Happiness is a highly relative concept. It comes in varying degrees, packages and levels of sustainability.
Artwork by Jose “Pitok” Blanco
Family, food, faith, friends and fun make Filipinos happy
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2018 - 12:00am

Happiness originates from joy. And the hunt for real joy among Filipinos is an innate human inclination. And it’s quite easy for us to find that joy. Mababaw lang ang kaligayahan ng Pinoy. (It’s easy to make Filipinos happy.) It’s a maintainable condition that energizes our imagination and motivation to enjoy what’s in front of us. It boosts our power to draw friends and to get along with people of varying types and orientations.

Happiness is a highly relative concept. It comes in varying degrees, packages and levels of sustainability. What brings happiness to one Filipino may not necessarily bring happiness to another. One may generate happiness with simple things and events, while another may be hard to please. Dr. Gerald Bell declares, “You are 100 percent responsible for your own happiness. Other people aren’t responsible. Your spouse isn’t. You alone are. So, if you are not happy, it’s up to you to change something. It’s not up to someone else to fix it for you.”

There is happiness to be found in a calming breath and in the pleasures of ordinary activities that Filipinos do. It takes six seconds to complete one full breath, and within that limited time, we can easily access joy. Try it right now. Perform one in-breath and one out-breath, and notice that we were just a bit more relaxed during that conscious breath. Our attention is grounded in the present moment, we don’t worry too much about the future or regret the past. Knowingly or unknowingly, we are free from “happiness downers.”

This writer took a random survey among Facebook friends on “what makes the Filipino happy.” Of the hundreds of responses generated, happiness of the Filipinos can be generally equated with 5Fs: family, friends, food, fun and faith.

Family first

Family is the number one source of happiness for Filipinos. Everything we do is anchored on it. It remains tight or even extended due to deliberate efforts to make it intact, notwithstanding the negative issues attached to the act.

Parents go abroad to work to earn higher wages, but endure the separation and loneliness in exchange for a more comfortable life for their families or their children’s education. Some young Filipino adults build their autonomous lives when they marry and begin their own families but in many instances, children still stay with their parents even after getting hitched or having kids. In western countries, children declare independence when they reach 18 and live home, but not in the Philippines. We’re happy to be together sa hirap at ginhawa (in good or bad circumstances). We love to eat, go on vacation, shop or go to church as a family. We have this distinctive (and often imposed) obligation to take care of our parents, particularly in their old age. Bringing them to homes for the aged is not part of any plan. They live with the family, and family members take turn in taking care of them until their last breath.

This kind of arrangement may not sit well with other nationalities but it has been a proven practice that makes Filipino families happier. Our mantras: “Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.” “The more, the merrier.” “Bond, bond, bond.” That’s why it’s not surprising for titos, titas, lolos and lolas (uncles, aunts and grandparents) and other relatives to continue living in one compound.

Food, food, food

The love of eating makes Filipinos distinct. Travel the islands and savor the limitless menu of food and delicacies available — from the most basic to the extremely exquisite. Street food or fine cuisine abound all over. They are part of our culture of celebrations, big or small. And with so many celebrations — fiestas, Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries — food is never far behind. Expect an array of Filipino dishes on the table, ranging from the staple pancit (local noodle dish) to the favorite lechon (roasted pig), adobo, dinuguan, bulalo, bistek tagalog, rellenong bangus, and local desserts like halo-halo and kakanin among many other dishes. And after the party, there is usually some food left over so expect to bring home baon in plastic containers from all the surplus.

Food is very important to Filipinos. It’s entrenched in the Filipino psyche where having food on the table is equated with survival. Food gives us comfort and happiness. It’s not fiesta every day, but still, we derive happiness from the contentment that kanin, tapsilog, longsilog, tuyo, kangkong, galunggong and mongo soup bring. Which is why it’s very important for most Filipino households to ensure that their family gets to eat at least three times a day. And to enjoy even small meals five or six times a day — merienda, merienda, merienda — is like the ultimate happiness.

The already wide tropical food selection of Filipino cuisine grew even more with the globalization of different recipes and methods of cooking from western and oriental countries, which we either eat on-premise or carry out. We love to eat and we eat with gusto, with a sense of adventure and excitement. We get an overload of happiness when our taste buds are regularly stimulated.

