November 29, 2006

Si Lelet

(Tish Leizens, left, is editor and publisher for Our House magazine, while her husband, Ed, serves as circulation director. Photo from the Pocono Record)

YEARS ago, fellow busines journalist Lelet Perez (from Manila Chronicle then Singapore Straits Times) and I used to hang out at Red Ribbon in Quezon City just talking about our lives and non-existent lovers hahaha. Lelet (now called Tish) moved to New York about 10 years ago I think and she was able to work in trade publications, one of which was a Conde Nast title. She has just emailed me about her latest project and I invite everyone to click on the link below.

Bushkill couple launching home décor magazine
Wayne Witkowski
For the Pocono Record
November 26, 2006

EARLY this year, Tish Leizens had a career goal while editing the textiles page for Home Furnishing News magazine of New York City.

The Bushkill resident wanted to launch her own quarterly magazine that would display upscale furniture and household accessories for every room for affluent consumers interested in home decorating, gardening, traveling and outdoor sports. She started on her mission a year ago and by February, she had to leave her job with the Conde Naste publication.

"I've been working on it from 8 in the morning until 11 at night," said Leizens.

(The Bushkill based publication Our House will debut in March. Photo from the Pocono Record)

That dream will be unveiled in March when Our House magazine goes out to an anticipated 8,000 subscribers with a circulation of 16,000 and is presented at the Homebuilders Association show at Split Rock on March 10-11.

"I realize this area is more tourist-driven, but I wanted to come out with something to bring back to the area," said Leizens, the editor and publisher.

(Click Si Lelet for the full story.)

MAJOR PROPS to my pards! She has done good. And I wish her well. Congratulations!

November 24, 2006

Hitting the delete button

Something Like Life
Nov. 24, 2006

OKAY, I’m a little pissed right now. I’ve just seen on YouTube the tirade of Michael Richards against African-Americans in a comedy club, and I feel so sorry for this comic who brilliantly played Kramer on Seinfeld. YouTube has the video of his racial outburst, along with all the outraged reactions posted (and still counting). He really tried to get out of the mess. You could almost see the sweat beads forming on his face as he persisted in turning around the slurs to make it a comic commentary on racism and such. But sadly, the audience didn’t buy it. They were just too upset. Poor, poor Kramer.

A few days after the incident, Richards appeared on David Letterman’s late-night show through a satellite feed, apologizing for what happened but uncomfortably still getting laughs after saying, “Afro-Americans.” Richards was obviously blasted by the whole experience and had to grope for the right words for an apology that would sound absolutely sincere to the audience in and outside the studio. Fellow comic and friend Jerry Seinfeld, who was also a guest, tried to help him along, supporting him by admonishing the audience about laughing while Richards was making the apology. It was Jerry, in fact, who had encouraged Richards to air his apology on the Letterman show.

But it was more than just another “bad night” at a comedy club. It’s probably one of those nights when all Richards wanted to do was hit some virtual delete button in his life and make the event disappear, as if it never happened.

I’m sure there have been times when we’ve felt that way…when all we wanted to do was crawl in bed after a really unnerving day or a terrible event, and wake up the next morning with no memory of the previous day. And that, hopefully, no one else remembers what happened either. It can be really tragic, like a death in the family perhaps, or a bad breakup with someone you really love, or a screwed-up presentation in front of your boss and your clients.

At times we can see the end coming as soon as the incident begins. We just have that feeling of dread. And while the whole experience is unfolding, the brain is cursing all over the place, voices debating in our head what we should do next and how we should handle the situation. We berate ourselves for being stupid to have been in such a situation in the first place while another voice tries to calm us and tries to talk us through a good solution. Then all too suddenly, we find ourselves detached from our bodies and it’s as if we can watch ourselves disjointedly having a meltdown. Who is that girl?!?!

No matter how fast the brain processes the difficulty and tries to find the possible resolution to our predicament, our mouths and our bodies can’t cope quickly enough. What we say or do just hammers more nails in our coffin. Then we’re officially dead. Goodbye, cruel world!

When it’s all over, we just stare in disbelief. We are shocked and speechless. We don’t know what hit us. A speeding bullet train, a garbage truck (because we really really feel trashy and trashed right away), a plane on takeoff. After realizing what happened, we just want to disappear, to be swallowed up by the earth or sucked up by a black hole into an eternal nothingness. The brain has shut down completely and we walk around dazed and numb. Crash alert!

When we manage to catch our breaths, the brain mysteriously and magically reboots itself, but then that’s when the disgusting replays start. We go over the event, breaking it into little gestures, words and thoughts, and a rush of feelings suddenly surfaces. We feel even more pissed or humiliated then depressed—the feelings just alternating—as we rewind the event over and over again in our heads.

