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Happiness is a Filipino

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Greg B. Macabenta

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Happiness is a Filipino

With all of the bad news coming out of Manila, like typhoons, runaway inflation and Duterte lawyer Salvador Panelo, I felt a need to inject some happy thoughts into the prevailing atmosphere. So I went through my Happiness File (I have all kinds of files) and found the following gem:

Happiness is a Filipino.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philippines is ranked seventh happiest country in the world.

Yes, indeed! The Philippines is just two rungs below Mexico and the United States which are sixth and fifth respectively in the “happiness” rankings.

Wrote K. Davidson, Chronicle science writer, “The ‘happiest place on Earth’ isn’t Disneyland: It’s Denmark.” The Danes scored a 7.96 on a 10-point scale.

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Following Denmark are the Netherlands (7.49), Norway (7.45), and Luxembourg (7.30). The U.S. scored 7.29, Mexico garnered 7.18 and the Philippines tallied an impressive 7.03.

Other countries in a list of 21 ranked according to the happiness index are Brazil (6.96), Ireland (6.96), Belgium (6.91), United Kingdom (6.88), Germany (6.59), Spain (6.29), South Africa (6.26), India (6.06), France (5.98), Japan (5.88), South Korea (5.79), Italy (5.78), Portugal (5.58) and Greece (5.54). Yes, Greece was ranked the “unhappiest” of all.

I came upon this news item just when we had guests at home, among them, Edward Kareklas, a full-bloodied Greek who was married to Boots Wilson, a Pinay (I should hasten to point out that Edward has already passed on to a happier place in the Great Beyond).

I asked Edward if the reported unhappiness of his compatriots was due to acting out too many Greek tragedies. Before he could respond, one of our guests quickly suggested that one possible explanation for the high happiness rating of the Filipinos may be likened to the Pinoys’ attitude towards an economic recession. Since most of our people have lived in recessionary circumstances all their lives, an officially declared economic recession makes no difference to them.

I pointed out as much in a recent piece about Pinoys eating and drinking and drinking and eating as a way to dare the fates to do their worst. In fact, if you ask the guys downing gin at the corner store what they are doing, their response will likely be, “Nagha-happy-happy!”

So my friend’s thesis sounded credible enough. However, I had to douse cold water on that conjecture.

I pointed out that the rankings were based on an analysis of surveys conducted by scholars around the world over several decades. The analysis was commissioned by the Chronicle and undertaken by a leading American “happiness researcher,” Michael Hagerty, psychologist and professor of management at the University of California at Davis.

The Chronicle story said that the surveys asked hundreds of thousands of respondents in more than 20 nations a common question: “How happy are you?”

Hagerty noted that “the most important sources of personal happiness are: close ties to friends and family, wide political freedom, high income, and a narrow gap between rich and poor.”

My guests were quick to cast doubt on Hagerty’s findings. Except for the first reason, namely, family ties and friendship, Filipinos could not possibly be described as happy, they said.

“Why not?” one of my Pinoy guests argued. “We Filipinos have wide political freedom. We are free to vote into office everyone we are paid to vote for. Our elections are so free, people can actually vote several times, and even the dead are free to vote.”

“What about high income?” one skeptic shot back. “And what about the gap between rich and poor?”

“You’ve got to see it in proper context,” the guest retorted. “Haven’t you heard the saying that money can’t buy happiness? And hasn’t it been said that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? And isn’t heaven the place of ultimate happiness?”

That notion quickly caught on.

“That must explain why rich Asian countries like Japan and South Korea are way down in the happiness rankings,” said another guest.

Having read through the entire Chronicle news item, he supported his thesis by quoting a paragraph about “the happiest places in America”:

“The happiest states are what Hagerty calls ‘the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) region’ — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. That finding might startle those who still cling to old stereotypes about those states as home to moonshine operators, Ku Klux Klansmen and die-hard supporters of Donald Trump. It certainly surprised Hagerty considering that ‘traditionally, they’ve been an economically depressed region.’”

Indeed, Li’l Abner’s hillbilly kinfolk were ranked happier than the “surfer dudes and beach babes” in Sunny California. That effectively silenced the skeptics.

As the conversation drifted on to other happy topics, like Christmas and the New Year, my mind still dwelt on the Chronicle story.

It reminded me of a scene in the movie, Bridge on the River Kwai, where the Japanese officer, played by Sesuo Hayakawa, also made a reference to happiness.

Said he to Alec Guiness and the other British and American POWs, who were laboring to finish the bridge under tortuous conditions: “As General Yamashita said: ‘Be happy in your work!’”

I also recalled the old Tagalog movie dramas where the poor farmer would remind his wife and children that family love, and not wealth, was the true source of happiness.

And then they would glance wistfully at their bare cupboard, scratch their empty stomachs, snuff the flame on their lampara, and slip off into slumber — there to dream of happiness.

 

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.

gregmacabenta@hotmail.com

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