Behind the silly smile is a sad sad nation

The Philippines used to be or perhaps is still known as the place “where Asia wears a smile”. It is true. Filipinos are prerpetually smiling. The most powerful Filipino himself, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, is famous for sporting a grin on his mug even as he assured the public that his administration was on top of the diplomatic row with China that was unfolding in the aftermath of a hostage crisis that resulted in the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists in August of 2010. And as expected of a people whose character their leaders closely reflect, many Filipinos too jumped onto the bandwagon hitched by the President and flashed their best Kodak smile to mark the occasion.

So without a doubt, Filipinos love to smile. But what does the Filipino smile actually mean?

Apparently, not what it appears to mean. According to a United Nations “World Happiness Report”, the Philippines cannot be considered to be among the world’s happiest countries. The report, which was based on a ranking of 156 countries, put the Philippines at the 103rd spot ranking below basketcases like Namibia, Iraq, and Nigeria.

Interestingly Scandinavian countries disproportionately topped the Happy list and, in Asia, famously stoic countries like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea made decent showings. It is interesting because Filipinos have always seen themselves as a charmed and “blessed” race leading a peachy existence in a rich land while deriding these affluent steely societies as ill-humoured suicidals. Their latest stab at convincing the rest of the world that there actually is some substance behind their silly grins is encapsulated in their most recent tourist pitch: It’s more fun in the Philippines.

But beyond the glib glee it gives to the “social media” mavens who tweet it 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 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.

Perhaps the whole idea behind the moronic tourism tagline and the celebrated non-rudeness that is seen to be some sort of badge of honour comes from some sort of ill-conceived notion that because Filipinos are supposedly famous for their hospitality and are renowned for their deference to anything and anyone foreign, we can be counted on to be experts in anything and everything “fun”. But the Filipino smile possibly belies a less glamorous reality about the society that sports it…

Filipinos smile because they don’t want the world to know that they’re suffering. If the world does know, Filipinos will only get more questions as to why, and the truth will eventually come out that most of the time, their suffering is the consequence of their own stupidity. Filipinos go out of their way to help foreigners because most of the time, they’re looking to get a sort of monetary reward or some sort of “favor” for their “troubles”.

How locals treat foreign visitors is not a definitive basis of how rude they are as a people. Watch how they treat each other, and their environment, and you get a much better idea.

Happiness is overrated. Indeed, it was not “happiness” that built the strong societies that Filipinos depend on for their capital and employment. Building stuff — stuff of substance — is not achieved by creating happy vibes. Stuff worth having is built through deliberate, focused, and sustained hard work underpinned by robust thinking. Until Filipinos learn that simple principle, we will remain the sad sad people that can only pretend at being happy.


Post Author: benign0

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36 Comments on "Behind the silly smile is a sad sad nation"

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Markus U.

Another well-written article. Keep ’em coming, we need to enlighten as many Filipinos as we can!


Namputcha! Maski saang sulok nang mundo Da Penoys puro pakitang tao lang.


I think that Pinoys are generally nice to each other. However, this general niceness tends to go down the drain once stress factors come into play.

“Stuff worth having is built through deliberate, focused, and sustained hard work underpinned by robust thinking.”

I think that pretty much nails it as a formula for sustainable happiness.


reality bites pinoys in the ass. a tragedy. so, now that that is in the open… how does one resolve this? any ideas, benigno?

Personally, I don’t equate a smile to happiness or contentment. There is a famous song that says ‘smile even if your heart is breaking…’. and I think Filipinos allude to that description. Over the years, living in country brings more discontent and less things to smile about. Smiling can be considered as one of our defense mechanisms but sometimes, it really doesn’t cut it. And sometimes, it doesn’t lead to anything but to a temporary stress-reliever. Sometimes, smiling doesn’t follow improvement that might lead to happiness and contentment those others cultures and societies found in theirs. I find nothing bad… Read more »

But… But…But we have a low suicide rate because we always smile, right? Unlike Japan where people jump in front of trains all the time. Kaya it’s more fun talaga in here.