When we are able to make our tongues work finally, we can’t stop talking about it. We go on and on and abuse our friends by discussing the incident to death. It’s like we’re ill-equipped lawyers trying to make an intelligent case out of something utterly defenseless, hopping from one court to another, just forum-shopping. We further dissect and analyze the event of the day trying to make sense where we went wrong. Or perhaps look for someone else to blame for what happened.

All we need really is to hear the sincere words of comfort from our friends. We ache for some support, soothing phrases and comforting messages to massage our ego. We just need an assurance that we will still rise from the tragedy. Our pride has been shot and we are in pieces. “If anyone can recover from a tragic event, you can!” we are told. Can we really?

Richards tried to “get back on the saddle,” as he said over Letterman. That same bad night at the comedy club, he went back onstage and apologized to his audience for his rage. Then he tried his routine again. It was unclear from his interview with Dave whether he got the audience to laugh at him again.

The way Richards spoke, he still sounded shell-shocked by the entire incident. He started rambling on and on about how Hurricane Katrina hit the black communities the hardest, and how the comics have been banding together to raise funds for the victims by putting on shows. It’s as if by identifying himself with how other comics were doing charity work in the name of the victims of Katrina, he was trying to erase the notion that he was a racist. And he did cry out, not just once or twice, but all throughout the interview, that what was so unfortunate about the whole incident was that he wasn’t a racist!

Richards, who hasn’t had a show since Seinfeld, will take a long time to recover from this experience, for sure. It’s disappointing to see someone absolutely loved and admired for his superb comic timing falling from grace. Many actually thought he would have his own spinoff after Seinfeld bowed out of the TV screens. (Of course, reruns are still on the air, still funny after all these years.) Unfortunately, that Kramer spinoff never materialized. Which could be why Richards has been harboring a lot of anger with enough steam to vent. Or maybe he’s really a racist? Dang! Where’s my frigging delete button?!

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of BusinessMirror.)

November 20, 2006

On the Pac-man and shopping

WHILE most of the country was quietly glued to their TV sets waiting for the Manny Pacquiao-Erik Morales fight yesterday, there were text messages already going around by lunchtime that the multi-talented (he sings, dances, and acts too!) Pac-man defeated his opponent in the third round. I really wasn't concerned with this spoiler alert as I'm not into the whole boxing thing. I can't relate to a sport that gets its participants all bruised and bloodied (even brain damaged, or worse, dead) just for the amusement of an audience. That just says a lot about how human beings, despite our evolution, have retained our Neanderthal DNA.

There were more important things to do than watching two guys beating each other to a! Despite the much heralded boxing match, lots of people, especially foreigners, trooped to the PICC Forum for the once-in-a-year International Bazaar, a charity event where embassies of different countries sell goods from the homeland. I've been attending this bazaar regularly but I noticed that this year, the goods were less interesting, and the number of participating embassies have dwindled. This year there were no participants from the US and Australian Embassies, and the job of selling the homeland's goods have already been taken over by local distributors. This just basically means that the goods are no longer less expensive than when sold in the usual retail outlets like supermarkets, grocery stores, or wine shops.

Gone are the days when shoppers would see the Ambassadors, consuls and embassy staff manning their booths and hawking the goods themselves. The prices of their goods were really discounted compared to what you could purchase from outside retailers and I presume it's because the embassies were able to import the goods duty-free. So by 10:30-11 am, the booths were almost empty, goods totally sold out and you'd see embassy staff already packing up to go home. You would have to be at the World Trade Center promptly by 8 or 9 am because any later than that and you'd be left with the, well, uninteresting left-overs.

At this year's bazaar, I sought out the New Zealand and Chilean embassies for their wines but found the booths manned by local wine merchants. Ergo, they were selling the wines at the same prices as their outlets. Duh. Other booths carried goods that one would normally find along the sidewalks of the home countries but these were not any less expensive than what you find in the local tiangge like Greenhills.

I still managed to pick up a few items, Spanish chorizos, espadrilles (yep, Spain's booth was one of the most popular, aside from Pakistan's with its costume jewelry), and a cake and cute T-shirt from the local section of the bazaar. A friend of mine got an interesting but pirated CD from one of the African embassies. (I won't say which one specifically as Edu Manzano may just swoop in on the embassy.) But in its entirety, the International Bazaar is now a shadow of its former fabulous self. It was just dull.

