Filipinos and happiness: why we need to be serious about it

There is enough evidence to suggest that Filipinos in general are preoccupied with the desire to be on a permanent state of euphoria or at least with being perceived to be a “happy-go-lucky” society no matter what circumstances they are in. Unfortunately, this national obsession with being “happy” or having a good time instead actually leads the Filipino people to a permanent state of misery because their pursuit of happiness is shallow and misguided.

Symbol of Filipino happiness

Because of our obsession with being perceived as a “happy-go-lucky” people, we unfortunately also come across as a people who do not take things too seriously even in times of crisis; which is why our social ills stay unresolved. In fact, Filipinos in general don’t even realize that our national psyche needs to be rehabilitated. Most Filipinos are of the belief that our corrupt public officials are solely to blame for the sad state of our nation. This is funny because the Filipino people are free to choose their public servants. And yet they prefer to choose someone incompetent — which is why they get the government they deserve.

The country remains Asia’s laggard perhaps partly because most Filipinos don’t have their priorities right. Most of us would rather pursue activities that cater to instant gratification because most of us want to be “masaya” all the time. We get instant gratification when we engage in activities that give us fleeting moments of happiness. Most often these are activities that are not well thought through and may even be impulsive. It could also involve being on a fiesta or celebratory mode more often than necessary even when we don’t deserve it. This also includes not participating in the running of the country and letting our public servants wreak havoc using public funds. Instead of being serious and more assertive about national issues, we dismiss topics pertaining to politics as something that we cannot do anything about or is none of our business.

Because Filipinos love a good time more than anything else, we don’t bother learning a new skill on our spare time. Most Filipinos don’t like the idea of working harder to elevate our status to one of being among the first-class nations in the world; we would rather wait for someone to do it for us. Unfortunately, because our society has become anti-intellectual, the intellectuals are driven to leave the country. The brain drain reduces our chances of competing with other nations whose aim is to be the best at what they do and excel at every endeavor.

It follows that since most Filipinos in general would rather have a good time than work hard, it is no surprise that they also love riding on the success of other Filipinos in the entertainment industry where fame and fortune carry away singers, actors, and even sportsmen — boxers in particular. It’s not that there is anything wrong with being happy for someone who achieves international recognition, it’s just that Filipinos tend to take it to the extreme and only idolize those who appear on TV and films due to their fame rather than those who work hard to excel in science and technology – those who can actually help elevate the status of the nation.

Too much “pakikisama” can be bad for our society.

Our love for a good time more than serious and reflective time seems to be associated with a uniquely-Filipino flavor of collectivism — “pakikisama” in the vernacular. Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao for example, brings temporary joy and induce exaggerated Filipino pride among Filipinos simply by winning a boxing match held in an international arena. Those who do not feel the same level of “pride” when he wins are seen as being unpatriotic, killjoy or worse, “walang pakisama“.

Those who see Pacquaio’s win as an individual achievement rather than a collective achievement also tended to be the same ones who are more concerned about the negative effects this national obsession with a boxing celebrity or any celebrity has on Philippine society. This concern is not without its merit since Filipinos also tend to idolize those with celebrity status and vote them in as public servants even if they are not qualified for public service and Manny Pacquiao having been voted into public office as Congressman is enough proof of this. Alarmingly, there are even some members of the Philippine public who are now supporting the idea of Pacquiao running for the Presidency one day.

It is not an exaggeration therefore to say that Filipinos who are labeled “killjoy” or “walang pakisama” are the same ones who are serious about the state of the nation and use their heads for critical analysis in most situations. Unfortunately, those who apply a critical mind in Philippine society are outnumbered by those who don’t, so the former ends up being bullied to submission or being helpless.

Too much good time can be bad for our society.

Most Filipinos would often say, “It’s better to see the glass half-full than half-empty.” But the more applicable proverbial expression to our society should be, “The glass is not half-full if it isn’t half-empty.” We can’t always pretend not to see the dark side of any given situation. Having an incompetent leader like President Noynoy Aquino for example, is a situation that has more dark side than bright side. If Filipinos continue to refuse to prepare for the worst case scenario, they might just get a rude shock one day upon realizing that they are already stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not that we are not yet stuck in a difficult situation; we already are, except some of us just don’t realize it yet or refuse to accept it and, worse, are not prepared for it.

