The people here seem to be happy, everybody’s smiling, the two girls in front are giggling shyly behind their hands. Except- behind one giggling girl, a lone woman is squinting with anxiety and pain; and a dark, somber face pokes up from behind the huge woman with the red baseball hat. But these are minor exceptions.
“Don’t worry, be happy!” — this is a phrase you hear constantly here, repeated like a mantra, especially on any occasion that seems to promise harm. The first time I heard it was from a dentist who was about to drill my teeth. I heard it again from a doctor as she handed me a prescription for a strong pain reliever. “Don’t worry, be happy,” she said, and smiled. “We are a happy people,” she added, after a pause.
Well, the people you see certainly seem happy enough. Foreign tourists who come here frequently comment on the friendly faces and smiles they see around them as they pass, or when they stop to take pictures. “Sir! One shot! Me and my brother!” Smile. Click. And they’re gone.
A survey was recently conducted in many countries around the world. Only one question was asked of everyone: “ Are you happy with your life?” In the Philippines, unlike other countries, the vast majority of people asked said that they were happy.
The conclusion was that Filipinos were among the happiest people in the world. That clearly isn’t true. If, with all the problems ordinary people face here they were always happy with their lives… well, there would be something seriously wrong with them. But they’re not really that crazy.
When you ask people about their feelings, with questions like “Are you happy with your life?” you’ll get a revealing answer, but not a true one. The answer will tell you- not how they really feel, but what they think they should say, what they’ve been taught to think, what you expect to hear.
The people in this picture seem like a happy bunch, but who knows?
People here are taught to look happy, to smile automatically with other people, to keep their bad feelings hidden and deny them- to each other, even to themselves.
This is more than just good manners; it’s a way to enforce social stability, to keep things as they are. “Don’t worry, be happy!” This is not friendly advice; it’s a command.