This is the second charity bazaar I've been to in the last few months. (Here in Manila, as Christmas approaches, the bazaars start popping up all over the place.) The first one, the Pink Bazaar, to raise funds for breast cancer awareness, was even more dull and boring, as there were only a handful of participants selling any worthwhile goods. The only thought that sustains me while trying to find stuff to buy in these now uninteresting bazaars is that my P100 may help feed or clothe someone less fortunate, or as in the Pink Bazaar, help educate more people about breast cancer. Other than that, shopping has been an exercise in futility so far, and the only reason I bought anything at all was because I didn't want to go home empty-handed.

Despite the unexciting start of the bazaar season, I'm looking forward to the St. James Bazaar in Ayala Alabang next month. Let's see how that pans out this year.

(Shopping tip: Unlike before, you don't need to go to all the bazaars just to get an idea of the kind of goods out there because the same retailers now hop from one bazaar to the other. So if you go to St. James, the Makati Sports Club, or Intercon, you will find the same goods, at the same prices, and with the same faces selling you the products. What's more important is to finalize your Christmas list and make the budget for the gifts you're handing out this Christmas. Let's hope that Christmas bonus is enough to cover the usual expenses, and if not, just trim your list and like me, plead poverty in style. Don't worry, your real friends will understand.)

November 19, 2006

Honest saleslady declines reward for returning P55,000

By Bernadette Parco
Cebu Daily News, Nov. 19, 2006

A FORMER saleslady of a department store in downtown Cebu City was commended for returning an envelope that contained P55,000 in cash and a passport to a customer last Oct. 9.

Jocelyn Manigos, 21, politely refused to accept a reward from the owner of the valuables, Tomas C. Yu, chairman and warden of the Australia-Philippines Foundation Inc.

Yu sent Cebu Daily News a copy of his recommendation letter addressed to Gaisano Group of Companies president Dr. Edward S. Gaisano, wherein he expressed his gratitude for the saleslady’s deed. He said that the envelope contained $1,000, P5,000 and his passport.

He commended Manigos for her “rare sense of honesty.”

“I offered a reward for Ms. Manigos. But the sale lady politely and promptly refused the reward, not even a cup of coffee,” he said in his letter.

(For this bit of uplifting news for a change, click INQ7.Net.)

November 17, 2006

The perfect assistant

Nov. 11, 2006

THEY say, “Behind every great man is a great woman.”

Well, I say, “Behind a great boss is one heck of an assistant!”

Any boss or executive who has tons of work to do, meetings to attend, documents to prepare, presentations to make, and even important family affairs to participate in needs an efficient assistant to help him or her run his or her life.

The perfect assistant is at the office before the boss arrives for work, and will stick around until she is told to go home. The perfect assistant will know all the important phone numbers her boss needs and will know how to make her boss’s life less stressful by properly scheduling meetings.

She will know exactly how to secure the resources of materials her boss needs, be they professional or personal requirements. Need a table at that hot new restaurant on short notice? She knows just who to call. She can find people her boss needs no matter what rock they may be hiding under. She can track down that perfect chocolate cake his wife was raving about the other day. (Or, yes, like Miranda Priestly’s long-suffering assistant Andy Sachs, she will probably be able to get the galleys for the next Harry Potter installment even before the book hits the market.)

In other words, she is someone who is able to anticipate her boss’s needs and is Wonder Woman, Super Girl and Xena rolled into one.

In all my years in journalism, I’ve known a number of important government officials and business executives whose lives ran seamlessly because of the efficient assistants they’ve had. And for me, it was paramount to be friendly with these assistants. Being on Wonder Woman’s good side most often spelled the difference between a plain old story based on another press release like everyone else was getting, or a more substantial well-explained report for the readers.

By being friendly with Super Girl, I would able to get an exclusive interview, even if it meant just five to 10 minutes of the VIP’s busy day. And a good quote from Xena’s boss will turn any boring story into a great one.

Assistants are special people. And despite the long hours and sometimes suffering bosses they’ve had, they are still loyal and will go to great lengths to defend “Sir” or “Ma’am.” I think anyone can be a good boss. But I don’t think everyone can be a great assistant.


Bye, bye baby! :(

Speaking of assistants, I just lost my favorite one. My Palm Treo 650, which has organized my life so wonderfully, being there to wake me up or ring me just at the right moment, catering to my every whim or pressing need, is gone.

Along with my wallet with a bunch of credit cards and ID cards, my Treo was stolen from my bag while I was going around the bazaar-for-a-cause at the Glorietta Activity Center last Friday. Who knew that the cause I would be donating to was some petty thief’s who is probably now using my Treo to schedule his next mall robberies?!

(Why there was only one roving security guard at that people-packed bazaar plus a clueless security supervisor with a walkie talkie is anybody’s guess. I’ve heard that more and more petty thefts of this nature are occurring at the Ayala Malls with even one e-mail going around warning of the new modus operandi of these thieves while shoppers ride escalators. Columnist JB Baylon of Malaya also wrote about his recent unfortunate experience at Park Square where the side mirrors of his car were stolen. Again, there was only one security guard in sight.

