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The Enduring Happiness of the Filipino

In August 2016, the Philippines was ranked as the 20th happiest place in the world by the Happy Planet Index (HPI) and the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The Index aggregates data culled from the Gallup World Poll, the United Nations, and the Global Footprint Network, and it aims to tell how well all nations are achieving long, happy, and sustainable lives, and inform nations of the possibility for their residents to live well without costing the earth.

This may come as a surprise to many Filipinos, or even non-Filipinos, given that the country is embroiled in volatile politics, substandard infrastructure, and poverty among other things. But objectively, the Philippines may be doing better than expected, out of the 140 countries included in the report.

Calculating Happiness

The HPI collects four key data points that are used to calculate the Index:

Wellbeing—how satisfied residents of each country say they are with life overall on a scale of zero to ten,

Life expectancy—the average number of years a person is expected to live,

Inequality of outcomes—the inequalities between people within a country in terms of how long they live and how happy they feel, based on the distribution of life expectancy and wellbeing data, and expressed as a percentage,

And ecological footprint—the average impact each resident of the country places on the environment, expressed using a standardized unit, global hectares (gha) per person.

The Philippines’ average life expectancy is 67.9 years, wellbeing scores 5 out of 10, inequality of outcomes is at 26%, ecological footprint is at 1.1, totaling to Happy Planet Index of 35.0, a middling score overall. While the Philippines ranks at number 20 worldwide, it is the sixth happiest place in the Asia Pacific Region, where Vanuatu and Vietnam are leading.

Breaking Expectations

Western countries in the Americas and Europe are usually regarded as the standards of success and happiness, but the Index refutes that notion. Countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and the United States of America ranked 34th, 44th, and 108th, respectively, placing lower than the Philippines and other Asian countries.

The top three happiest countries are from the Americas—Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia.

Why Filipinos are Happy

But how do Filipinos maintain such a positive disposition given the numerous problems that plague the country? This could be explained by a lot of different cultural factors. First, the Filipinos have endured close to four centuries of colonization by Spain, the United States, and Japan, and have gone through nine years of Martial law under the Marcos regime, so they have developed a resilient spirit that can weather any trials and challenges that face them.

Second, the Philippines is predominantly of the Catholic faith, where simplicity is a virtue and living a humble and modest life is a guiding principle. This could also be a defining factor for the top three happiest countries, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia, which are also largely Catholic nations.

Third, as Filipinos are constantly used to dealing with problems, they have an aphorism, “Tawanan na lang ang problema,” which translates to “Just laugh at your problems,” suggesting that making light of your problems is key to maintaining your everyday sanity and strength. This is highly evident online nowadays where, more than facing outstanding political and cultural issues head on, people engage in memes, and funny anecdotes and images to participate in the conversation. In the face of calamity, you can see displaced victims mugging for the camera in TV news reports, or lounging in makeshift inflatable materials during floods. They may come across as somewhat facetious or aloof at times, but humor is a common coping mechanism for most Filipinos.

Happiness is an innate Filipino quality, one that empowers them and helps them face problems head on. It shows that they are a strong and resourceful people capable of withstanding and surviving anything that comes their way. At Flat Planet we see this as a strength that carries over to the workforce, essentially creating that resilient business environment that clients love about Filipinos.

Photos from PhilNews and Youtube.

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