“We’re the World’s Most Emo Nation!” So what do we do about that

“We’re the World’s Most Emo Nation!” So what do we do about that

Nov 22, 2012

There you go, the Philippines is the world’s most Emotional Nation! This is according to the Gallup survey conducted from 2009-2011, the results of which were announced last Wednesday. What does it mean to be the world’s most emotional people?

It means that we feel both the negative emotions such as anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry, as well as the positive emotions such as feeling well-rested, smiling and laughing a lot, being treated with respect, enjoyment, and learning or doing something interesting. This just gives credibility to our country’s tagline, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines!”

Offhand, this looks as something positive to me. Don’t you just feel more alive when you experience the whole gamut of emotions? We cry in the moviehouse with Bea Alonzo even if she’s playing the role of a mistress. We hate Margaret played by Helen Gamboa with a vengeance in the teleserye Walang Hanggang. On the other hand, we readily take any occasion as an excuse to celebrate and party with family and friends. We smile a lot. We laugh a lot. We love to go out of town. We can switch from admiration of an old senator’s stellar performance then feel the opposite soon after when he tries to rewrite history. We quarrel about the RH Bill and come together during calamities like Ondoy and Habagat. We love and hate Kris Aquino but we all hope and pray that her brother succeeds. We have spontaneously taken to the streets to oust abusive leaders in the most peaceful way the world has seen.

We are an emotional people. We love to sing emo songs. No wonder we come up with the best singers as attested to by Ellen De Generes. We have world class actors and artists who have received international acclaim.

It is in being in tune with our emotions that we’re able to develop deep friendships and meaningful relationships. We are a caring people that we could probably be the world’s best service providers. It is also in knowing and expressing our emotions that we’re able to handle stress and other hardships in our everyday lives.

So cheers to our being emotional! Let’s embrace it. But what is the flipside of being emotional?

On the other end of the survey, the country reported to have the least emotions is our neighbor Singapore. Somehow, we are not surprised. So now I understand why some friends who have lived in Singapore seem to recall their stay without much fun. Some go to the extent of saying, “It was boring because everything was in order in Singapore!”

In the tours that my husband and I had during our honeymoon in 1989 the guide said, “Singapore is a fine fine city. If you don’t flush the toilet, you pay fine! If you chew bubble gum, you pay fine!” This reminder stuck to my mind that years later when I was back there for business, I was so terrified when my companion from SGV (who is now a cabinet secretary and at the forefront of our economic progress) pulled me to cross the street in a no-crossing zone. Thank God no policeman caught us.

Personally, I’m a fan of Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew. But I’m saying this as someone who has not spent more than five days straight in the city state. I became a fan of the now 88-year old Senior Adviser and founding Prime Minister when I joined my husband Marvin who attended a seminar in Singapore in 2004. We stayed at the Fullerton Hotel, a beautiful post office turned five-star hotel that has a library in the rooms. I was not in the mood for shopping and I ended up reading one of the books in the library. I unlocked the nerd in me as I read the thick book entitled From Third World to First, cover to cover! I even bought my own copy of the thick and heavy hardbound book plus another one entitled The Singapore Story. I asked Marvin to have the books signed by Lee Kuan Yew who was their guest speaker but there were security people around him that he didn’t bother to ask.

From then on I have been hoping and dreaming of the transformation of our country to an orderly and progressive Philippines. And I knew that when we finally get our act together, we would achieve something bigger and definitely more colorful because, unlike Singapore, we are rich in natural resources.

No matter what people say about Singaporeans being emotion-deprived, I would like to venture that this enables them to always tow the line, to be orderly, to make rational decisions. And that is why from being “divorced” by Malaysia (i.e. proclaimed to be a separate state and not a part of the Federation of Malaysia) on August 9, 1965, Singapore grew and progressed to overtake its “ex” in terms of economic development. I didn’t come up with the use of the word “divorce” as I remember having read it as such, and that in Muslim tradition only the husband can divorce the wife.  

What do we do now that we know we’re emo?

Should we aspire to be less emotional like the Singaporeans so we too can progress? I don’t think so. That’s not being Pinoy. But now that we know that we are the word’s most emotional bunch of people, we should choose to make the important decisions in our lives when we are not in the state of emotional influx.