I don’t know if the Zobels are cutting down on their malls’ huge operating costs but reducing expenses for mall security isn’t the way to go, guys! And to think I had assured organizers of the recent Pacific Regional Investment Conference about the tight security at the Ayala Malls. Well, shoppers may be safe from terrorists, but not from petty thieves!)

I had just gotten my Treo from Singapore, a replacement for my original unit that inexplicably went funky. While it didn’t cost a mint as it was a “reconditioned” unit, it performed flawlessly like a brand-new unit and had no problems adapting to my demanding lifestyle.

My Treo would rest in my bag, chockfull of schedules, important contacts, memos, notes and documents, just patiently waiting for my go-signal to spew all these data at a touch of a button.

Being a journalist, my Treo was more than any perfect assistant could ever be. (For one thing, it didn’t need a salary raise every so often as reward for consistently good work.) I used it to take down notes during meetings. I wrote down my assignments on it while on-the-go (it came bundled with DocumentsToGo, which handled Word and Excel files better than Microsoft’s own pocket office suite). I read and sent e-mail on it. I took photos with it. It reminded me of my appointments, story deadlines and vital facts needed for interviews. It helped me during business presentations (DocsToGo also did PowerPoint wonderfully). And, yes, it helped me organize my shopping or grocery lists as well.

With a silent click, it could give me a contact’s professional (company, title, cell phone and business numbers, e-mail address, assistant’s name) and personal (names of the wife or husband, children, mistress, boyfriend, best friend, plus home address and telephone number) details. And while all these data are backed up in my iBook—thank God!—it gives me no comfort that someone out there might be calling my contacts and pretending to be my friend to shake them down for money or something more hideous.

What is more unfortunate is that my cell-phone provider will no longer be offering the Treo in its lineup of handsets. So even if I’m allowed to avail myself of a new phone under a retention plan (and for some reason I can’t right now because I still have four months to go under my current plan…duh!), there are no Treo 650s to be had. So my only hope is that the Palm customer-care managers will take pity on me and allow me to purchase another reconditioned unit as I am an ever loyal (and extremely desperate!) customer. Purchasing a brand-new unit is, sadly, way out of my budget these days. I am after all, just a poor journalist.

I had such a perfect professional relationship with my Treo. It was my Super Girl, my Wonder Woman, my Xena rolled into one. Without it, the past few days have just been one long discombobulated mess. Sucks.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the BusinessMirror.)

UPDATE: Palm Customer Care just turned down my request for a reconditioned unit. Waaah!

November 16, 2006

The happy people...(aka Now I feel miserable!)

The truth about happiness may surprise you

By David Martin

THE next time you are deciding between ice cream and cake, buying a car or taking a trip to Europe, accepting a new job or keeping your old one, you should remember two things: First, your decision is rooted in the desire to become happy -- or at least happier than you are now. Second, there's a good chance the decision you make will be wrong.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert summed up our failings this way: "People have a lot of bad theories about happiness."

It's not for lack of trying. The Declaration of Independence affirms that we have an inalienable right to pursue happiness, and it's something we do with a vengeance.

Americans will spend $750 million on self-help books this year and more than $1 billion on motivational speakers. More than 100 colleges now offer classes in positive psychology – the science of happiness. With all those resources focused on achieving happiness, we should all be brimming with joy.

So where do we go wrong? Gilbert, author of the recent book "Stumbling on Happiness," blames our culture, our genes and our imagination.

Our culture implores us to buy bigger, newer, better things, but research shows "stuff" does not buy happiness. By and large, money buys happiness only for those who lack the basic needs. Once you pass an income of $50,000, more money doesn't buy much more happiness, Gilbert said.

Our genes hardwire us to reproduce, but children have a small negative effect on happiness, research shows. If you're a parent reading this, you're most likely shaking your head. But Gilbert said the findings are clear when parents are asked about their level of happiness in the moment.

"When you follow people throughout their days, as they're going about their normal activities, people are about as happy interacting with their children, on average, as when they're doing housework. They're much less happy than when they're exercising, sleeping, grocery shopping, hanging out with friends," Gilbert said. "Now, that doesn't mean they don't occasionally create these transcendent moments of joy that we remember as filling our days with happiness."

Finally, our imaginations fail us, Gilbert said, because when we envision different futures we see either perpetual gloom or happily ever-after scenarios. In fact, neither unhappiness nor joy last as long as we expect. As you've probably guessed, winning the lottery will not guarantee a life of bliss.

