x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati Life: We can all learn from the happy folks of the Philippines

On a recent assignment to the Philippines, I found that Filipinos' cheery demeanour was the norm for most people of that nation.

The UAE is increasingly becoming one of the most desired countries to live in and work for people across the globe.

Opportunity, security and quality of life are just some of the reasons expatriates of more than 200 nationalities make the Emirates their home.

An inevitable by-product of living in safe and prosperous conditions is happiness.

Of all the nationalities in the UAE, it is hard to argue that the citizens of the Philippines are one of the happiest bunch. Regardless of their socio-economic status, most of the more than 500,000 Filipinos in the UAE are routinely caught smiling, laughing, joking and even singing - whether at work or at play.

On a recent assignment to the Philippines, I found that Filipinos' happiness is not confined to this country. I discovered that this cheery demeanour was the norm for most people of that nation.

Having done my fair share of travelling, I have met many people whom I consider high-spirited, friendly and welcoming, but few can compare with what I found in the Republic of the Philippines.

This positive disposition was evident from the start of my journey, when my driver was cracking jokes and laughing about the shocking traffic congestion we were stuck in on the streets of Manila. Just think of the antithesis of a New York cabbie - if you have ever had the pleasure - and you'll know what I mean.

Predictably, this merriness is found in the homes of successful businessmen but more surprisingly, it was even more evident in the poorest areas of the capital.

Witnessing the most impoverished conditions I have come across, where survival entails rummaging through rubbish in landfill sites, I expected the Filipino smiles and laughs to be completely wiped clean.

Not the case. Here, children and adults alike beamed with happiness and joviality, which they shared readily with all those passing by.

In addition to the poverty, natural disasters in the form of typhoons and floods have also wreaked havoc in the lives of these people. Yes, as a popular saying goes, "The Filipino spirit is waterproof", and despite their misfortunes, positivity shone through.

These observations are reflected time and again in studies measuring national happiness levels, where the Philippines routinely scores higher than richer countries in the region.

The 2012 Happy Planet Index, which takes into account citizens' life satisfaction, life expectancy, as well as ecological footprint, ranked the Philippines 24th, ahead of countries such as Norway, Switzerland and the UK.

This indicates that not only are the people of the Philippines happy, but also that they are happy even though they are less wealthy.

With its focus on family, religion and a warm and welcoming nature, the Filipino culture shares many traits with that of the Emirati culture. Emiratis and Filipinos also find common ground in their general sense of happiness, but perhaps what we could learn from our joyous guests is to be happy with less.

tsubaihi@thenational.ae

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter for The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US