POSTSCRIPT / November 5, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Chosen 14th happiest, Pinoys don’t think so

FOLLOWUP: Our Postscript last Tuesday (“Pinoys abroad treated to distorted TV news”) elicited spirited discussion among readers, so I decided to pursue the subject with this borrowed piece on Filipinos being rated in a survey as the world’s 14th happiest people.

Reprinted below in its entirety is a recent article by Daniel Balaoing Valdez.

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HAPPINESS INDEX: Filipinos are considered to be the 14th happiest (an improvement from being 17th last year) among 143 nations. This was the conclusion of the New Economics Foundation, a non-governmental entity based in Great Britain on a study it conducted this year.

The study chose Latin American countries (with Vietnam placing 5th) as among the 10 happiest in the world. The foundation based its findings on the 2009 Happy Planet Index which relied on the following factors: (a) higher life expectancy; (b) higher life satisfaction; and (c) lower ecological footprint on the country’s share from the total natural resources of the world.

On the list, Malaysia placed 33rd, Thailand 41st, Singapore 49th, South Korea 68th (Koreans are migrating in droves to the Philippines), Japan 75th, Hong Kong 84th, Australia 102nd, and the USA 114th (!).

If one looks at how these advanced countries fared in the study, he will conclude that money cannot buy happiness. It seems that once a country advances materially, the happiness of its citizens dips.

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BLESSINGS IGNORED: Life satisfaction is determined by how residents are truly satisfied with their lives. In rating themselves according to this factor (see par. 2[b] above), Filipinos, according to NEF, fared poorly. Considering their high happiness rating, that is extremely ironic because it means Filipinos do not count their blessings.

A Filipino residing in the US, for instance, relates that “When I broke bread with our compatriots (in America), there was much antipathy to the home country. The Filipino Channel (TFC) was available and the news was always bad xxx — corruption, crime and poverty. Are there no good Filipinos except those abroad? I visited the Korean and Mexican channels. They spoke well about their country”. She asks, “What is wrong with us?”.She hopes, “We must begin by loving ourselves….” (See article on “Self-Bashing” by Pat Sto. Tomas in her column “Weighing In,” Manila Bulletin online, Aug. 2, 2009).

Not only Filipino director Brillante Mendoza won a major award in the last Cannes Film Festival in France. Another, a relatively obscure actress by the name of Mercedes Cabral, was chosen a la Cinderella as the “most beautiful” among all the participating actresses at the festival! She was voted (through an online poll participated in by professional, yes professional, photographers) from among a bevy of gorgeous beauties like Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Natalie Portman, Madonna, Kate Blanchette, etc.

Surprised? Yes, because you won’t even notice Mercedes in our local shopping malls! Only a few, if any, of us would ever think that one in our midst is that attractive to the trained eye!

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INGRAINED NEGATIVISM: The results of the NEF survey and our unbelieving reaction to Ms. Cabral’s selection strongly prove our low size-up of ourselves as a people.

In fact, if one conducts a survey within an average residential neighborhood, you bet at least 95 percent of the respondents therein will say “Mahirap ang buhay ngayon” or “Nakakahiya tayo” (things we have continuously heard since childhood). The issue – “Is there hope for the Philippines?” — is much talked about in gatherings and discussions.

These negativistic, pessimistic and cynical observations have in time become repetitive and almost automatic responses from our countrymen. These are something that the NEF must have strongly noted as they interviewed a sampling of us.

They sounded credible because of the openly negativistic content of local media which the poll surveyors must have conspicuously noticed. That justifies their conclusion of us as not satisfied with our lives.

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MASOCHISM: Juliet Michaelson of the Center for Well-Being, NEF, said in answer to our email to her on the matter, “The Philippines life satisfaction score of 5.5 (derived from the results of a Gallup poll) means that it was categorized as red, among roughly the bottom third of countries on this measure.”

Need we remind also of our masochistic jokes (which many of us applaud) picturing the wily Pinoy who, being “ma-diskarte” or “ma-abilidad,” is able to hoodwink his better-off neighbors?

Intel General Manager Robin Martin once observed “Filipinos (including the press, business people and myself) tend to dwell too much on the negative side, and this affects the perception of foreigners xxx. (This perception) of the Philippines is way disproportionate to reality when compared to places like Columbia, Egypt, Middle East, Africa, etc.” He suggests “Let us help our country by balancing the negative with the positive especially when we talk to foreigners xxx.” (underscoring ours)

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WORSE THAN CRABS: A local TV news network in announcing the NEF survey results blared “RP Poor in ‘Life Satisfaction’” (!) — instead of “Filipinos 14th Happiest in the World” which is the main finding.

Again, a columnist claims that our technicians are going abroad because the local government cannot provide for their employment. Actually, they are in demand not only here but more so in many other countries.

In a gradually globalized community, can one say, for instance, that New Yorkers inclined towards movie-making move to Hollywood in California because New York state cannot provide jobs for them?

All these exemplify local media’s reluctance to stress the optimistic and nice. We are worse than crabs. Climbing crabs pull down their fellows who are also climbing; we do not want or we hesitate to climb because we think we cannot!

During at least the 50’s until the 70’s, violent crimes dominated the headlines and front pages of the major dailies (e.g. Manila Times, Daily Mirror, Manila Chronicle) despite persistent complaints from the government. Notably, now all of these have taken a backseat but still there is much focus on white collar crimes of corruption, scams, etc.

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LOW SELF-REGARD: No wonder our own Roberto “Bobby” Romulo felt “painfully embarrassed” by Singapore Straits Times’ Bruce Gale’s comment that “The point about the Philippines is not so much how bad things are, but how much better they could be if the nation were to focus its energies on the things that are really important” (“Filipino World View,” Philippine Star, June 26, 2009).

What we read and listen to as bad is only half-true. If the other half which is rosy is deliberately withheld, the revealed other half must be a lie. Remember, in court you are advised to tell the “whole truth.”

From all the above, it is very obvious that we could have rated much, much higher (surely in the top 10) in the NEF — Happy Planet survey were it not for our low self-regard and esteem.

Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Repetition of the same thought xxx develops into a habit which, frequently enough becomes an automatic reflex.” Caveat: We might become (if we have not yet) what we repeatedly keep thinking and saying we are — laggards and crooks!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 5, 2009)

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