By the same token, becoming disabled does not relegate one to a life of unhappiness. The disabled spend their days about as happy as the general population, according to Gilbert.

So what makes us happy? In general, the older you get the happier you get -- until you reach very old age.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, the happiest age group is men 65 and older; the least happy: men 18 to 29.

The survey also found:

•Married people are happier than singles.
•College grads are happier than those without a college degree.
•People who were religious are happier than those who aren't.
•Sunbelt residents are happier than other U.S. residents.
•Republicans are happier than Democrats – but both are happier than independents.

(For the full story, click, Nov. 15, 2006.)

Al Jazeera in English

ONE of the breaking grounds in international news media today is the recent broadcasting of the controversial Al Jazeera network, in English. While the network has yet to be carried by any Philippine cable TV station, its English news is now accessible via its web site (click blog title above).

Sure Western politicians claim Al Jazeera has an Arab agenda. But it is no different than Fox News having an American, and worse, a Republican agenda. As a journalist, I think it is important to get different perspectives of pressing issues of the day. Al Jazeera presents such a different but important take on news events, employing hard-nosed and credible journalists the same as Western media does. (Riz Khan, formerly of CNN, is one of its program hosts, for example.)

(A page from the Al Jazeera web site)

What it is great about Al Jazeera's coverage is that it focuses its lens on countries and events normally ignored by Western media. In fact, there is news on the Philippines everyday, which I think is cool, because the only time the Philippines gets into CNN, BBC or NYT, is when there's a disaster in the country.

Yes, the Al Jazeera coverage is not only about the US troubles in Iraq but covers a good number of vital issues. Today for example, its headline was about the amendment of the rape law in Pakistan, which now allows victims to file the rape cases in civil court. Under the old law, rape victims had to go to the Sharia court where they had to present four male witness on her behalf. If no witnesses come forward, she will be tried for adultery. Sick.

I hope the local cable firms start offering this important news channel soon.

November 15, 2006

Theft at Glorietta

(SCENE of the crime: Glorietta activity center, sans the bazaar. Photo borrowed from

MANY of us know that malls are a haven for snatchers, shoplifters and other petty thieves. We read one account after the other, emails even, but don't pay any significant attention to them...until we become the victims.

I know there was an email last month about how at the Greenbelt mall, petty thieves have come up with a new modus operandi victimizing shoppers going up its escalators. Of course, I don't remember the details primarily because I thought it was not relevant to me. I rarely go to Greenbelt considering its distance from where I live...which is in Quezon City.

But I guess I trusted the Zobels that they wouldn't scrimp on security especially during these times when there is heightened awareness of terrorist threats. (Blame it on all those foreign travel advisories.) So when organizers of a recent Asia Pacific investment conference asked about the security risks of having its participants come to the Philippines, I replied that the travel advisories may be exaggerated. I also said that shopping at the nearby Ayala malls would be safe because there were guards posted in all mall entrances.

That was foolish of me to make such an assurance, because on Nov. 10, Friday, at around 8 pm, while bringing my Guam publisher around the Glorietta activity center where a bazaar for a cause was being held, I found my bag's zipper a third of the way open, and upon inspection, found my wallet and cellphone missing. I approached the only one roving uniformed security guard to find out what I could do, and he said to file a report with the Customer's Service Desk. Of course, he told me that after a few seconds had gone by and he looked completely dumbfounded about what to do. He even approached a woman in a blue uniform (who I figured to be a security supervisor as she had a walkie talkie) but she looked equally clueless about what to do. I noticed that walkie talkie lady didn't even bother to use the gadget to alert other nearby security in an attempt to possibly catch the thief. There seemed to be no urgency to the incident and she treated it just matter of factly, like these incidents happen ever so often.

To the credit of the girls at the Customer's Service Desk, they allowed me to use their landline to call all my banks, credit card companies, and cellphone provider to block any access to my funds and credit lines, and even to shut down outgoing services of my cellphone. Thank God I still had the presence of mind to do all that.

But I realized, as the days went by and I went about reconstructing my IDs and getting back my ATM cards, that I lacked an appropriate outrage over what happened. My friends say I was probably just too busy still fulfilling writing assignments, or was just still in shock. In contrast, my friend who also had a similar experience at Landmark told me that she felt so violated about the incident that happened to her. So why didn't I feel the same?

On the evening it happened and into the weekend, I was like blasé about the whole thing. I didn't care about the wallet really, I thought then, because I've never really been attached to money. I only had about P600 left there and after blocking all my accounts, I felt relieved. I still managed to go on with the business of helping my boss shop. What could I do right? The guard told me that I could have the incident blottered in the police station. But I figured, what for? I was pretty sure the cops or the mall security were in cahoots anyway with the thieves. E ganon talaga ang buhay.

