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?

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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.

36 Replies to “Behind the silly smile is a sad sad nation”

  1. 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.

    1. Well, Filipino niceness also goes down the drain when they are being criticized, even when the criticism is justifiable.

        1. I don’t think humans in general like being criticized at all – I know psychologists who will concur with this statement. The difference is in how well we take it, which we have a collective deficit of….

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

  3. 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 about smiling but I hope it does lead to more positive things rather just a defense mechanism or a trademark that doesn’t apply anymore.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 Alex Magno…

  6. 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 anong aspekto…nakakahiya na tayo minsan sa ibang bansa, para tayo laging pulubi na nakasahod ang kamay…

  7. 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 terraced rice fields rising up the mountain). What is not brilliant is that it has to get slapped onto trashy destinations. But the tourism plan intends to address that by focusing on something like 20 destinations and raising the quality of visit. I moved tourism from “failed” to “showing promise”. Education is still “failed”.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. Erik,

      I find you rather optimistic (maybe in 40 years from now). I keep telling my partner (pinay from Cebu), maybe a century maybe even more.

      1. Or maybe when God’s hand move, coz I don’t have faith in our people. Every election they display it time and again.

        People don’t have enough for basic needs. I wonder if they would even think of education.

        There’s still hope nevertheless.

  10. 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 can truly someday “smile a genuine smile”.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. *sigh*

    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.

  14. 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…

  15. “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 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.”
    >> Is this really a universal truth about Filipino or Is this just how you feel?

    Great title. Bad conclusion.

  16. As I read all these articles which seem to keep pointing out the flaws with the Filipino psyche I keep asking myself the question what is going to to change it??? Will more and better education? Perhaps parents taking a different approach in the way they raise their kids, in the values and virtues taught? What will change the psyche of a person in this country?

    Perhaps the author summed it up in is closing words: “Stuff worth having is built through deliberate, focused, and sustained hard work underpinned by robust thinking.” Great words!

    Basically it brings it back to every individual taking responsibility for themselves and creating their own destinies, and then with courage and determination actively forging out that path rather than waiting around for someone else or something else to do it for you.

    I will leave with this to ponder as well:

    “The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created – created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination.” – Deborah James, Business Consultant

  17. At the same time, one needs to recognize the fact that Filipinos are very stoic people to begin with and treat problems philosophically. It is a Hindu-Malay trait ,and the ability of an average Filipino to endure suffering and smile in face of great obstacles is something to be admired.

    Scandinavian countries as well as Japan and Korea still have many masungit na people and high levels of suicide. And they are nor friendly or hospitable at all.For money or not.

  18. (Random thought about nothing to smile about)

    I grew up in Baguio City till I was 8 (1990).
    The last time I was in Baguio City (2011), I remember having to pay to use the the city park toilets, which I totally get, but probably more of a shock for someone that’s not used to/open and understanding to what kind of system Filipinos are dealing with over there.

    (Random info)

    (Random job tool for fellow digital creatives based in the Philippines – Bid on small digital projects from around the world)
    — Just have a Paypal account linked to your bank account ready. Paypal is pretty much standard as Payment systems now.

    Random info drop I know, but could shake up some ideas for the people up there.


  19. The substance in this article is right to the dot. Simply put, by setting aside all notions of faults and errors, we do not grow as a nation. If all problems are swept under the rug, how will people learn from mistakes? Growth and learning begins with accepting all our mistakes, no matter how hard or embarrassing it may be.

  20. I do not get this article really. Besides just naming some statiscal facts (how they ever have been made???!!) there is no real analasys. Just saying a whole nation is trapped into “Filipinos smile because they don’t want the world to know that they’re suffering.” is so unbelievable nonsens, ignoring that each Filipino is an individual with own history. Like rest of 7 Billion people in this world

  21. Sa karamihan Filipino, yun na langang natititra nilang kaligayahan o panananggalan (defense mechanism). ‘wag nating ipag-kait sa kanila. Yes, the many Filipinos lack material things for decent human life. A few however seldom smile because of problems caused by insecurity that their comforts and luxuries will be diminished. the basic problem is social injustice. It is a sad commentary of the living condition of very many Filipinos. I tend to agree with a Bishop m\commentary that the Philippines salvation is not from politicians, but from God. As the Psalm says: God is my refuge and my strength. Amen +

  22. Tama yata na nasa 103rd spot tayo. Marami sa atin ang walang trabajo, at yung meron naman ay maliit ang sweldo kumpara sa ibang nasyon. Isa pa, pinaliligiran tayo ng mga mandarambong, magnanakaw at iba pang walanghiya. Maduming-madumi din ang ating paligiran. Paano nating masasabi na maligaya tayo sa ganitong kondisyon? Ang magagawa natin ay wag tayong umasa sa kahit sinong politiko – sarili lamang ang iniintindi nila; bawasan natin ang pag-gawa ng maraming anak na hindi nating kayang turuan, pag-aralin at mahalin; kalimutan nating yung ‘bahala na – pwede na yan’ pag-iisip at pagbutihin natin kung ano man ang ating ginagawa; wag nating sisihin ang iba sa ating kalagayan; bawasan yung, kanto time, dasal, fiesta, inuman, bulahan at isipin natin kung anong magagawa natin para madagdagan ang halaga ng ating sarili. Walang kabuluhan yong sasabihin natin na marami ring problema sa ibang bansa.

  23. Smiling is part of our Bahala na si batman mentality, wwe in turn become apathetic to what is reality and what is not, we submerge ourselves in Aldub to somehow offset the bullet that is lodge in our brains, solving problem is not possible in our moronic culture deprived of common sense.

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