According to a 2014 report from the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world. Most of our citizens would agree with this rating, and many expats are embracing life in San Jose and other parts of Costa Rica.
Many Americans may not realize how unhappy they are: despite being the wealthiest country in the world, the United States only ranks 13 in the World Happiness Report. Americans are usually burnt out from work and often take antidepressants to cope with the stress.
Nadine Hays Pisani is the author of the book Happier Than A Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week and the popular blog HappierThanaBillionaire.com. A graduate of Rutgers University and a former New York resident, Pisani and her husband moved to Costa Rica after growing dissatisfied with their fast-paced lifestyle in the United States. Many American and European expats share Pisani’s sentiments. They have grown weary of the stress of such hectic lifestyles, and are drawn to a country where people are more laid-back.
Costa Rica is a unique country in a number of ways. Here are seven reasons it has earned its ranking as the happiest country in the world.
In the United States, many people seem to always be in a rush and under tremendous pressure to meet deadlines and pursue success and wealth. They live under an enormous amount of stress. Meanwhile, Costa Ricans are much more laid-back and less confrontational. They even abolished their military in 1948, which shows their opposition to conflict. While the average workweek in Costa Rica is about five hours longer than in the United States, people don't push themselves to the brink of exhaustion like Americans do. Since they aren't nearly as fatigued, they also aren't as irritable with each other, which helps minimize stress. Costa Ricans aren’t aggressive when interacting with each other. They handle their problems diplomatically, and tend to let hard feelings fade away.
Costa Rica has a tropical climate, so the weather is beautiful year-round. The temperature varies between 71 and 80°F, but tends to hover around 76°F. It isn't too humid, and the coastal breezes are always very refreshing. Tourists staying in Costa Rica love the weather. People that live here are lucky enough to enjoy it every day of the year. Nikki Solano, a writer with the Costa Rica Travel Blog, states that many expats and tourists they work with are pleasantly surprised by the weather after moving to Costa Rica. The weather varies slightly in different parts of the country, but is always beautiful.
The only downside is that some parts of the country are battered by harsh rainstorms. However, the more developed areas are usually unaffected by them.
The superb healthcare system in Costa Rica is one of the country’s best accomplishments. Expats are usually impressed and surprised by the level of care they receive. In comparison, the healthcare system in the United States is somewhat lacking. Many people can't afford basic healthcare, and two million people are forced into medical bankruptcy every year. The fear of medical debt is distressing to many Americans with health problems. Even in Canada, where there is a public healthcare system, one out of 10 Canadians can't even afford their medications. Healthcare there doesn't cover prescription drugs or dental care.
You won't face these problems while living in Costa Rica. All citizens pay a fee to enjoy Costa Rica's public health insurance system, commonly known as Caja. Healthcare providers for the system do an exceptional job. The healthcare system in Costa Rica is arguably one of the reasons that Costa Ricans are so healthy. The average Costa Rican has a life expectancy of 79 years, which is slightly higher than the United States.
Costa Rica also has a sustainable economy. It uses its resources very efficiently, and has implemented a number of renewable solutions for transportation and energy. Since Costa Rica is a very green country, citizens don't need to make drastic changes to their lifestyles to preserve declining resources. Ina Porras, an expert with the International institute for environment and development, wrote an editorial in The Guardian that states that more industrialized nations can learn from Costa Rica.
“As the world watches and waits to see how giants like the US and China respond to our environmental, social, and economic crises, a small country – Costa Rica – has big lessons to share,” Porras wrote.
Costa Rica plans to be the first country to become completely carbon neutral. If everything goes to according to plan, it will reach its goal by 2021. Costa Rica reducing its carbon footprint may even have a significant impact on the happiness of its residents, since new research shows pollution can cause brain damage and depression. The economy is also very stable. Costa Rica doesn't experience the same boom-and-bust cycles that other countries face. Therefore, citizens don’t suffer as often in economic downturns.
Family life is very important for most Costa Ricans. It's common for people to live with their parents well into their 30s or even 40s. While this may sound odd to many the United States, it fosters a strong sense of family unity in Costa Rica. People in Costa Rica know that they can always lean on their family when they need support. Unlike the United States, it’s a very collectivist country. Younger generations generally take good care of aging family members. Costa Ricans also spend a lot of their time participating in family activities, such as baptisms, weddings, and even funerals. They pride themselves on being there to show support for the important people in their lives.
Everyone living in Costa Rica can agree on one thing – the landscape is beautiful. U.S. expats Sandy and Chip Bublik told International Living about their experiences moving to Costa Rica. They were mesmerized by the gorgeous landscape and scenery. “This country really does have everything God made,” said Sandy. “We have six huge windows surrounding the sala (living room). We’re 900 feet up and surrounded by blue sky and mountains that look like the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. We can see the Pacific. And beautiful sunrises wake us up in the morning.”
What can you expect to see while living in Costa Rica? You can enjoy:
Many people only dream of taking a tropical vacation. Costa Ricans get to wake up to the tropics every day.
Costa Ricans eat much more healthily than people in the United States. This plays a big role in their happiness.
Beans and rice are major staples in the Costa Rican diet. The diet is also rich in lean meats and vegetables, so Costa Ricans tend to consume many nutrients Americans lack. Since they eat a lot of fish, Costa Ricans get plenty of Omega 3, which is an important fatty acid to guard against depression, Alzheimer’s, and other mental health problems. Most importantly, Costa Rica citizens eat very few processed foods. These foods have been shown to alter brain chemistry and cause depression. The Costa Rican government has made promoting nutrition one of its biggest priorities. It published its Food-based dietary guidelines in 1997 to promote healthy eating. The emphasis on wholesome, natural foods appears to have helped keep the population healthier and happier than some populations in other parts of the world.
While the economy of Costa Rica has been growing steadily in recent years, poverty remains elevated. According to the National Statistics and Census Institute, about one in four Costa Ricans are living below the poverty line. Vice President Ana Helena Chacón told The Tico Times that the government is taking new steps to reduce the poverty rate. “We’ve noted that despite efforts to maintain a high level of social investment, the number of poor people has increased in Costa Rica to the point that some 33 percent of homes are in vulnerable conditions, which is to say they’re poor or under the threat of becoming so,” said Chacón. However, these sobering statistics have actually had little impact on the nation’s happiness index. Organizations that measure national happiness often ignore wealth statistics altogether, because they find that they have little impact on happiness.
Costa Rica has certainly earned its title as the happiest nation on earth. A growing number of expats are experiencing the country’s finer aspects.
What would you enjoy most about living in Costa Rica? Feel free to share your comments below: