According to the recent results of the United Nations’ annual World Happiness Report, the Philippines is the 69th happiest country in the world – up to two places from its recent ranking of 71st. Good ol’ PH was also ranked third happiest compared to its Asian neighbors, Singapore (at 34th place) and Thailand (at 52nd).
Just a week ago, the company I work for recently named the latest winner of its bi-annual search for the happiest person in the Philippines. A marquee program of my company, the search highlights, and honors the inherent Filipino values of resilience, faith, and can-do attitude. What I loved best about the project is that it celebrates the hardworking, charitable spirit of the Filipino – highlighting that it’s not important where you came from or your stature in life; but what is truly important is how you rise against the odds and how you make a difference in the lives of others.
(NOTE: While it’s easy to just say the name of my company and the Search, I made it a point to separate my professional and online life. Note that this post does not speak on behalf of my company).
The funny thing is, the person tasked to handle this program was me: yes, Ms. Little Sunshine (*sarcasm*) in the flesh.
Sifting through close to a million entries coming from all parts of the Philippines; and then reading through fifty unique stories of resilience, faith, and hope and then hearing these stories in the flesh, straight from the mouth of our finalists was the most cathartic experience I had.
I thought I had it rough, and that my life was difficult. But I was wrong. I heard all the possible stories of struggle and survival. During the early days of the search, I had to stop reading the entries at some point and just blow off steam because of all the stories of abuse, neglect, struggle and suffering that I was reading — and did I mentioned that I’ve read all these during the Holidays? There is a Filipino phrase we used often during those days, “ang sakit sa dibdib…” (too painful to read) just going through those entries and reading with my own eyes, how in spite all the pain and suffering, these people did not give up. Because while the stories were about their struggles, somehow, at the end of each entry, these struggles quickly turned into stories of survival, of faith, of the desire to give back to others and stand up.
I wish I could tell you that personally handling the Search has made me a better person: much more positive, probably happier and more at peace with herself. Because, other than blessing me with the opportunity to seriously get to know 13 wonderful souls (10 finalists + 3 previous winners), I still remain the same woman who is constantly grappling with depression and anxiety. The only difference now is that I now know when to step back, breathe, pray and just center myself. I have become more conscious of the amazing support system that I have (my super patient husband, my sister who is also my best friend, my friends).
After all of this, I can’t help but wonder if happiness is indeed something solely limited, definable in black and white.
They say that happiness is a choice. And I agree – because let’s face it: the world will continue to be a sucky place, people will disappoint you, life will sometimes bite you in the ass, circumstances will deceive you — yet, in spite all of these: we can always choose …you can always choose to be happy. For me happiness goes beyond putting a smile on your face or forcing a laugh – happiness is choosing to stand up over and over again in spite of every thing. Happiness is choosing to see the good in people, even if evidence points you in the other direction, happiness is always believing in yourself — being your own cheering squad, fully contented in your skin and in your own brand of self-love. Happiness is choosing to love and believe in yourself every damn day, no matter what.
Here’s how I define happiness: happiness is traveling and discovering faraway places; it’s eating lunch with my family somewhere far where no one can understand us, laughing at some inane joke that will eventually lead to a bit of bickering; happiness is getting lost with my better half – half-arguing and half-compromising on where to go; happiness is a full day lounging with the cats while Netflix plays a succession of movies; happiness is hot coffee and sugar-free cake in the afternoon with friends; happiness is a fresh sheet of paper, a page of my Hobonichi and the latest washi tape ready to be unfurled.
Happiness, for me, is getting hurt over and over. Yet choosing to see what’s good and what’s right. Happiness is a sliver of light on an otherwise dark, dreary day.
It was never black and white for me — but similar to how Neruda once alluded to love — happiness is like a secret, hidden “between shadow and the soul.”