trading Your Happiness For?


A very happy me at Yi Peng/Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai

This weekend I crossed an item off my bucket list.

Well, to be honest, I’m not sure if I really even have  a bucket list. I have a mental list of stuff that seems really cool I’d like to do someday. It is ever growing and changing. Mostly due to the fact that there are a lot of snakes in the world.

Last year I went to Bali for most of November into December and missed the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festivals. My friends posted update after update of brilliant photos and videos and statuses saying this was one of the most magical and life-changing experiences they have had as travelers.

I have referred to them as “friends” using air quotes for the past year.  😉

This year, bucket list or whatever life list this managed to end up on, I was determined to be in Chiang Mai for it.

This decision was absolutely one of the best I’ve made.

Imagine, if you will, the following day:

  • You meet up with 30 of your favorite people in Chiang Mai on a quiet soi (road) to jump in four red trucks and start the forty-five minute caravan out to Mae Jo University
  • At the university, you walk up a pathway to the field surrounded by huts and stalls filled with delicious Thai noodles and coconuts, their scents wafting around you enticing you to eat everything you see
  • You rock up to the field, and immediately scope out space for (now) nearly fifty of your favorite people to pull up mats and sarongs and blankets to sit and laugh and spend four hours savoring the company of friends
  • You watch quite possibly one of the most adorable children ever run around in constant glee at how great everything around her is. You can’t help but smile at the fact that she is basically acting out exactly what all the much-more-mature adults around her are feeling
  • You wander the perimeter of the field and buy your very own “floating-lantern” for 50 baht (approximately $1.58)
  • Around 6:30 PM the ceremony begins, and you are asked to kneel facing Buddha and bow three times with reverence. You look around at the thousands of people bowing and feel especially fortunate to be invited to this beautiful cultural ceremony
  • The throng of monks on stage start chanting quietly in Thai, a low melodic song-of-sorts that serves as the soundtrack for your discussions of hopes and dreams and future written onto your own lanterns
  • The monks beckon the crowd again to bow with reverence and prepare for the lighting of the lanterns at 8:00 PM
  • We all gather around the torches placed throughout the field and begin lighting our lanterns and helping friends light theirs
  • As the countdown begins a thousand lanterns are held high above the heads of the people in the crowd, gathering hot air for the exact moment
  • In Three….Two….One….
  • You sit in awe and gasp at the amazing spectacle that is 1000 floating lanterns being released at once above your head. Drifting up into the sky, a mass of paper and flames going higher and higher, until they are tiny dots of light in the dark night sky
  • More people begin to light more lanterns, the steady procession of light into the dark continues for nearly twenty minutes
  • You grin at the people around you, honored to be part of such a magical event and elated to share it with your friends

Check out the video below that my friend Zack shot from our time there to experience some of the awe and wonder in real-time(ish):

Loy Krathong 2013 from Zack Lazarus on Vimeo.

Now fast-forward ten minutes.

To the moment when thousands of people attempted to exit the field along the tiny road path strewn with food stalls and fruity drinks and people who DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE FINE ART OF MOVING FORWARD.

In that moment I understood why people shank other people.

How quickly I had lost the happiness and joy. Like the lanterns we had just lit, my forty-five minute walk (that took approximately seven minutes on the way in) was a bright and shining flame that had ascended up and up into the darkness, eventually disappearing from my view.

I felt left behind.

Cold. Frustrated. Jostled around involuntarily by a sea of humanity all desperate to “get back” and move on to the next thing.

On our ride back, there was little discussion of the incredible experience we had all shared, instead it was irritation with the experience directly afterward. At the bar where we all met up, the grousing continued.

“Well, now I don’t feel bad that I missed it” one friend who had stayed in the city mused.

The thing is, I wasted all that wonderful afterglow of the experience focusing on unhappiness. I realized when he said that what a terrible choice I had made.

Two days later, I barely remember my annoyance with the inefficient crowd exit strategy. Instead, I am still remembering the heat of the flames on my face, the laughter and wonder shared with my friends, the sight of the lanterns ascending into the night, and the happiness of the day.

We have the choice daily, by the minute, where we are going to focus our attentions. Are we remembering the goodness, the beauty, the joy we experience in our lives. Or are we squashing that all with simple things that vex us?

What are we trading our happiness for? And is it worth it?

Oh, and if you haven’t put the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai on your “list” yet, do it.

Do it now.

Thanks to Jill Stanton of Screw The Nine-To-Five for the pic and Zack Lazarus for the great video


  1. Thomas Howard

    Why must the crowd exit efficiently? Why must you leave so quickly?

    • Elisa Doucette

      Efficient Crowd Exit = People Not Injured And Trampled <– Actual Concern

      • Thomas Howard

        Ah! The post made it sound like people were just not moving quickly enough!

  2. James Schipper

    We had one of those in our group of 4 on the way out. I just tried to enjoy the moment. My fiance said it might well be the best experience she’s had yet (the lanterny part), and I wasn’t about to let the complainer ruin that for her, so it was easy to separate from him in the crush so we didn’t have to hear him.

    Since there was nothing I could do about the barely-moving sea, I just tried being all zen and stuff. It even mostly worked 😀

    • Elisa Doucette

      The complainer was in my head, totally should have separated him/her from the crush! More importantly, you are so right. About halfway down the path, when I had been separated from the crush (wait, did you hear the complainer voice in my head too?!) I realized that calming down and shuffling my feet along was the only way out. And getting upset did absolutely nothing to effect the outcome of the situation. Aummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm 😉

      • James Schipper

        Definitely wasn’t you I was hearing. you don’t sound like my dad 😀

  3. Fe Neute

    That is just AMAZING! And the video almost made me cry, specially because it is a Brazilian song that I love! Thank you for sharing this, Elisa!

    • Elisa Doucette

      Crazy! I don’t know where Zack found the song to use but glad it had even more meaning for you. Definitely something to add to the travel adventures list! 😉

  4. Tom Mullaly

    ‘What are we trading our happiness for? And is it worth it?’ — that’s terrific Elisa. Great post.

  5. Casi @HeyNoobz

    I’ve been so jealous looking at all the pictures from our Chiang Mai friends. Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festival going on life list NOW!

  6. Jill Stanton

    I did the exact same thing and the minute I got on the bike I wanted to kick myself for feeling so annoying by the exiting process because the rest of the day made it so worth it 🙂

    Great post, E!

    • Elisa Doucette

      Yeah, a tiny price to pay for such a great experience. No question.

  7. Ian Ord

    SO happy to hear the afterglow came back and was not eternally dimmed by the crowded exodus. I like to stick around for about 30 mins until the monks finish lighting their lanterns and the crowd has dissipated somewhat. I think if I were to return, I would bring a kayak to cross the small moat that leads to the nearly empty road across from the grounds there 🙂 Glad to have seen you out and that you were able to find your glow again!! xx

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