So we think it’s more fun in the Philippines. But are we happier?

This week, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network is set to release the 2015 World Happiness Report, with a public event to discuss the report scheduled on April 24. The second report was published in 2013. This report is only one among the studies that seek to understand global happiness.

Measuring happiness

This notion of measuring happiness seems laughable. Happiness is, of course, an internal condition. In the field of psychology, happiness is often referred to as satisfaction with life or subjective well-being.

For those who believe happiness is desirable, it is important not just to measure happiness but also to understand what influences happiness. The challenge of studying subjective well-being is that what makes people happy can be very individual. Perceptions of well-being are not always reflective of the objective measures, as the report on the Global Youth Index, which uses perceptions and objective indicators, points out in its recent report. Additionally, well-being can be measured at least three ways: life evaluation, an individual’s level of satisfaction with his life in general, and two measures that essentially measure current emotion: positive affect which measures positive or pleasurable feelings, and negative affect which measures negative feelings.

There are a few areas that have been shown to have a broad and significant effect on general well-being, both objective and subjective. 

The Gallup-Healthways Index measures perceptions of well-being using five elements: purpose (liking what you do and being motivated to achieve goals); social (relationships); financial; community, including safety; and physical.

The World Happiness Report uses information from the World Gallup Poll. In 2013, the most recently available publication, the report explains that six key variables affect happiness, explaining three-quarters of the variations: (a) real GDP per capita, (b) healthy life expectancy, (c) having someone to count on, (d) perceived freedom to make life choices, (e) freedom from corruption, and (f) generosity.

The UN Human Development Index studies two categories of indicators: (a) those directly enhancing human abilities (long and healthy life, knowledge, decent standard of living), and (b) those creating the conditions for human development (participation in political and community life, environmental sustainability, human security and rights, and gender equality).

Who is happy?

Gallup-Healthways evaluates countries by estimating the proportion of the population that are thriving, struggling, or suffering. The thriving numbers for the Philippines are not bad. In three of the dimensions: purpose (32 percent), Social (35 pecent), Community (42 percent), the proportion of the population self-reporting as thriving top global averages. The country score in physical well-being, 24 percent report as thriving, equal to the world average. In physical well-being, 61 percent report as struggling and 15 percent as suffering. In financial well-being, the country’s numbers fall below the global average (25 percent thriving), with only 18 percent thriving, 52 percent struggling and 30 percent suffering. The Gallup report suggests that the high underemployment rate (19 percent) may explain the level of the country’s financial well-being. Unsurprisingly, more rural residents (35 percent) reported financial suffering than urban residents (24 percent). Interestingly, more older (45 and up) Filipinos reported financial suffering, 41 percent compared to 25 percent for the under-45 respondents.    

In the UN Human Development Index 2014 report, the Philippines ranked 117 out of 195 countries. By contrast, Singapore ranks 9th, Hong Kong ranks 16th, Japan ranks 17th, Malaysia ranks 62nd, Thailand ranks 89th, and Indonesia ranks 108th.

In the 2013 World Happiness Report, Denmark topped the rankings. the Philippines ranked 92nd out of 156 countries, trailing after Singapore (36), Thailand (36), Japan (43), Malaysia (56), Vietnam (63), and Indonesia (76).

These numbers provide a new perspective. In studies measuring primarily positive affect, Filipinos tend to score high. However, in the more stable measure of life evaluation, there is clearly much room for improvement. To the question of are Filipinos happier, the answer seems to be: “Maybe not.” 

So what?

Why is happiness important? If leaders feel the happiness of those they lead is not important in and of itself, here is something illuminating: the second World Happiness Report (2013) points out that happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are better citizens.

The 2013 World Happiness Report explains that, in fact, life evaluations show a strong relationship with objective measures of well-being. This is important for policy makes interested in putting happiness on the national agenda.

The 2013 World Happiness Report emphasizes that successful national policy must look at increasing well-being and income, and further suggest that balancing the economic agenda with a well-being focus might lead governments to align resources more efficiently, e.g. to prevention rather than care. The report points to three key policy areas: health, transport, and education.

What experienced policy analysts will notice is that the statistics merely add credibility to what they already knew. Government must pay attention to the basics.

Readers can email Maya at [email protected]  Or visit her site at

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