Posted on 01 October 2014.
In the research writing classes I teach at Asia Pacific College, I often argue that research should be seen as a social and personal responsibility, rather than as a practice done exclusively for academic reasons. I believe that it should be an individual’s duty to approach information he encounters online and elsewhere with a healthy dose of skepticism. I also believe that it should be an individual’s duty to refrain from making unfounded accusations prior to actual research.
Earlier today, I read an article from GetRealPhilippines.com that says, “Filipinos’ obssession (sic) with ‘happiness’ is what keeps them mired in chronic poverty.”
According to benign0, “You wonder why the Philippines continues to fail? It is because Filipinos have been led to believe that simply being “happy” makes them “winners”. That is a nice philosophy to live by — when you are happy being a loser for the rest of your existence, that is.”
One reason why people need to research more is to prevent their fingers from typing ridiculous statements. The only thing such a statement reveals is that the writer doesn’t understand poverty.
There are three questions the writer is trying to answer in his poorly researched article:
1) Why are many Filipinos poor?
2) Why are many Filipinos happy even if they’re poor?
3) If a poor Filipino is happy, is it a bad thing?
His answer to question number one is, “Because they’re obsessed with happiness.” His answer to question number two is, “Because they have a loser mentality.” His answer to number three is, “Yes, because it’s their happiness that is making them poor.” What data were used to support the validity of these answers? None.
The writer was guessing, or making up information, or making an erroneous observation. Basically, all his answers are wrong.
I like teaching research. Every time I correct a student who makes assumptions based on nothing, I feel warm and fuzzy inside, like, maybe I made the world a slightly better place by reducing the number of people who say dumb things by one. So, as a public service, I’m going to demonstrate how to use simple research data to make defensible conclusions about the world we live in.
Why are Many Filipinos Poor?
There are many reasons why a Filipino could be poor. We can blame a rapid population growth that our economy can’t keep up with. We can blame unemployment, inflation, inequality and corruption.However, if we wanted to simplify the subject, we can definitely say that most Filipinos are poor because they were born poor to begin with.
According to an SWS survey, self-rated poverty in Luzon is at 45 percent, 74 percent in Visayas, and 71 percent in Mindanao.
Needless to say, many Filipinos become poor before they can even spell “happiness.” Filipino babies become poor before they can obsess about happiness.
Once these babies grow up and realize that they’re poor, why don’t these people just decide to be rich then? Well, for one, life doesn’t work that way. A poor person can’t simply “decide” to be rich. In fact, even if he wanted to, there are factors that may prevent a poor person from being rich, and it has very little to do with the often blamed Filipino laziness.
People Who Grow Up Poor Experience More Negative Emotions as an Adult
With regard to how difficult it is for a poor person to be rich, it’s possible that people who are born poor struggle to become rich because kids who grow up poor have less impulse control. According to ScienceDaily, “Researchers found that test subjects who had lower family incomes at age 9 exhibited, as adults, greater activity in the amygdala, an area in the brain known for its role in fear and other negative emotions. These individuals showed less activity in areas of the prefrontal cortex, an area in the brain thought to regulate negative emotion.”
What that means is that a person who experienced chronic stress from childhood to adolescence may be less capable of suppressing negative emotions such as fear. In fact, according to surveys, 1/6 people raised in poverty develop mental disorders.
The psychological consequences of childhood poverty and stress are the same psychological barriers that may prevent a person from becoming more successful in adulthood. Furthermore, impediments to the development of the prefrontal cortex can also affect a child’s ability to learn, making it more difficult to compete with children who did not grow up in poverty.
Poor People Make Bad Decisions
A common gripe against the poor is that they’re poor because it’s their fault. They’re poor because they make bad decisions. However, according to this, this, and this, it’s actually the other way around.
Bad decisions don’t cause people to be poor. Poverty causes people to make bad decisions. The research article, “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,” suggests that stress experienced due to poverty impede cognitive function. In other words, people who are poor are at greater risk to make decisions that further perpetuate their poverty, because their brain is so exhausted by, well, poverty. The poorer are person is, the higher the likelihood that he’ll make decisions that will worsen his situation.
“Previous views of poverty have blamed (it) on personal failings, on an environment that is not conducive to success. We are arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function,” says Jiaying Zhao.
Why are many Filipinos happy even if they’re poor?
Benign0 implied that he’s seen too many Filipinos who are poor use “happiness” as an excuse to not try to improve their own economic situation. He even mentioned that, “It is easy to retreat to the ‘happiness’ metric when all other success indicators suck. That’s the loser approach to rationalising one’s existence. There’s a a simple colloquial term that encapsulates that attitude: sour grapes.”
In other words, he’s saying that unless you are “successful,” you can’t be happy; and if you’re poor, and you say that you are happy, you’re probably lying, because the Philippines, as a country, is not among happy countries.
Here’s the thing, according to most studies, happiness can be attained by people who are poor for various reasons.
Happiness is Determined More by Genetics than by Economics
A person’s capacity for happiness have very little or nothing to do with other indicators of “success.” In the research report, “Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon,” David Lykken and Auke Tellegen write:
“Are those people who go to work in suits happier and more fulfilled than those who go in overalls? Do people higher on the socioeconomic ladder enjoy life more than those lower down? Can money buy happiness? As a consequence of racism and relative poverty, are black Americans less contented on average than white Americans? Because men still hold the reins of power, are men happier than women? The survey in this journal by Myers and Diener (1995) indicated that the answer to these questions, surprisingly, is “no.” These authors pointed out that people have a remarkable ability to adapt, both to bad fortune and to good, so that one’s life circumstances, unless they are very bad indeed, do not seem to have lasting effects on one’s mood.”
