New numbers on happiness | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

New numbers on happiness

/ 12:25 AM March 08, 2014

Last week, Social Weather Stations released its December 2013 survey findings that 86 percent of Filipino adults nationwide were happy with life in general, and 83 percent of them were satisfied with their lives.

It was the twenty-third SWS national survey about feeling happy with life in general (masaya sa buhay sa kabuuan), since 1991, and the twentieth SWS national survey about feeling satisfied with the life one leads (nasisiyahan sa buhay na inyong nararanasan), since 2002.


These two most common questionnaire items in surveys of “happiness” give results that are closely related, but not identical.  For either item, SWS gives four choices of answers: “very,” “fairly,” “not very,” and “not at all.” (A third item, used by the Gallup World Poll, uses a zero to ten scale from the worst possible life to the best possible life that the respondent can imagine; see my “Tracking happiness in countries,” Opinion, 11/2/2013.)

The people’s feelings about their lives have been improving.  A year earlier, in the fourth quarter of 2012, those very/fairly happy with life were 83 percent, and those very/fairly satisfied with life were 80 percent.  Thus both the masaya sa buhay and the nasisiyahan sa buhay grew by three points from the end of 2012 to the end of 2013.


The connection of unhappiness and life-dissatisfaction to economic deprivation. For me, the lower two points, i.e., the “suffering” side of the scale—those “not very/not at all” happy, and those “not very/not at all” satisfied—are more interesting. It is equally correct to say that the unhappy percentage fell from 17 to 14, and the life-dissatisfied percentage fell from 20 to 17, over the last year.  These are statistically significant changes.

At any point in time, unhappiness and life-dissatisfaction are always greater among the poor and among the hungry.  In December 2013, unhappiness was 23 percent among the hungry, but only 12 percent among the nonhungry; dissatisfaction with life was 27 percent among the hungry, versus 15 percent among the nonhungry.

These differentials in suffering are very large, and statistically significant.  On the premise that no one deserves to be hungry, I call these indicators of undeserved suffering.

The connection of suffering to “Yolanda.” The SWS December 2013 survey took a sample of 650 households in the Visayas, rather than our standard 300, in order to enhance its findings about the effects of Supertyphoon Yolanda. The survey found unhappiness to be 18 percent among households victimized (nasalanta) by Yolanda, versus only 14 percent among nonvictims.  It found dissatisfaction with life to be 27 percent among victims, versus only 11 percent among nonvictims.

The fact that the great majority of Yolanda victims are nevertheless happy (82 percent), and satisfied with life (73 percent), is an indicator of their resiliency.  The Yolanda case shows the relevance of the survey items in a time of disaster.

The connection of happiness and life-satisfaction to governance. The average happiness percentage is 84.1 in five surveys during the P-Noy administration so far.  This is significantly above the 81.1 average in 14 surveys during the Arroyo administration, starting 2001 Quarter 2.

The average life-satisfaction percentage is 80.8 in seven surveys of P-Noy’s time so far.  This is much more than the 67.7 average of 13 surveys during Arroyo’s time, starting 2002 Quarter 2.  The people’s quality of life is definitely affected by the quality of their governance.


The connection of happiness and life-satisfaction to each other. Happiness and life-satisfaction are closely, but not perfectly, correlated.

In December 2013, when both items were included in the same survey, three of every four respondents (76.1 percent) said they were masaya sa buhay, and nasisiyahan sa buhay, at the same time.

There were also 7.6 percent who were NOT happy, and at the same time NOT satisfied, with their lives.  Inasmuch as these two groups add up to a very large 83.7 percent of the sample, they assure the correlation of masaya sa buhay with nasisiyahan sa buhay.

The remaining 16.3 percent—not too few in number—are of two types.  One type, amounting to 9.6 percent, said they were happy, but also said they were NOT satisfied with their lives.  There are people who desire more out of life, even though they feel their lives are already happy.  They are not unreasonable in the sense of being logically inconsistent.  They are merely ambitious.

The final group, amounting to 6.7 percent, are the fewest. They said they were NOT happy, yet also said they were satisfied with their lives.  Some people have very limited expectations for themselves.  Though unhappy with life, they apparently see it impossible to improve from their present situation.  Such people are not unreasonable.  They merely prefer being realistic to being frustrated.

If answers of survey respondents do not conform to theory, then the theory should be adjusted to the facts.  Not vice-versa.

Why be concerned about the people’s happiness and life-satisfaction? Survey research provides a means to know, scientifically, the current feelings of very many other people—indeed, the feelings of the entire country—and not just our own personal feelings and those of our relatives, friends and close associates.

For individuals who care about other people, having reliable information matters. How many of us Filipinos truly accept the teaching to love one another, and, indeed, to love our enemies, too?

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TAGS: happiness, Mahar Mangahas, opinion, Social Climate, Social Weather Stations, survey, SWS
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