Every year, a British organization called the New Economics Foundation conducts a study to determine the happiest country in the world. This study, internationally known as the Happy Planet Index, analyzes a number of factors to determine which country maintains their citizens at the optimal level of sustainable, emotional well-being. In 2009, 2012, and again last year in 2016, Costa Rica was named the happiest country in the world. This small, tropical country has ranked highly consecutively for the last ten years, and winning the overall prize for 3 recent years has stunned a large part of the world. How does a country in a less developed part of the world, with a poorer economy than the United States and most of Europe, consistently maintain a high level of happiness? While the rest of the world ponders this question, those living in Costa Rica are less than surprised. Costa Rica is not just a beautiful vacation spot. This Central American country prioritizes its citizens and residents as well as its natural assets. While you may need to move to Costa Rica long-term to experience the true happiness below the already sunny surface, those studying this phenomenon have found 5 major factors contributing to the emotional well-being of this joyful country.
1: Politics and Economy
Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949. Since then, they have developed what is considered the most stable and well-run government in Central America. Regardless of your political leanings, the absence of militarized police and the long-term promise of peace can only ease your mind. Deciding not to maintain an army has not only been a promise of peace, it is an economical promise as well. The money previously used to maintain a military was re-budgeted to education. Currently, 8% of the national budget goes directly to public education. This can be compared to the 5.2% of the national budget the United States designates toward public education. Costa Rica is now one of the most educated countries in Latin America, meaning access to better jobs and a swift increase of the economy. The stability of the job market and access to quality education eases the minds of the locals and produces opportunities for their futures not enjoyed in the neighboring countries.
2: Development and Progress
The governmental and economic stability of Costa Rica has produced quick and noticeable progress. If you decide to backpack Central America, coming from the north and heading south, you will immediately notice the change in development once crossing the Costa Rican border. Costa Rica has developed modern city centers, modern housing options, access to amenities, and strong infrastructure. This means better roads, better hospitals, and wide spread access to fast internet and new technology. You will find the same satellite TV channels, quality city parks, and modern office buildings as you’re used to back home. While Costa Rica remains a rather non-materialistic society, having access to international products creates a culture free of worry or need to travel for specialty items.
3: Health Care
Costa Rica maintains what is considered one of the most efficient, low-cost medical systems in the entire world. Universal health care is offered to citizens and residents, while visitors can purchase treatments or consults for just a small fraction of what they would pay in the United States, even with insurance. Almost every main city has a state-of-the-art hospital with highly trained staff and access to modern services and treatments. But health care goes a lot further than hospital services. Costa Ricans have also developed a value for physical and mental well-being. The traditional meal will contain no preservatives or artificial ingredients, and almost everyone has at least a casual exercise routine. This is an easy life style to maintain when you live in a country with locally grown, organic superfoods and well-maintained national parks scattered throughout the nation. What is most interesting about this healthy culture is that new incomers to the country often experience health benefits without implementing any new health routine. Physical activity is encouraged with easy-to-walk city designs and access to active communities. Furthermore, whole, organic fruits and vegetables are sold on every corner for just pennies. People who have moved to Costa Rica full time often report weight loss, an increase of energy, and a reduction of symptoms of chronic illnesses, such as arthritis or asthma.
4: Environment and Environmental Policies
Costa Rica has 12 distinct microclimates, 26 developed national parks, and hosts over 4% of the entire world’s biodiversity. And what’s more amazing than these numbers is the love and importance the Costa Rican government has shown toward its natural assets. In the 1990’s, Costa Rica passed a series of “green culture laws” including tax-funded national park maintenance. Under the current administration, they continue progress toward “environmentally sustainable socio-economic development” specifically prioritizing energy usage. In 2015, the country locally produced 99% of its energy from sustainable sources and has vowed to become totally carbon neutral by 2021. This is not a challenge that the government is undertaking alone; the businesses and citizens of Costa Rica pull their own weight. People live more environmentally conscious lives and eco-businesses are popping up all around the country. Going above and beyond what the national laws mandate, the citizens and residents of Costa Rica are able to spend more time outdoors, explore more of their beautiful country, and soak up more sunshine. This connection to nature and access to sun has been specifically cited by the Happy Planet Index as a major factor to local happiness.
5: Communal culture
Costa Rica is a modern and industrialized society, but has maintained traditional values. This mixture of modern progress and traditional culture is what makes it so attractive to new comers. It is common for multiple generations of a family to live in a single city, and this family will gather often for communal meals and festivities. Those who do not live near their families often create strong communal bonds with a like-minded group of peers, and this communal living style has created a strong sense of purpose and contentment. The value for family is instilled in Costa Ricans in their youth, but even those relocating to the country later in life quickly adopt to the communal culture. True to the Costa Rican way, expats in Costa Rica often have a very strong community where they share living tips, suggestions, and partake in each other’s services and businesses. Business may be competitive, but it is always supportive. The prioritization of well-being in Costa Rica is addictive, and not only does it support a happy lifestyle for the locals, but incomers and relocators quickly enjoy the benefits as well.