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.