Why didn't I tear my hair out? Or scream at the top of my lungs at the inutile security at the Glorietta? Was it because we are all so used to hearing about snatchings or know that these thieves won't resort to this sort of illegal activity if their families weren't going hungry and they couldn't find real jobs? I mean, how many times do we warn other people to hold on to their bags and belongings because thieves may be about? I noticed that even the MRT drivers now constantly warn commuters over the PA system to hold on to their stuff tightly. Why has petty thievery become the norm in this country?!?!

Now I'm ranting, in case you haven't noticed. Now I want to tear my hair out and want to scream at GMA to stop fucking around with the economy already and get the frigging show on the road. This is a country that used to be disciplined and economically profitable. People had jobs and unlike today, didn't go off to foreign lands in droves because they couldn't find decent paying jobs here at home. We had poor people also before, but they still managed to send their children to school and managed to eat three square meals a day instead of picking through garbage bins for something edible. They had homes, sure they were in squatters' areas, but at least they had four walls and a roof, unlike today when many of them are living under bridges or empty trailers at the port area. The only place where there were snatchers then was Divisoria. Now these thieves are everywhere. No place is safe!

Geez! What the fuck happened to us?!?!

(Okay and what the hell are the Zobels doing over at their malls? Are they cutting down on security costs? Even a Malaya columnist recently found his car's side mirrors stolen while parked at Park Square. Heck, Ayala shoppers may be safe from terrorists but from petty thieves? Noooo! Damn it!)

November 12, 2006

The pursuit of happiness II

Something Like Life
Nov. 10, 2006

SOMETIME early this year, one of the most astounding news ever to be published about the Philippines was its No. 17 ranking on the Happy Planet Index (HPI).

Here we are, a country where the government’s foremost occupation is corruption, where 80 percent of its population live in abject poverty, and our future economy is about to tip over due to “brain hemorrhage” (a severe form of the “brain drain” that plagued the country in the ’70s), considered the 17th happiest country in the world!

On first reading, the cynic in me thought all those fiestas where we gorge on lechon and drown ourselves in beer have probably made us immune to the realities of our dismal existence. I mean, really, how can we be happy when there is fly-infested garbage reeking in almost every corner and at every intersection, there are traffic cops just waiting for some speed freak try to beat a red light just so they can get their next meal ticket?

On the other hand, despite these stark realities, it’s a considerable achievement that we have not yet sunk into mass depression, and we still manage to somehow smile through it all. We forward text jokes to one another, laugh at ourselves being poked fun at by gay sing-along masters, and just generally party at the drop of a hat. We probably have the most number of holidays on the calendar that allow us to hold fiestas or go on vacations.

The consumption of beer is high whether the economy is up or down. In other words, we still know how to have fun despite our otherwise seemingly desperate situation. (And I suppose without us realizing it, being a prayerful people helps lift our collective spirits.)

Maybe it’s no surprise that along with the Philippines, other countries on the top of the HPI are Latin-American countries and island nations. (Vanuatu, a tiny island in the South Pacific, is considered the happiest country on earth!) What we all have in common is that, economically speaking, we are probably among the poorer nations in the world, and with a per capita income equivalent to what a New Yorker probably spends in a day. Yet most of us are countries still attuned somehow to our natural surroundings and are a people with an earthy sensuality, which probably gives us the spring to our steps. We dance to some inner music that other countries can only envy and cannot duplicate.

When I worked in the Department of Agriculture years ago and had the opportunity to go to the farthest and innermost barrios in the country, I was always fascinated with the farmers and their seemingly simple but happy and contented lives. They would wake up each morning, pour hot coffee over their rice, and go till their tiny farms. Their aim was simple: to harvest enough palay or whatever crop they had planted for that season to ensure their children were able to go to school and, if luck was on their side, finish college.

Some of these were places were not even reached by electricity and bereft of indoor plumbing, two of the most vital conditions for us city folk to consider a place “livable.”

But these hardworking men would return to homes lit by gaseras, and have simple dinners with their families before going to bed. Sometimes before going home they would pass by some neighbor’s home and have a few rounds of Ginebra or some strong coconut-based alcoholic beverage. But whether with their families or their friends, laughter would ring out everywhere. It was always a strange feeling to be among these simple folk who couldn’t care less about how many coups played out in Manila, and yet my fascination with them would never cease.

Perhaps there is some wisdom in the King of Bhutan’s dedication to the pursuit of his nation’s Gross National Happiness growth, instead of the Gross National Product (GNP) expansion most countries are told to achieve. GNP, along with gross domestic product (GDP), measures the economic output of a country. However, both economic measures say very little about the happiness and well-being of a people. (Happy Vanuatu ranked 207th among 233 nations in terms of GDP.)