In other words, people who are poor are just as capable of happiness as people who are rich. A more productive question to ask is “Why do rich people think that they are happier than poor people?”
Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?
Two professors from Princeton, economist Alan B. Krueger and psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, along with several colleagues wrote the research paper, “Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion.”
According to the paper, a lot of people believe that a high income is associated with a person’s good mood. However, it’s not true. The correlations are illusory. Wealthy people are content with their lives, but they’re not much happier than poor people. They don’t spend more time doing cooler, more enjoyable, activities either.
According to Kreuger, people with a higher income report more satisfaction only because they think that they should be more satisfied because of the high income they enjoy. He says, “If people have high income, they think they should be satisfied and reflect that in their answers. Income, however, matters very little for moment-to-moment experience.”
If Anything, We Should Encourage Poor People to Be Happy
If someone wanted to help poor people, discouraging them from happiness and calling them losers, like benign0 did, will not help them. The article, “Self-worth boosts ability to overcome poverty,” from ScienceDaily discusses how encouraging the poor to improve their feelings of self-worth will help them overcome the psychological and emotional barriers that prevent them from seeking help or making good decisions.
According to Jiaying Zhao, the study’s co author, “This study shows that surprisingly simple acts of self-affirmation can improve the cognitive function and behavioral outcomes of people in poverty.”
In addition to that, happiness improves a person’s motivation and actually causes an individual to work harder. A study on the relationship between happiness and productivity was done by Andrew Oswald, Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi. According to the study, “Happiness and Productivity,” happiness made people around 12% more productive.
“The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality,” says Dr. Sgroi.
Based on the evidence gathered from multiple reliable sources, we can make the following defensible conclusions:
1. Filipinos are poor NOT because they have an “obsession with happiness.” In fact, there is no evidence that suggests that “contentment” can cause poverty. Through inferences made from reading the evidence, we can say that it’s possible that many Filipinos are poor simply because they are born poor. Their experiences of poverty in the crucial years of their mental development negatively affected their capacity to learn and their ability to regulate negative emotions – factors that may impede their economic progress as adults. Furthermore, poverty itself impedes their cognitive function, making them prone to bad decisions that could worsen their situation.
2. Some poor Filipinos are happy NOT because they have a loser mentality. Some poor Filipinos are happy simply because nothing is preventing them from feeling otherwise. Although depression is twice as common among poor people, poor people who don’t have depression are not much less happy than rich people. In fact, a study suggests that, “one’s life circumstances, unless they are very bad indeed, do not seem to have lasting effects on one’s mood,” implying that there are genetic factors to be considered when measuring a person’s capacity for happiness.
3. Happiness has a tendency to increase a persons productivity and make him work harder. If a person thinks that the problem of poverty is due to a poor person’s lack of productivity, the scientifically correct thing to do is to help them recover their self-esteem and encourage them to be happy, to improve their cognitive function and increase their productivity. In any case, one should not call poor people losers, because doing so will only reinforce the psychological barriers that impede their cognitive functioning.
Based on the same evidence, we can also conclude that benign0’s article, “Filipinos’ obssession (sic) with ‘happiness’ is what keeps them mired in chronic poverty,” is wrong about a lot of things. THAT is why research is important.
It’s the difference between being a writer and being a ranter.
benign0. (2014). “Filipinos’ obssession with ‘happiness’ is what keeps them mired in chronic poverty.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/2014/05/filipinos-obssession-with-happiness-is-what-keeps-them-mired-in-chronic-poverty/
Brady, D. (2013). “Poverty strains cognitive abilities, opening door for bad decision-making, new study finds.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/poverty-strains-cognitive-abilities-opening-door-for-bad-decision-making-new-study-finds/2013/08/29/89990288-102b-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html
Examined Existence. “The Profound Effects of Childhood Poverty and Stress on Adult Brain Function”Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://examinedexistence.com/the-profound-effects-of-childhood-poverty-and-stress-on-adult-brain-function/
Flores, H. (2014). “Number of ‘poor’ Pinoy families up by 600,000.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2014/07/29/1351563/number-poor-pinoy-families-600000
Kahneman, D. Krueger, A. Schkade, D. Schwarz, N. Stone, A. (2006) “Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion “ Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.morgenkommichspaeterrein.de/ressources/download/125krueger.pdf
Kim, P. Evans, G. Angstadt, M. Ho, S. Sripada, C. Swain, J. Liberzon, I. Phan, K. (2013). “Effects of childhood poverty and chronic stress on emotion regulatory brain function in adulthood.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1308240110
Lykken, D. Tellegen, A. (1996). “Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://cogprints.org/767/3/167.pdf
Mani, A. Mullainathan, S. Shafir, E. Zhao, J. (2013). “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976
Oswald, A. Proto, E. Sgroi, D. (2014). “Happiness and Productivity” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/eproto/workingpapers/happinessproductivity.pdf
ScienceDaily. (2013). “Self-worth boosts ability to overcome poverty” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From:
Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217085056.htm
ScienceDaily. (2013). “Growing up poor, stressed impacts brain function as adult.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131021211450.htm
Starecheski, L. (2014). “This Is Your Stressed-Out Brain On Scarcity.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/07/14/330434597/this-is-your-stressed-out-brain-on-scarcity
Weller, C. (2013) “Poverty Lowers IQ: How Financial Strains Put Pressure On Cognitive, Logical Reasoning.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.medicaldaily.com/poverty-lowers-iq-how-financial-strains-put-pressure-cognitive-logical-reasoning-255093
Yglesias, M. (2013). “Bad Decisions Don’t Make You Poor. Being Poor Makes for Bad Decisions.” Retrieved on October 1, 2014. From: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/09/poverty_and_cognitive_impairment_study_shows_money_troubles_make_decision.html