Friendship is a treasured gift

How do Filipinos develop a capacity for friendship? We are always aware of, and anticipate the needs of, our friends, from the very basic simple things like spending shared time together to being there in moments of terrible grief and loss. Our facility for friendship develops by being available for people in our orbit, allowing them to truly get to know us, and getting to know them. It takes time. The opportunities for such friendships have, in fact, declined as the newfangled devices in our lives now eat up more of our time. But having said that, the neighborhood basketball courts, the makeshift pool tables, the ubiquitous videoke machines continue to spark friendships among us. We are a country of basketball fanatics and microphone hogs who can stay up to the wee hours belting our lungs out. Sintunado (out of tune) be damned.

Supremacy of faith

We also attribute our general sense of happiness to our faith. Ang mga pagsubok (challenges) that we encounter can be overcome by our faith, with the belief that God is watching over us, and knowing that a higher power in the driver’s seat is bringing us safely and successfully to where we need to go. We accept the notion that all problems are tests of faith and conquering them is our supreme recompense. This conviction is displayed in the many vibrant, well-attended city or town fiestas held all over the country in celebration of overcoming long and difficult ordeals and achieving positive outcomes attributed to God.

The Nazareno Translacion, Ati-Atihan, Sinulog, Lucban Pahiyas and Kadayawan are just a few examples of big festivities that connect our culture, livelihood, good health, great wealth and the power of our faith. Despite the obstacles — manmade or via acts of God — we are impervious to the trials thrown at us. We will always find a reason to smile, to be happy, and deal with life uncompromisingly.

Kindness, humility and expressions of gratitude are powerful tools that bring happiness to Filipinos. And we have the propensity to prolong it, too. Whenever possible, we express gratitude; it doesn’t cost a lot anyway. We work for what we have, and relish the positives rather than dwell on the negatives. Spirituality or any encouraging belief system and solidarity with ourselves and our communities play a big role in all these. Filipinos understand and appreciate that. And that makes us truly happy.

Fun, fun, fun

Filipinos are masayahin (joyful). As a foreign executive quipped, “The Philippines has the highest number of smiles per square kilometer in the world. I could challenge any foreigner to walk down any street in the Philippines and count the number of smiles he or she sees on the faces of the people they meet.” We even manage to put on a smile while the cameras pan on us in a news report of an area damaged by a powerful typhoon.

We have a penchant for finding the humorous spin to almost every circumstance. We make fun of anything and anyone. Perhaps we are the world’s number one users of Facebook, because of our persistent longing to give and receive happiness. We have the tenacity and the grit to have fun, no matter what might hit us. We love revelries. We have the longest celebration of Christmas, something a lot of Filipino immigrants and overseas Filipino workers miss. We celebrate small and big wins. We know how to start fun, and we know how to stretch it out.

We give, we share

As much as possible, Filipinos practice kindness and compassion. We become the world’s “jolly good fellows,” and we demonstrate our capability for happiness from one breath to many moments of the day, including challenging situations.

Sharing is a choice. It’s a decision Filipinos make from the heart. It is not simply parting with material things. It means distributing compassion, acting gently, providing comfort, promoting peace, developing trust, practicing patience, lending a sympathetic ear, and giving generous consideration, manifested in the way we talk, walk and feel.

Sharing is second nature to Filipinos. It makes us feel happy about the act done, since we believe that good deeds beget good results, and that with every good deed done, we aspire toward the attainment of something positive. Filipinos will dig deeper into their pockets to share whatever blessings they have with others.

Finding purpose and meaning

Making a difference does not mean we must save hundreds of lives. Smaller wins — like returning a bag left in an airport or a taxicab or helping an old person cross the street — also make a difference. Creating a positive action for one of our customers, spending time listening to one of our children or siblings or taking an older loved one out for a day of relaxation are small wins, and they mean a lot to both the giver and receiver.

Making work a purpose, not just a place, is a source of significance to Filipinos.  We have met many who say their work is their mission, passion or vision, whose work is more than their paycheck or an everyday office. Many are like selfless missionaries who visit dangerous and unfriendly places to spread good tidings, and deliver them with efficiency and effectiveness.

We create positive moments through our interactions with others. We tell ourselves that we must make every action count. We make a combination of solitude and a little time with our families and closest friends more appealing. Undoubtedly, positive interactions resonate better with Filipinos. We ask a lot of questions, we listen well, and learn as much as we can during each huntahan (conversation).

Happiness is not a pie-in-the-sky notion among Filipinos. To us, it is not as elusive as it appears. We pursue it every day, the right way. We derive happiness by taking care of our families, enjoying whatever food is on the table, nurturing our friends, maintaining a fun mindset, giving, sharing, finding our purpose and becoming the kind of persons that God wants us to become, trusting that we will be assessed for what we did at the end of our earthly existence.

HAPPINESS
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