So finally, after the excesses of the past decades, new economic theorists and social scientists are looking into ways to tie government policy to address what basically accounts for one’s humanity and impact on the environment. Basing their assumption on the theory (or what the more spiritual among us would call a “truth”) that “Money Isn’t Everything,” the London-based think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF) established the HPI using nonfinancial accounts. It is calculated using a country’s consumption against its worldwide environmental impact, subjective reports on how satisfied the people feel about their lives, and their life expectation at birth. (Out of 178 countries ranked, the UK and the US were 108 and 150, respectively, on the HPI.)

While it is not a perfect measure, it does give policymakers an idea on what’s probably missing in the lives of their citizens. And while authorities may be tempted to hold back programs to improve their country’s economic growth (“We’re happy as we are anyway!”), HPI can help governments reform their policies to address issues that would allow their citizens to be truly happy and content…such as cleaner surroundings, improved access to health-care facilities, or even just more greenery in cities.

And so as Harvard University revolutionizes the education sector by teaching students how to find self-fulfillment, so does NEF and its HPI in helping change government attitudes toward what constitutes real growth. The HPI teaches us that there is no need to sacrifice relationships (to one’s surroundings or with other people) to achieve economic expansion

So, are you happy?

To find out how you rank on the HPI, take the survey at Happy Planet Index.

(My column Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life Section of the Business Mirror.)

November 03, 2006

The pursuit of happiness

Something Like Life
Nov. 3, 2006

THE most popular course at Harvard University is no longer Introductory Economics — which it has been for the past 10 years—but a course called “Positive Psychology.” The course, where about 855 undergraduates were enrolled in the past semester, teaches students how to create “a fulfilling and flourishing life,” according to the course description. In other words, it teaches the students how to be happy.

How strange, don’t you think, that a course in an esteemed university would tackle a subject usually covered in indulgent self-help books or by fancy (read: expensive) motivational speakers?

But surprisingly, Harvard isn’t the only university that teaches such a course. According to a story in The Boston Globe last March, around 100 campuses around the United States have been teaching Positive Psychology.

What is so compelling about this course?

At Harvard, considered the leader of the pack in this endeavor, the course is taught by 36-year-old Tal D. Ben-Shahar, a former national squash champion of Israel in the 1980s, and a Harvard alumnus himself. Besides the fact that one can hardly fail this course, it teaches students how to relax through meditation, cope with the daily stresses of student life (all those required readings, exams, papers, demanding professors), and how to appreciate the simple life.

“The goal is not constant ecstasy or gratification,” Ben-Shahar told London’s The Guardian in an interview last May. “It’s a deeper, more lasting, more meaningful flourishing. Pleasure and ecstasy can be part of a happy life, but they can also be part of a very unhappy life. A happy life will have the usual vicissitudes, and trying to avoid those, or hoping not to experience those, inevitably leads to unhappiness and frustration.”

The course is popular because, I guess, more and more people realize that while it’s cool to have lots of money and be financially stable, for example, it doesn’t necessarily make one happy. That in the end one’s emotional and psychological well-being is what’s most important. (Daniel Kahneman, PhD., a Princeton University researcher, and his colleagues actually published this theory in the June 30 issue of Science magazine. Kahneman cowon the Nobel Prize in 2002 for applying the principles of psychology to economics.)

Sure, we sometimes don’t have a lot of choices, especially in a poor country like the Philippines. Inadvertently, we all end up joining the rat race. The key, however, is how to not be swallowed up in the race and learning to overcome its trappings to lead a more productive, relaxing and possibly fulfilling life.

Like how many of us constantly strive toward perfection? The perfect diet, the perfect outfit, the perfect vacation, the perfect and most successful job? And, of course, when we don’t become thin overnight or achieve that promotion we have been lusting after for years, it throws us off-balance and makes us miserable.

Ben-Shahar teaches that what we should appreciate are the small, otherwise imperfect improvements… maybe the two pounds we lost today, or the P500 salary increase we received, instead of crying that we didn’t get the P1,000 we were gunning for. (A funny take on this is that Filipino joke about the employee complaining about his low salary. His boss says, “May trabaho ka na, gusto mo pa ng sweldo?”)

Levity aside, many of us who have lived through the rebelliousness of the ’70s, the excesses of the ’80s, and the globalization in the ’90s, now in the new millennium we are all about trying to find some deeper meaning in our lives. Now more than ever, there is a constant pursuit for a healthier, more relaxed and less strenuous lifestyle.

