Philippines is 12th in happiness progress | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Philippines is 12th in happiness progress

/ 05:18 AM March 30, 2019

The World Happiness Report 2019 (WHR), released last week, ranks the Philippines as No. 12 in the world—and new No. 1 in Southeast Asia—in change in life-evaluation between 2005-08 and 2016-18 (

Note that the period is a full decade, spanning most of the Arroyo period, all six years under Noynoy Aquino and the first two years under Duterte.  The beginning and ending numbers being compared are three-year averages.  Credit for the progress between the two points therefore goes mainly to the Aquino time and partially to the Duterte time.


Chapter 2 of WHR2019 is “Changing World Happiness”; I heartily agree that it is more valuable to examine time-trends than to engage in Miss Happiness contests.  Its measure is scaled from the worst possible life (zero) to the best possible life (10) that the people surveyed can imagine.  This is Cantril’s ladder, after psychologist Hadley Cantril, who wrote “The Pattern of Human Concerns” (1965).  (Interestingly, the ladder allows computation of “inequality of happiness”—which is high in the Philippines—but that’s a topic for another piece.)

The progressives. The five top gainers in WHR2019 are: 1. Benin +1.34, 2. Nicaragua +1.26, 3. Bulgaria +1.17, 4. Latvia +1.16, and 5. Togo +1.08.  Between them and 12th place Philippines (+0.86) are 6. Congo (Brazzaville), 7. Sierra Leone, 8. Slovakia, 9. Ecuador, 10. Uzbekistan, and 11. Cameroon.


This list shows that low-status countries are capable of progress in happiness.  It is refreshing to stop touting Finland, Denmark and Norway as the “winners,” since, after all, they reached their current high status in happiness only after many decades of social development.

The backsliders. At the opposite end are the worst five losers: 132. Venezuela -1.94, 131. Syria -1.86, 130. Botswana -1.61, 129. India -1.14, and 128. Yemen -1.10.

Gaining or losing at least 1.0 in the Cantril ladder, over a decade, is quite significant. The rest of the worst 10 are: 127. Central African Republic, 126. Greece, 125. Tanzania, 124. Malawi, and 123. Rwanda.

Other notable losers are Spain, Italy, United States, France, Japan and Canada.  Thus, high-status countries are not immune to backsliding either.  Of the 132 countries with data for starting and ending periods, 64 gained, 42 lost, and 26 stayed put.

The Philippines’ three-year average ladder score improved by +0.86 from 2005-08, to reach 5.63 in 2016-18.  Other Southeast Asian gainers were Cambodia +0.64 (25th in the world); Indonesia +0.24 (57th); and Thailand +0.23 (59th).

On the other hand, Vietnam -0.22 (96th), Laos -0.36 (107th), Singapore -0.35 (109th) and Malaysia -0.70 (117th) all lost ground.  In our region, half rose and half fell.

Change in regional climbing leadership. In last year’s WHR2018, which considered changes from 2008-10 to 2015-17, it was Malaysia, at +0.73, that led the gainers in Southeast Asia, followed by the Philippines +0.72, Thailand +0.30, and Cambodia +0.19.


The losers at that point were Indonesia -0.16, Singapore -0.16, Vietnam -0.26, and Laos -0.42 (see “Track happiness over time, not space,” Opinion, 3/24/18).  Now, Indonesia is a progressive, and Malaysia is a backslider.

Change in ranking of status after climbing. Both WHR2018 and WHR2019 have ladder scores for 156 countries.  A country’s ranking on the world ladder depends on its relative (not absolute) climbing performance. The Philippines rose in status from No. 71 in WHR2018 to No. 69 in WHR2019.

Singapore maintained its No. 34 status. Thailand fell from No. 46 to No. 52.  Malaysia plummeted from No. 35 to No. 80 and was overtaken by the Philippines.  Indonesia rose from No. 96 to No. 92, Vietnam from No. 95 to No. 94, Laos from No. 110 to No. 105, and Cambodia from No. 120 to No. 109.

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TAGS: happiness, Mangahas, Philippines, Social Climate, WHR, World Happiness Report 2019
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