The Filipino Concept of Happiness: “Masaya” vs “Maligaya”

The Tagalog language has two main words that Filipinos use to talk about happiness. One is used pretty often and it is masaya. The other one is a word I almost never hear in day-to-day kwentuan and that is the word maligaya.

Because I am very interested in deepening my knowledge of Tagalog I’ve done a little bit of research to understand the difference between the two, because the fact that I hear masaya more often than I hear maligaya requires that, as the husband of a Filipina, I fully grasp what Filipinos mean by happiness.

What I have discovered is that masaya is a word that Filipinos use to talk about something that raises one’s emotions in some sort of pleasurable way. It’s stuff like entertainment, food or excitement of any kind.

Filipinos are very masaya when they throw parties, when they eat, when they do karaoke, when they go to the mega shopping mall and so on.

In the Philippines a lot of things cater to this desire for a condition of being masaya a good share of the time: the giant karatula or billboards, the “Mall of Asia” in Manila and several other huge shopping malls that are evenly scattered throughout the country, tv shows where gossip is the main topic, Jollibee and other fast food chains and so on.

So, as far as I can tell, masaya is the Tagalog equivalent of what Aristotle would have called hedonic happiness or pleasure-seeking through stimulation vs eudaemonic happiness in the sense of a state of more permanent inner peace that persists even if no stimulation is there. This eudaemonic happiness is called kaligayahan or the state of being maligaya which, according to a book, could be defined as ang pagtataglay ng namamalaging kasiyahan (“the condition of someone who has lasting kasiyahan” or, in other words is in a constant state of being masaya, independent of such stimulations ad food, sex, alcohol etc.).

This is not just a play on words. Understanding what Filipinos generally mean by happiness is vital if you want to make your Filipino spouse “happy”: you need to figure out if she is looking for ways to be masaya or maligaya.

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