There is this misconception among Filipinos that if people keep pointing at the facts and discussing the problems of our society, they are perceived as being unproductive or negative. Never mind that discussing our social ills could actually lead to the right solutions.

What is a healthier outlook in life then? Humans have different set of moods. Normal people have a baseline or set point of happiness. We bounce up and down from that baseline in response to short term events depending on the situation, like when we hear some bad news or good news. Most people normally return to their baseline after some time. Unfortunately, some of us think that we have to be above the normal baseline all the time to be considered to be a “happy” person, which is quite an impossible state to achieve because it means that in order to be “high” all the time, the natural tendency to be down after a high needs to be continuously overcome. And if we keep soaring higher, the longer the fall that is sure to come sooner or later.

If we prefer to constantly experience that “high” feeling, we also have to be constantly entertained by outside stimuli. This outside stimuli could come in the form of watching a spectacle on TV, the movies, being on the computer all day playing a video game, or being around a large gathering of family and friends having a party just to be entertained. In short, when our brain is being entertained all the time, we don’t have time to think or engage in self-reflection.

How do we sustain the baseline level of happiness? Being happy does not necessarily mean that we should always be in a gathering with friends having a ball or a party. Being happy does not necessarily mean that we should literally be laughing all the time or making jokes that make light of otherwise serious things. It would be more ideal to find happiness during our spare time doing some productive work that stimulates the imagination — like reading a good book or learning a new set of skills to keep our brains occupied and sharp. This sort of baseline happiness is more sustainable and healthier for the brain. It offers greater potential for monetary rewards, which can lead to being in a healthier mood for longer periods of time.

Caroline Hunt, a professor in psychology at the University of Sydney, Australia suggested that society would be better off if people backed away from their obsession with getting more happiness, because the activities to satisfy such an obsession is does more damage in the long-term. To quote what she said in an interview:

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what makes us happy, often involving unrealistic expectations of just how happy we could be. There’s a small industry suggesting what people should do to make themselves more happy but most of the time it would be more useful for people to accept that being unhappy or being in a state of melancholy some of the time can be OK. In fact it is part of being a human being.

In the book Against Happiness, author Eric Wilson emphasized that he finds it odd that sadness is seen as not a normal part of life but as a weakness, something to be eradicated.

“You should really embrace those dark parts of your life. They are natural. They are normal. It seems to me those darker sides of experience, those times when we are sad or sorrowful, we often learn things about ourselves that we would not learn had we simply remained content.”

No wonder most Filipinos never learn from their mistakes. They never have time to reflect because they are preoccupied with having a good time. After reading the statement above, one cannot help but recall how some Filipinos did not show any sympathy after the deaths of eight Chinese tourists in the Mendoza hostage crisis. School girls and uniformed policemen posed for photos smiling and laughing near the hijacked bus of the scene of the crime and posted the same photos on social networking sites for all the world to see. It exhibits how our society has such an underdeveloped sense of compassion. We just want to have a good time all the time.

Lack of substance leads to idiotic behaviour

One cannot forget too how President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) was caught smiling like a dog during a press conference a day after the Mendoza hostage crisis in which eight Chinese tourists died. After being criticized for his smiling face, his only excuse was “… I have several expressions. I smile when I’m happy, I smile when I’m faced with a very absurd situation…” to be fair to P-Noy, he really was caught in a very absurd situation at the time. He probably felt that smiling would lighten up the situation. Unfortunately, it just made it worse.

Where did the concept of being happy start?

It’s been said that the pursuit of happiness started in the United States when the Declaration of Independence guaranteed every individual the right to “pursue happiness”. Since then pop psychology has advocated the notion that in order to live a meaningful life, people should be happy and to be happy, you should always be “positive”.

The concept gave rise to a lot of self-help books written by positive mental attitude gurus who tend to recommend that people see the bright side of things rather than the negative. You could say that the concept is a marketing executive’s dream coming true because advertising agencies can continue to sell more products to make people feel “happy” by creating a need.

