Q&A with the 1st Search for the Happiest Pinoy winner Winston Maxino

What has kept you busy after winning as the Happiest Pinoy?

After winning The Nationwide Search for the Happiest Pinoy 2010, I received many messages from my family, friends and even strangers who told me how much my life story has inspired them. That was a surprise to me because I did not see my life as something out of the ordinary. I have my own share of troubles and trials just like everyone else, and I tried my best to hurdle them in my own unique way. So I am amazed and truly grateful when people tell me that they are encouraged to follow my example. I have been invited to speak before many various groups and organizations to share my views on happiness. I have even been “secretly” asked by some of my friends to talk to their ailing or depressed spouses, children or family members. In 2011, I started getting involved in an organization founded by myAnkylosing Spondylitis doctor, Dr. Sandra Navarra, which is called People Empowerment for Arthritis and Lupus (PEARL). We hold activities that aim to spread awareness about living life to the fullest despite being diagnosed with these lifelong auto-immune diseases (my disease Ankylosing Spondylitis or AS belongs to this category of diseases). In 2012, my teenage daughter with Down Syndrome, Brina Kei, was chosen to be the Special Olympics Global Youth Ambassador representing Asia Pacific. We have been very active in supporting her programs and projects for people with intellectual disabilities, both locally and internationally. On November 9, 2013, GMA-7’s Magpakailanman featured our family’s life story (mainly Brina’s life struggles with Down Syndrome and my ownbattle with AnkylosingSpondylitis) entitled “My Beautiful Daughter (The Maxino Family Story)”. I would like to think that our story touched many people’s hearts so positively because it was replayed last December2013 and again on August 16, 2014. Winning the Happiest Pinoy in 2010 was not only a prestigious honor for me, but it has enriched my life so much because it has given me more opportunities to reach out to, teach, and learn from a wider variety of people in many parts of the globe.

How do you continue to inspire and make people happy today?

Inspiring people and making them happy does not require grand gestures or a great sacrifice. I have always believed in joy from the little and simple things — giving well-deserved praise, thanking people and appreciating blessings, making a sincere apology, saying a kind word, cracking a funny joke and laughing out loud, smiling at or greeting people to show them you are happy to see them,remembering people’s birthdays and special occasions, extending a helping hand, giving someone a warm hug, taking the time to listen and express concern, surprising my loved ones with small tokens to let them know I was thinking of them, and telling people you love them. I am happy to do these loving acts all the time, just as it makes me happy to receive these simple gifts of oneself.Also, I am notorious in the family for playing tricks on people and that has not changed one bit. I play tricks on them not to demean or make fun of them, but to make them smile or laugh and be happy.

What advocacies on bringing happiness/inspiration have you embarked on?

Last August 26, 2014, I was the Guest Speaker in my ownHigh School Batch’s 35th year Class Reunion.They insisted that I deserve the honor to be the Guest Speaker because of my award as Happiest Pinoy. In my speech, I shared with them three simple lessons I learned from my life and my daughter Brina’s life: acceptance, gratitude and excellence — together they spell AGE. The summary portion of my speech goes: “A for Acceptance – accept wholeheartedly the things that you cannot change, G for Gratitude – gratefully acknowledge the many angels whom God sends your way, and E for Excellence – excel quietly in the little ways that you can. That spells A-G-E or AGE. So let us remember to AGE graciously everyday and reap happiness along the way.Then let us watch as God rewards our trust in Him with magical moments and majestic miracles that we never even imagined are possible.” Somehow, these life lessons resonated with many of my classmates and they requested me for copies of my speech to share with others. A newspaper published my speech and my family and classmates also posted it on Facebook. The message continues to spread to people outside my class and outside the Philippines. I feel truly blessed when people tell me my words have enlightened their minds, or that I have inspired them to open their hearts to happiness, or that they have learned beautiful life lessons from my speech. My lifelong suffering from an incurable debilitating disease may be hard but it bears good fruits for many people. God indeed has a purpose for each of our problems and when we discover what that purpose is, the problem ceases to be a burden and turns out to be a blessing.

What keeps you happy and inspired these days? Why?

God is good all the time. This time, it is my children who are giving me reasons to be happy and proud. Aside from being wonderful responsible young women, my three daughters are achievers in their own right. My eldest daughter Alayne Kyn is a graduating student and an active student-leader in Ateneo de Manila University. She is the President of her class organization AteneoLex and chairs many school committees. My youngest daughter Carlin Ken graduated with first honors from Grade 6 at Colegio San Agustin last March 2014 among 500 grade 6 classmates.On July 31, 2014 Brina Kei, my second daughter with Down Syndrome, attended a dinner at the White House in her capacity as Special Olympics Global Youth Ambassador. In his speech, President Barack Obama made special mention of Brina and my daughter also delivered a short speech in front of the White House guests. My daughters’ accomplishments make me feel so fulfilled — like my wife and I must have done something right in the way we brought them up. They say that I have inspired them, that despite my condition and problems, I strive to be always happy and content with my life.

What is your message to Pinoys who want to be happy in life?

I think true and lastingjoy comes from doing three things: loving God, loving oneself and loving others. Everything we need to be happy, we already have within us.Many people, things, events and situations in our lives make us happy;however, we cannot depend on forces outside ourselves to sustain our happiness — like our spouses, children, families, friends, money, material things, jobs, etc. Although we are grateful for having them, they can be lost or taken from us in circumstances beyond our control. So there is wisdom in focusing on those things that we can do to be keep ourselves joyful: such as growing in our faith in the God we believe in; taking good care of our needs and improving ourselves; and lastly, serving others and striving to live harmoniously with our fellowmen.

Despite various circumstances, why should Pinoys be happy today?

To me, happiness is a choice. No matter what our circumstances in life, we can choose to be happy. It does not mean we should never feel sadness. That would be impossible because let's face it, life is hard. It just means that after we have cried and grieved and questioned God, “Why is this happening to me?” we dry our tears and we move on with faith that God has good things in store for us that we may not yet understand. It just means we don’t stay sad or wallow in misery. We have to rise above the negativity and do what needs to be done to bring out the best in any situation — we get help, we study, and we learn to manage the difficulties. We have to trust God and hope that something good will come from our trials. In Romans 8:28, we are assured: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called to his purpose.”

What should be the Pinoy’s source of happiness? Why?

Most Filipinos are lucky because we grow up in close-knit families and we are deeply religious. I believe this two-fold cultural characteristic contributes to our strength as a people. We live secure in the knowledge that first, our family will love and support us, no matter what; and second, our God will be faithful to us for eternity. Even if we happen to suffer through the misfortune of a dysfunctional family, our second anchor remains and that is God always being on our side. There is no way to lose if we put our trust in God. He is the endless source of happiness and of all that is good.