Der Fuhrer
We should not be smiling too much. We have two years at the most until the power grid fails in Luzon. They are not smiling now in Mindanao either. Mr. BS Aquino seems to be for dirty coal fired generating plants. His boys are more concerned about his public image. A limited attendance, secret power summit is in the works. Makes you wonder why the summit was not national in scope. Something like a Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao Power Summit. This shows you how the administration thinks and focuses. Please left click the link below on the opinion Secret by… Read more »
it’s not even true that that we love smiling…just go to a mall and check how many ‘cashiers” are smiling…we are a country of “uzis”..mahilig mangotong..lahat binabayaran..magpunta ka lang sa taal for the crater trail tour you would be disappointed kung pano sila mangikil ng tips sa mga koreans (at pinoys)..pag nag park ka for sure me lalapit na tambay sayo para “tulungan” ka mag park..pag alis mo, kahit bakante ang kalye “iga-guide” ka pa rin nila,tas ilalahad ang kamay, kahit wala naman talaga silang ginawa….that’s US…well at least some of us….mahilig magpabayad…lahat nababayaran…dapat sa tin bawal mag solicit…sa kahit… Read more »
Joe America
Yes, I was surprised at that article, because I keep reading and being told how fun-loving Filipinos are. And I think they are, during fiestas and other family gatherings and holidays. But it is no fun the other 350 days of the year, not knowing where the next meal is coming from, and having to slog away all day at a job with no future for 170 pesos. I disagree that the tourism slogan is “moronic”. I think it is brilliant. The execution is what makes it brilliant (“Climbing Stairs is More Fun in the Philippines” over a picture of… Read more »

Possible reasons for smiling:
a) Lack of known facial expressions
b) Hiding guilt, sadness, pain
c) The feeling of happiness
d) Being actually happy.

And for the least-rude-people rant, we are one of the courteous peoples, to foreigners that is. Or rather, white foreigners.

I think the only thing keeping us from disrespecting black guys is the fact that they can easily kick our asses.


Filipinos are hiding behind the tears of a clown.


Thanks for this article. I share the same opinion but cannot share it with my filipino friends because they don’t like to hear that their country needs big improvements.

Let’s improve education and maybe in 40 years from now, things will be better.

There is some truth in this, I may not agree in all of the arguments but it does make sense when we smile to hide our sufferings and I actually like that because it somehow pertains perseverance and a people who has a will to endure. But then again, I got the point of the article that if we can find the means to develop ourselves, face the grim reality and not merely “smile” it off, I totally agree with such. Indeed the article make sense. Let us smile but at the same time face facts and truths so we… Read more »

Just like what I wrote in my previous article:

“We pride ourselves in being happy-go-lucky or a people always wearing a smile. But truly, it is what lurks behind those smiles that is scary. Do we really smile because we are happy or because we just want people to see that we are happy? This is another contradiction in itself because we like our soap operas so much and we relate well to the fictional characters that are victims of greed and misfortune but do very little to uplift our circumstances.”

To read more: Filipinos need to work on their ego


I hate it when Pinoys smile and then do the head-scratching thing when they get caught with their pants down. It’s so condescending to me that it deserves a massive slap on the face.



Silly smile – ngiting aso is what we would most likely call it here.

As long as you keep this particular type of dog fed or sedated, he doesn’t really care much about anything else.

Hyden Toro

Some Years ago…there was a music songwriter/composer, who wrote the song: “Smile Though Your Heart is Breaking”…How about if your stomach is hurting; because there is no food…We smile when we really have something to smile for…But, if Hostages are being murdered in Luneta Park….and you are nowhere to be found; or cannot to be contacted. Then, like Noynoy Aquino, during the Luneta Hostage crisis: I have to Question your SANITY…


the smile is intended to mask a brain which does not compute or comprehend.
it is the last defence of an idiot.

“Stuff worth having is built through deliberate, focused, and sustained hard work underpinned by robust thinking.” – I like this one. Nice post, you made a point. But I don’t quite see your conclusion supporting your premises and incorporating the positive gestures of my fellowmen with stupidity. I think the “masquerade” of Smile is a universal gesture regardless of race or status, and a Smile doesn’t conclude Happiness, it may be manifestation of being happy but not a definition of Happiness. “Filipinos smile because they don’t want the world to know that they’re suffering. If the world does know, Filipinos… Read more »
Belle Luna

Amazing article. I agree 100% with every word.