Unfortunately, with Filipinos copying anything “in” in American society, Philippine society had embraced this concept without bothering to analyze if the same concept is applicable to us as a people. And because we are such bad copycats, we do not really think about the social impact of adapting a concept that works for other cultures but not for ours. The Presidential system is a classic example of a concept that seems to work fine for Americans but obviously not for Filipinos because of our personality based politics. But I digress…

Americans on their part, have an individualistic society, which means that they pursue their own happiness on individual terms. They acknowledge that what might make someone happy won’t necessarily make others happy. Pursuing intellectual stimulus for example can be gratifying for some while just playing video games all day will have the same effect on others. The long term effect or damage of either activity is debatable but it has been proven time and time again that intellectual pursuits which may seem like such a boring activity to those who prefer to play video games, will yield more positive results in the future for any individual.

Some societies celebrate the uniqueness of each individual and respect the choices each individual makes; this results in a more vibrant and innovative society. In short, you won’t really find Americans who force other fellow Americans to be happy when an American boxer wins boxing matches or label others unpatriotic if they don’t.

The drawback of selling happiness as the key to a meaningful life also gave rise to the use of medication in some parts of the world especially the US. Big pharmaceuticals in the United States jumped on the bandwagon of the self-help gurus and managed to enter the happiness market by selling happy pills or anti-depressants. At least the US has regulations that serve as check-and-balance on the euphoria industry. But this is already capitalism at its finest and luckily enough, Philippine society has not gone down that path due to Filipino consumers lacking the funds to indulge in such products. It’s easy to conclude that the pursuit of feelings of happiness can be costly and dangerous, which really shouldn’t be the case. People just have to embrace the fact that we can’t always be blissfully happy or be in a state of euphoria all the time especially when there are situations when we should be in a somber mood.

Researchers in Melbourne, Australia have discovered that “positive thinking could be helpful, but you shouldn’t force it. For most people, deliberate attempts to be optimistic compromise their wellbeing.” In the book The Negative Side of Positive Thinking the author Simon Moss states “all these theories about positive thinking is overrated. Generally speaking, there are some people that generally think positive but if people are anxious then positive thinking is damaging.”

His statement is proof that Filipinos in general cannot and should not claim to be always “happy” despite their obstacles because the notion of a whole society that is always in a permanent of state of bliss is just pure fantasy. Filipinos who force fellow Filipinos to feel happy and patriotic about shallow achievements like Manny Pacquiao’s win or Charice Pempengo’s guest appearance in Glee are just being bullies.

It’s a shame this obsession with feel good moments lead Filipinos to an unhealthy mindset. We become permanent catatonics whose brains are always tethered to entertaining spectacles. It is for this reason that incompetent public servants keep getting voted in as head of the Republic like President Noynoy Aquino because Filipino voters just accept whatever is being fed to them by the media. They don’t use their critical analysis anymore because they don’t get a chance to when they are always preoccupied with having a good time.

We should learn to be more serious about our life and the condition we are in. At the state our country is in, we can’t always pursue having a good time especially since most of us don’t even have the means to have one or don’t even deserve it.

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Post Author: Ilda

In life, things are not always what they seem.

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60 Comments on "Filipinos and happiness: why we need to be serious about it"

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Joe America
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My observation is that Filipinos are no happier and no sadder than Americans. They deal with their lives as normal humans experiencing normal ups and downs. However, the cultural framework within which they operate is vastly different, with the vaulted Filipino Ego surrounding them with a tension easily susceptible to influences by others. Television is held in high esteem because, as a poor person, getting a TV is the first step toward having a life. Reading is held in low esteem because a kid with a book is disparaged by his classmates as being non-macho, a “librarian”. A winning boxer,… Read more »
Mike
Guest

I work with Americans all the time and they unanimously agree that Filipinos seem to be always happy. I think your observation is wrong then.

Ann Marie
Guest

filipinos often wear a smile and on a party mode most of the time. But they don’t have any strength of CHARACTER.I don’t find them genuinely good people. I know some malaysian friends, who were disheartened working with filipinos here in NZ at dairy industry. They told me that they are trouble people, slanderous mouth towards their workmates and a kiss ass to their boss. Too much pretense and lies in filipino’s head

Raijinn
Guest
I agree with this article. Despite the act that he does attack President Aquino, what’s important is that someone realizes this. I studied in the Philippines for 2 years and I really believe this. Many people didn’t like me because I wasn’t pleased with the government and it seems to me that a vast majority of the population is highly complacent towards the situation at hand. Though, I would like to point out that one shouldn’t leave out the importance of education in all this. I mean since a large proportion of the Philippines lives in poverty, naturally they wouldn’t… Read more »
Yuri
Guest

Do not hold stereotypes bases on the few Filipinos that you’ve met–that is a huge mistake. I find that very insulting to a Filipino like me. You don’t even know me at all, and here you are generalizing that all of “us” lack character.

