Why are Filipinos too poor and yet too happy?
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez (The Freeman) - June 8, 2018 - 12:00am

In the whole world, we are one of those with the highest poverty incidence, we have too many natural disasters, and our unemployment and underemployment rates are among the worst. We have millions of jobless, homeless, and sick Filipinos. And yet, we look and act very happy.

This is a paradox that other peoples cannot understand. A few days ago, the United Nations’ Annual World Happiness Report reported that the Philippines is number 71 among 156 countries all over the world. We are in the higher 50 percent and our people are happier than those who are living in abundance and rising economic development. This rating is based on six key variables, namely; income, healthy life, life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Earlier this year, the Gallup International ranked the Philippines as third in the Happiness Index, next only to Colombia and Fiji. We were number five in economic optimism index. That means that the Filipinos are full of hopes that this year and the next will bring better times for us all.

I remember one time in Kuala Lumpur, while working in our embassy as Labor attaché, one Chinese recruiter from Singapore asked me: Why are Filipinos always smiling, giggling, and often kidding each other even when they work thousands of miles away from their families, as maids, construction workers, drivers, factory workers and in other lowly and menial work in other countries, (aside from those who work as doctors, nurses, engineers, architects, managers, and other professional jobs)? I was tempted to ask him in retort, why are Singaporeans too sad-looking, frowning and even agitated, irritable and in a fighting mood, when the records show that one in every three families are billionaires? Singapore is the number one ASEAN country and number two in the world in terms of economic power and wealth.

Everywhere I went, I always saw Filipinos smiling even to strangers, greeting them and engaging them in small talk. Consider a scene in Dubai, where I had to stop over on my way to Israel from Manila. While Caucasian tourists and businessmen travelling would rather sit in a corner and read newspapers and books, the Filipinos are seen to congregate together, share stories, and meet new friends. They are always being reprimanded by airport personnel for being too noisy and boisterous. I would rather call such disposition as being joyful, spontaneous, and real. The Filipinos do not dwell on the sad side of life. They always look at life with faith and hope and with much love for family and other loved ones.

Only a few Pinoys commit suicide and become so distraught and hopeless. It is because they have a lot of support systems. The can always call, text, and email their feelings to someone who cares, they can always go to Facebook or Twitter and other social media outlets to let go of their deepest frustrations. That is why, to Filipinos, the cellphone is a vital tool. They cannot be deprived of its use without rhyme or reason. That is why President Duterte, as a condition to the lifting of the ban of OFWs to Kuwait, said that their cellphones and passports should not be taken from them. Yes, we have a government that cares, a God who loves and takes care of us, and a family that will always stick with us come hell or high water.

Why are we too happy despite our poverty? The answer is faith, family, and a lot of Facebook. I will explain that in tomorrow’s column.

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