When I went a few years ago, among the many places I’ve traveled, Costa Rica in particular, left a vivid sensory imprint I revisit in my mind, often.
There’s something quickly transformative about Costa Rica, perhaps it’s immersion in the lush biodiversity combined with meeting Costa Ricans (“Ticos”) who do more than merely recite their nation’s slogan, “Pura Vida,” the good life, they feel it.
And so, I’m not surprised the Happy Planet Index (HPI) ranked Costa Rica number one. The HPI combines 3 factors:
- Sense of well-being. (The HPI survey asked respondents to imagine the worst possible life and the best possible life and then rate where they fall on the Ladder of Life). (Costa Rica = 7.3/10, excellent).
- Life expectancy. (Costa Rica = 79.3, excellent).
- Ecological Footprint. (This measures sustainability. Can a country sustain its citizens without outside help. If for example, a country cut itself off from the rest of the world, could it be self-sufficient based on use of land for sustainability? Costa Rica = 2.5, average).
Simply put, Costa Ricans rate their quality of life high, live relatively long and while their sustainability/self-sufficiency isn’t superior, it’s right up there. Much of the land is protected under an aggressive conservation plan and so citizens live among unspoiled natural beauty, which as we know, closer to nature, closer to calm.
Let me add, Costa Rica has no military.
“We are a happy country because we don’t know what it is to lose millions of people in a war,” says resident Carlos Arias . “We have no army. Our happiness is easier to achieve because we are easily amazed, and maybe that has to do with the fact that we haven’t suffered any big wars, like the rest of the countries in our continent.” Source: Live Happy magazine, April 2015.
Costa Ricans, Carlos explained, also have an easier time moving up a social class and making friends across classes. I wonder then, if some of their sense of well-being is feeling inter-connected which fosters mutual respect and that caring community we all crave.
What is superficially surprising, however, is that Costa Rica, a relatively poor country, whose per capita income is no higher than the international average, is consistently right up there (on happiness) with its wealthier counterparts. ~ “A Country Without a Military? You Bet!,” by David P. Barash Ph.D, Dec. 13th, 2013
A couple of years ago my husband and I visited the Arenal volcano region (outside La Fortuna) to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I was at once relaxed like every vacationer who finally exhales, but Costa Rica brought me there faster.
Iguana Resort was surrounded by exotic flowers, plants and birds. The private lodging was nestled into the side of a mountain with access through small paved roads that sloped upward to our secluded room.
Our open air porch housed two (notably creaky but oddly soothing) wooden rocking chairs that faced the jungle and the misted Arenal (active) volcano on the horizon. You have no choice but to feel blissed when you’re connected to a country who cocoons visitors in natural beauty at every step.
Residents are extraordinarily polite (almost formal I’d read despite the informality of the country) and so on the advice of traveler reviews I reigned in my forward American gusto to keep my personality footprint respectful.
Still, everyone easily smiled hello and good-bye while they said the nation’s mantra, “Pura Vida,” the good life. I quickly looked forward to responding with the same as a reminder that like the citizens, I was experiencing the well-felt Costa Rican life.
Stray dogs also thrive in this relatively poor but largely economically sound nation. Most residents in La Fortuna can’t afford to keep pets but they clearly care for the animals. I saw water bowls on almost every business stoop and people threw scraps for the dogs while they ate in outdoor air restaurants. The loving communal care is obvious because despite the throngs of stray dogs, none of them looked starved for food or attention.
Costa Rica’s verdant land and symphonic rain forest ripe with hundreds of varieties of birds was subconsciously meditative. Years back I gave up the pressure of trying to meditate except to intuitively fixate on nature’s theatre and gentle tree sways.
One afternoon at the resort I quieted my busy brain by walking circles in the shallow end of the resort pool as I scanned the property with binoculars looking for hidden birds I could hear but not see.
One-third of the year Costa Rica is covered with blue skies and cool breezes. Every day after 1pm it rains which for someone who craves long hours of bright sunlight is unappealing and moody. Usually however, the rains only lasted long enough to re-lubricate the land and to hydrated my skin in a wonderful permanent mist.
When I asked our canal eco tour guide if he ever considered living anywhere else he told me no, never.
If you grow up in Costa Rica, chances are you’ll stay even if you’re not rich. If you live outside Costa Rica, chances are someone will insist you visit a country that seems to live abundantly happy, despite it’s modest abundance.
Postscript: Nadine Hays Pisani author of Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica & Living the Zero Hour Work Week. “I’ve had a very, very good experience. I don’t know if I could go back to how I lived before. I made a mistake by thinking I always had to have something new to make myself happy. I never considered that nature can make you happy, being outside can make you happy. I worked a 10-12 hour day. I was never outside.”
Why care about happiness ratings for another country?
“Most measures of national progress are actually just measures of economic activity; how much we are producing or consuming. By only using indicators like GDP to measure success we are not accounting for what really matters, producing happy lives people now and in the future.
The HPI puts current and future well-being at the heart of measurement. It frames the development of each country in the context of real environmental limits. In doing so it tells us what we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth.
It shows that while the challenges faced by rich resource-intensive nations and those with high levels of poverty and deprivation may be very different, the end goal is the same: to produce happy, healthy lives now and in the future. The HPI demonstrates that the dominant Western model of development is not
sustainable and we need to find other development paths towards sustainable well-being.” Source: Happy Planet Index