You get bad apples in any basket. The Filipinos you met may have been nasty people–I myself met nasty Filipinos, but I’ve also met nasty Vietnamese, Chinese, American, etc.

Nasty people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

atilroz
Guest

I agree with you.. i like being friends with my own kind, but always end up being backstabbed. I can’t trust people in my own kind anymore.. it’s sad, but true. always happened in my life… the good, genuine ones are too few and so hard to find 🙁

Anthony
Guest
Love this one…this is great..it’s about time the truth gets leaked out..leak out more. For all who don’t believe this is true and will just email me and say i’m not a good filipino, then it is so true of this article. Filipino’s wake up. Time to wake up. Stop your nonsense. See, this is the mentality that the Spaniards brought to the Philippines, just likw what they brought to other Latin countries…Philippines, Mexico, El Salvador, Cuba, all ended up the same, corrupt minds. I say, Filipino’s, dumb all the spanish mentality. Start cleaning out the closet and start anew… Read more »
JackyJeck
Guest

yeah. our mentality’s like this because of what the Spaniards did to the early Filipinos –what the Spanish “priests” did (acc. to my sister).

time to wake from a lot of non-sense.

Ian
Guest
IMO, It’s that Catholic Religion that is suppressing our quest to improve for intelligence, and knowledge. Though I agree with some of the points in this article but it is too restricted to feelings of “euphoria” and state of happiness. What’s wrong with that? I love being happy. If I have a problem, I will look at it, find solutions and then still stay happy because it’s a choice and life on this earth is already very serious. I do agree with her about the celebrities and politicians – why do we still vote for them? Erap won? and so… Read more »
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[…] the dysfunctions of Filipinos (such as expressing their pride with nothing to substantiate it, mistaking superficial means of enjoyment for true happiness or feeling satisfied to receive a dole-out rather than having true fulfillment by producing the […]

Question
Guest

I have a question, does this site want to show the problems with the Philippines or doest this site want the people to change, i just want to know what this site wants to do.

Parallax
Guest

those two objectives are not mutually exclusive.

Question
Guest

I forgot to add are you Filipinos? Or are you from a different country.

Joe America
Guest

An interesting question. Why does one’s place of origination have anything with an idea, with a thought? If it makes a difference to you, then I would suggest that you look within, as to why you would shade the meaning of a thought differently depending on who uttered it.

Bias is half the time in the mind of the RECEIVER of the information, not the utterer. heh I’m occasionally an utterer myself, and am utterly bias free.

Reuel
Guest

Love this article Ida. I will share this to my son who was raised & schooled in US. He always called us, his parents, anti-Filipino which we always vigorously deny. We always told him that we don’t hate Filipinos but we hate the way they act on certain situations. By the way, we are Filipinos but sad to say, we are not proud to be pinoys.

Robert Haighton
Guest

Ilda,

great article. I have visited Phili once now and I met quite some of your national culture. Also in Facebook. The Phili mentality drives me crazy. Being 2-faced, totally not open-minded, playing the “victim-role”, no individual responsibility, lack of knowledge, poor education, no prograss whatsoever.

I am totally not surprised the Philippines is a 3rd world poor country and will remain that way for many centuries to come. Unfortunately.

Belle Luna
Guest

WORD! TRUTH! YES!

trackback

[…] right. Most of us would rather pursue activities that cater to instant gratification because most of us want to be “masaya” all the time. We get instant gratification when we engage in activities that give us fleeting moments of […]

trackback

[…] an image that we are fun loving and happy creatures despite our circumstances. Unfortunately, this national obsession with being “happy” or having a good time instead actually leads the Filipino people into a permanent state of misery, […]

Ozneh
Guest
Filipinos also tend to idolize those with celebrity status and vote them in as public servants even if they are not qualified for public service and Manny Pacquiao having been voted into public office as Congressman is enough proof of this. -In the past this was also my thought but when I saw that Pacquiao has more bargaining power than some educated congressmen out there, I changed my mind. Example, during his training in America, he got a donation of I think 10k dollars in order to fund his project. Because of his current status, it’s easy for him to… Read more »
Don
Guest

When Filipinos begin to appreciate sardonic wit, is the day I’ll be optimistic about the Philippines.