We should apply Behavioral Economics in all aspects of our life. Behavioral Economics (B.E.) is a relatively new field of study that takes into account the emotional, social and cognitive factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. Unlike the traditional field of Economics, which assumes that the consumers always act based on rational decision-making, B.E. acknowledges that in reality the opposite usually happens. Because we are persons with feelings and emotions, we tend to be irrational in our decision-making.

Come to think of it, could this be the reason why our past president, an Economist whom we generously gave two terms of presidency, didn’t quite make it? Did she fail to realize that she and the people around her are just as irrational as everybody and no amount of excuses or “rationalization” could make a wrong thing right?

So how do we apply the principles of Behavioral Economics in our daily life? Well, the obvious is not to make life altering decisions when you are too happy, sad, mad, fearful, depressed, etc. That is why I’ve already told my sons not to propose marriage in public with all the works in the hope of sweeping their women off their feet. You know how the kids are these days? Just asking someone to prom is a production number, sometimes in full view of an audience. I told them that they may do that for prom but maybe not the real deal when it comes to marriage proposal; otherwise, the poor girl doesn’t have a choice but to say “Yes” with matching tears of joy! What if the feeling of euphoria subsides then she realizes that it was a mistake? 

Another area that B.E. should be applied is in the matters of our finances. In fact, there is a related field called Behavioral Finance. We all know that we have to save and invest for our future. But how come only a miniscule portion of our population do? It’s again because we are not always rational when the actual decision-making comes. We come up with a lot of excuses – it’s almost Christmas we have a lot of expenses, we will start building our nest egg when the children are done with school, it’s my first sueldo so I should enjoy naman, I’ll just go to the bank when my work load gets lighter, etc., etc.

That is why it is better to automate actions like saving and investing. Once you’ve decided (usually during your rational moments), just do it right away. There are products that are available wherein you just sign one contract and everything is automatic, no more palusot. In fact, employers should have this option once they sign up to hire an employee.

The so-called Choice Architecture should also be used by our government agencies. Consumers usually opt for inaction. Let me give you an example I read in a B.E. book. In the following European countries almost 100% of their driver’s license holders are recorded as organ donors: Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. On the other hand, the rest like Denmark, UK and Germany only recorded 4-17% as organ donors. Netherlands reported 28% after a heavy campaign begging its citizens to be organ donors. We may be quick to give rationale that the first seven countries are more charitable and virtuous or that the last four countries may have cultural beliefs against organ donation.

But you know the real reason was the difference in the wordings used in their application form for driver’s license. In countries with low organ donors, the words were:

            “_____ Check if you want to participate in the organ donor program.”

So most people didn’t check and only a few became organ donors.

On the other hand, in the countries with high organ donors, the words were,

            “_____ Check if you don’t want to participate in the organ donor program.”

And the same thing most people didn’t check and voila almost all of them became organ donors!

You see the same inaction (not checking) made a world of difference for the organ donor program.

Groceries are masters of choice architecture. They put the non-essentials near you, at the cashier’s counters and everywhere where you won’t miss them. On the other hand, the essentials are hidden somewhere. In the US they did some choice architecture in the arrangement of food in school cafeterias and there was an improvement in the quality of food purchases made by the students.

In other experiments they found out that when we remind people about morality like making them recall the 10 commandments and honor code, they cheat less. In fact, signing over one’s name prior to filling up forms like tax returns or insurance claims make one become more honest. So maybe in our ITRs we should move the signature to the top of the first page rather than the usual, “I certify that all the above are true and correct.” at the bottom of the last page.

Behavioral Economics is a very exciting and useful guide in our daily decision-making that I recommend everyone to read up on this subject, especially now that we know that we top the list in being emo. Here are some books I recommend, from where I gathered the above studies:

– Predictably Irrational – by Dan Ariely. If you enjoy this one you can go on and read his two subsequent books The Upside of Irrationality and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

– Thinking, Fast and Slow – by Daniel Kahneman, the father of Behavioral Economics and Nobel Prize Awardee for Economics

– Nudge – by Richard Thaler and Cuss Sunstein who I believe are in the Obama team. Do you know that the president of South Korea gave this book to each and every member of his cabinet? Look where they are now? Maybe like us, they’re also a bunch of emo people, what with all their Koreanovelas and Gangnam Style? Maybe this application of Behavioral Economics helped catapult South Korea to where it is now.


Let’s celebrate our being the most emotional people in the world but let’s safeguard our decision-making. This way we’re not just happy and lively at the present time but also peaceful and hopeful about our future. Cheers to the Emo Pinoy!