You’ve seen us before, always peculiarly flashing smiles for the camera. As news reporters detail a calamitous scene, Filipinos — notorious for their exuberance — puzzle people for our capability of smiling through dismal conditions. We grin up to our ears, waving hands in hopes of being seen on television, as if nothing bad ever happens.
Despite living in a country where a chunk of workers earn USD $11 as minimum wage for an 8-hour laborious work (PhP 350 for National Capital Region; PhP 275 for rural regions), Pinoys are mysteriously happy. No one exactly knows how this spirit of lightheartedness started.
Some say it’s because of the abundance in sunlight. Filipinos are loaded with Vitamin D, which gives a natural boost on serotonin or the happiness hormone, thanks to the country’s proximity to the equator. The strategic location is complemented with a carb and protein-rich diet that also amps up this happy hormone. It’s safe to say Filipinos are biologically and naturally made to exude jubilance.
Some ask: are they high? On some sort of a happiness potion? Maybe not. Filipinos’ brand of happiness is more to artificial lifters or faking a smile. It’s much of a deeply-rooted trait, like a genetic characteristic, than a passing one that fades over time. The Philippine brand of happiness also developed as a cultural trademark and this has been the norm for Pinoys.
Some proofs? Happiness is so common that we grew fond in names that are euphoric in nature. At one point in our lives, Filipinos will meet several fellow Pinoys whose name is either Joy, Happy, Jolly, Ligaya (Filipino for happy), Bliss or even the double-whammy Merry Joy. We live in joy too, literally, as there are streets named Masaya, Maligaya, Galak—all pertaining to happiness in vernacular.
Behaviorally or culturally speaking, Filipinos do well in living up to the happiness trademark. It’s no wonder that the Philippines fares well in World Happiness Report, a survey that assesses how happy citizens are to gauge social progress.
Out of 155 countries, the Philippines managed to land on the better half of the list. It ranks 72nd on the latest survey conducted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions. Philippines’ position may not appear that impressive but when analyzed, it’s incredible to think that the nation even made into the upper half considering its third-world country situation.
If you’re still not impressed, Philippines once even ranked fifth—topping off privileged countries like United States, Japan, Canada, and even the Baltic states like Norway, Denmark and Iceland. This is according to a separate report commissioned by the Gallup Positive Experience Index in 2014.
Going back to the latest UN survey, the organization analyzed happiness based on several factors: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Noticeably, the last three factors (health, income and good governance) are measures that each Filipino cannot fully control. Health is unpredictable while income and good governance are among the things that our impoverished country needs to work on with.
Meanwhile, the first four determinants are intangible things that Filipinos are well capable of possessing. Not that other people aren’t as caring, free, generous or honest. The thing is that Filipinos possess other culturally developed qualities that makes them easily caring and generous. Aside from being happy people, Filipinos are known for their resiliency and also for having closely-knit family ties.
Filipinos’ spirit of resiliency
The idea of resilience was first explored in 1989 by an American developmental psychologist, Emmy Werner. She described it as an “internal locus of control” or the ability to perceive that actions are what mold their lives and not the circumstances.
In a less-riddled explanation, resiliency is the capability of bouncing back after an adversity. As per her study composed of nearly 700 children, Werner noticed that a portion of them with “risk backgrounds”— those who faced with poverty and family issues — shared the same “bounce back” trait that drove them to move on despite their struggles.
The trait resulted in various positive outcomes like success, as proven by Werner after she followed the children for thirty years. Aside from that, resiliency is also a precursor to happiness as a result of satisfaction and achieving goals.
The correlation of this quality to happiness is clearly undeniable. In the case of Filipinos, resiliency has been proved over and over, most notably in the wake of typhoon Yolanda. The typhoon was known to be one of the strongest to be ever recorded.
Yolanda, or internationally known as Haiyan, took about 7,000 lives. Yet, its intensity didn’t match the unwavering spirit of Filipinos even after losing their hardly earned possessions.
Photos of Filipinos in the calamity-stricken province of Tacloban were highly praised by people of other races. Filipinos helping their fellowmen and smiling through photographs after the calamity earned respect from different nations.
The damages pegged at $12 billion became nothing but numbers. For as long as the entire family is safe, all is good and there’s a reason to be happy — a clear indication that for Filipinos, family is invaluable.
Tight family ties
Filipino families have an easily identifiable trait that sets us off from the world’s other half. In western countries, when a person reaches 18, it’s expected that he or she will move out and live independently from the parents. But in the Philippines, that’s not the case.
It may have negative implications for the kids like being too dependent, but no one can blame them because Filipinos have been accustomed to maintain tight family ties. Usually, Filipinos young adults start building their separate lives whenever they get their own families.
But in most cases, children still live with their parents even after marrying or having kids. In the Philippines, we also have this innate obligation to take care of our parents especially as they age, and the solution to this has never been homes for the aged, but rather, simply cleaving together as extended family.
This kind of setup may raise eyebrows but for so long a time, it has made Filipino families a happier one. The more, the merrier, so they say — that’s why it’s common for us to be seen living with our uncles, aunts and the rest of our relatives.
Filipinos find so much value in relationship that we call our parents’ friends as “tita” or “tito” (aunt or uncle) even if we only knew them for a week. We love to treat people as family so much, even if they are strangers. Go to a place you’ve never been before and you’ll hear the elders being called by people they never knew as “lolo” or “lola” (grandfather or grandmother”).
It’s the human things
In a TED talk, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger asked: “What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?” He answered the question by referencing their Harvard study, the longest one that’s ever been conducted on the life of an adult.
For 75 years, generations of Harvard researchers tracked nearly 2,000 men until the count slimmed down into 60. Most of them already died, but a few are still living. These men, who used Harvard college boys and Boston neighborhood’s, poorest young boys, became people from all walks of life.
Lawyers, doctors, bricklayers, factory workers, and one even the president of the United States, these men gave answer to the question that long riddled humanity. After tens and thousands of information, they came up with the answer: it’s not the money nor the fame. It’s the relationships that keep people happier and healthier.
Turns out, t’s the human things that make people truly happy and this is very true in the case of Filipinos. Most of us may never have hefty wallets or may be living in makeshift houses but we are very much abundant in relationships and experiences in coming back stronger. After all, for Filipinos, the things that matter the most aren’t things — and these are the indispensable treasures that contribute to our happy disposition as a nation.