Today though, Willie Revillame and Kris Aquino prevail.

trackback

[…] As discussed in a previous article of mine, most Filipinos tend to be averse to following rules and regulations and then cry foul after their attention gets called. They also tend to not take things seriously because they have this misguided notion that they should always be in a “fiesta” mode. […]

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[…] Do not get me wrong, money is not the single definitive way to define happiness. However, once we have more of it, we are in a better position to make ourselves happier, and our life better off. Next is the hard part: redefining how we think about happiness, and being serious about it. For more on happiness and why we need to be serious about it, let Ilda explain here. […]

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[…] and hashtag it at every opportunity, “more fun” actually describes what, in reality, is the underbelly of the Filipino psyche… Because of our obsession with being perceived as a “happy-go-lucky” people, we […]

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[…] instant gratification might be an alien concept to some Filipinos especially since we are known for our penchant for organizing fiestas. We should, instead, consider radically changing our outlook towards how we view partying. There is […]

Yuri
Guest
I agree that Filipinos are mostly a happy people. But I don’t agree how you blame all the bad things that’s been happening to a country on the Filipinos being too happy. I would largely blame corruption rather than “us” being too happy. What our country needs is rehabilitation. Big time. I would like to point out that Filipinos are “resilient”. You might have mistaken “happiness” for “resiliency”. Living in a 3rd world country, one has to be resilient. And I think “being happy” is part of this “resiliency”. Regarding Manny Pacquiao, I agree that the media feasts on him… Read more »
krish
Guest

Ne, are you a Filipina bah?!

Empot
Guest

Point taken, but wouldn’t your article be much better if it was written in Filipino and presented to the rest of the Filipino people who couldn’t read English and understand English the same way you do. We rant about how Filipinos should change their attitude but how far reaching is your website? Might as well send this type of articles to TikTik, Remate, and all those other tabloids that the common people read. 🙂 Useless ranting in the interwebs when the primary group that you are ranting about won’t be able to read this.

Belle Luna
Guest
I flay my arms, and jump up and down! That’s how happy I am to read these words, because it’s all TRUTH! Bravo, bravo, bravo. My only qualm with this site, is that it often bashes the Philippine President Pnoy, when he’s in fact the first good president in a very , very long time! The inability to see that, is very, very Filipino, and that just makes everything so ironic! @Joe America: Yes, Americans and Filipinos are very much alike, in fact, we always say that the USA is the Philippines of the West! Filipinos are the Americans of… Read more »
Belle Luna
Guest

Again, praises praises praises and more praises for these words! TRUTH SPEAKS!

itchyBB
Guest
“My only qualm with this site, is that it often bashes the Philippine President Pnoy, when he’s in fact the first good president in a very , very long time!” Well, the way the current leader is so engrossed with publicity, he is just getting what he wants and deserves–only it is NOT to his advantage. I do not know your definition of “good”. But from a non-GRP author POV, him not doing anything – I mean with work – does not make him evil, nor does it make him good. And if the continuous blame game and “unprofessionalism” he… Read more »
joeld
Guest

First good president?…From what are you on anyway?

If you really believe in your claim then back it up with credible figures. I said credible, don’t come back quoting rappler or abs cbn or his sona to name a few.

Letsky
Guest
At last, a kindred spirit! I totally agree with your article. Much has been said on the socio-political aspects of your statements, so I won’t go there anymore. On a personal level, I know for a fact that I often stick out like a sore thumb in many communities and gatherings because I am ALWAYS the spirit-dampener who does not ride on the successes of Pacquiao, Jessica Sanchez, and most recently, the Fil-am gymnast on the US Olympic team. When colleagues propose celebrations and events, I am the one who asks, “What’s our objective?”, as I it is obvious that… Read more »
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