I have friends in Boracay, for example, who chose to do what they love most—cooking, designing, scuba diving, meeting people, etc.—parlaying their own talents to set up small businesses and working for less income than many of them used to earn in large companies. They have realized that by simplifying their lives, they are able to live on less.

While not everything is perfect and they struggle along the way, problems never overwhelm them and they are calmed by the fact that tomorrow, the sun is going to shine again, the beach is still going to be powdery white, and the island’s waters still clear.

Ben-Shahar teaches his students to look at the bright side of life, and, yeah, to stop and smell the roses along the way. It doesn’t mean that we should try to avoid discouragements, but rather to learn to overcome them by embracing them. After all, one can’t feel truly happy unless he has known sadness, right?

So here’s some happiness tips that Ben-Shahar shared with The Boston Globe:

1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions—such as fear, sadness or anxiety—as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the half-full or the half-empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do—or don’t do—with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.

6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life Section of the BusinessMirror.)

Luli and the airport immigration officer

Okay, 'fess up people! Who hasn't cut in front of a line, ever?

I for one, admit to having done this the Guam International Airport, at that, which strictly implements immigration and customs procedures the way the US does. It was raining hard, I was late, even the airline check-in counter was already closed. (I won't say which airline it was, but its ground staff was very, very helpful. The staff accommodated me by radioing her supervisor that I had to get on the plane to Manila because of an emergency. Ok, she lied because she saw I was really distressed about being late. So sue me.)

I passed immigration inspection without any hitches, but there was a really long line at the baggage inspection area. I knew there was no way I would be able to board my plane in time for the three-hour flight back to Manila.

It was a huge dilemma for me because I don't like cutting ahead of anybody. It's impolite. Nor do I like people cutting ahead of me and will probably do a Luli as well...but I would accost the person making singit, before complaining to the person allowing him to do so. Anyway, I decided to put my fate in the hands of the baggage inspection officer, an American from the mainland and who I knew would be a stickler for proper procedures. Still, if he said it was okay for me to cut in front of the line on account of my possibly missing my flight, my conscience wouldn't bother me as much. If he said no, then I would stay put, no problem, and bear the consequences.

But Lady Luck was sure smiling on me that day and the nice Amerikano allowed me to move up ahead, and even personally helped me carry my stuff to the front and onto the conveyer belt where the X-ray machine was. Of course, I hung my head in embarrassment, even as I mouthed my apologies to the people in the line I had passed. (I was too panicky to hear if there were any invectives hurled my way.) I was able to board my plane just as the gate way about to close. Whew!

Luli Arroyo (from

Make no mistake. What the NAIA Immigration officer did, allowing a Korean tourist to get ahead of the line, was wrong. (The tourist shouldn't even have been in the VIP line to begin with.) Shouting at Luli Arroyo was the graver offense I think, because no one deserves to be shouted at in public. (Okay, okay, hurray for Luli for providing a good example to others and lining up at the Immigration like everyone else. I don't understand though why she was queuing at the Diplomatic lane to begin with when, she is technically, not a diplomat. Wasn't she supposed to be on a personal trip? I'm ignorant about passport rules so I don't know whether a President's family members are considered "diplomats" and are allowed to hold diplomatic passports even if they don't work for the government.)

But really, this issue between Luli and the airport immigration officer, Padlan, could have been solved amicably, with an apology from the idiot. He then should have been given a tightly-worded memo by his supervisor or the Immigration chief, and warned to strictly follow agency procedures. It became a big issue just because it involved the President's daughter, and as usual, here is a situation where a government lackey (read: Immigration chief) wants to score pogi points with his boss staying illegally in Malacañang. (Talk about following proper procedures!)

Edgardo Padlan (from ABS-CBN News)

Civil Service rules call for a suspension of the erring official for a month up to six months, if I'm not mistaken, and not an outright dismissal for a first offense. If this guy is sacked, then he has every right to sue the government for violating his rights as a civil servant. And if Luli is really a stickler for rules, then by golly, even she should feel obligated to step forward in defense of Padlan. Sure, no one deserves a public tongue lashing the way Luli received, but no one deserves to be fired either for making a stupid mistake like Padlan made.

Btw, it's funny that no one in the media picked up the Korean tourist's name. I think it would be more interesting to find out how this guy feels about being the cause of a government employee's forced retirement.


AN UPDATE: According to Civil Service Commissioner Karina David, discourtesy only merits a reprimand on the first offense, one-month suspension on the second offense, and dismissal in the third offense.

If Padlan, however, is found to have been working with a fixer which allowed the accommodation of the Korean tourist, then he can be dismissed. Other than that, his rights as a civil servant (and he has been one for the past 30 years) should be protected, as I have said all along. Read David's pronouncements at GMA News TV, Nov. 3, 2006.)