Senator Sonny Angara
In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on member states to undertake steps that give more importance to people’s happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.
The resolution was mainly introduced by the Kingdom of Bhutan, who had already adopted for years at that point the concept of “Gross National Happiness” for measuring national progress in lieu of conventional measures of economic activity such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or Gross National Product (GNP).
Since then, many thinkers, including renowned economists Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jeffrey Sachs, have lent their expertise to the effort of mainstreaming this alternative model for measuring and monitoring human development. Some states other than the Kingdom of Bhutan such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates have already started incorporating “happiness” metrics into their policies through surveys and data monitoring that track people’s life satisfaction.
Through the years, the World Happiness Report has been instrumental in helping along this paradigm shift of incorporating people’s subjective experiences of well-being in economic and development policy thinking.
Last March, the 10th iteration of the report was released. And it showed that based on World Gallup Poll data covering 146 countries from 2019 to 2021, the Philippines ranked 60th overall—a marked improvement from our 72nd rank based on 2014 to 2016 data. The 2022 ranking makes us the 6th happiest country across the Asia-Pacific region, and 2nd throughout Southeast Asia, next only to Singapore.
Such rankings were then cross-referenced to six other factors or determinants that the study used to explain the international differences of how respondents rated and evaluated their satisfaction with their lives. We were 96th in terms of GDP per capita, 82nd in terms of social support (or having someone to count on in times of trouble), 98th for healthy life expectancy (based on extrapolations from World Health Organization data), 18th for freedom to make life choices (whether or not one is satisfied with the freedom they have to choose what to do with their lives) , 105th in terms of generosity (whether one has donated to charity in the past month), and 84th perception of corruption (whether it is widespread in government and businesses).
What is more interesting about this year’s report however is its inclusion of new data from the World Gallup Poll on balance and harmony—particularly on how these two distinct, yet closely linked concepts impact people’s happiness and their evaluation of their lives. The Philippines ranked 91st when it came to experiences of peace (“In general, do you feel at peace with your life, or not”?), which probably aligns with the notion that many Filipinos today endure much hardship and anxiety. Ironically however, when it came to whether people experienced calmness “during a lot of the day yesterday,” the Philippines emerged third in the world only behind Jamaica and Vietnam. Then when respondents were asked whether people should focus more on taking care of themselves or on taking care of others, Filipinos were the top nationality across the world to say that they preferred people taking care of themselves.
While interesting and insightful, these findings alone only lead to more questions which academics, researchers, and especially public servants like myself should try to answer. Clearly, there is a lot to unpack here. And doing so will definitely help not just in understanding at a larger scale the inner lives of our countrymen, but also ensuring that policies and programs that have been (and will be) rolled out truly bring them happiness and improve their well-being. The next administration, whoever it will be, should pay heed.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 250 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.