Is Costa Rica The Happiest Place On Earth? Maybe Not for the Reasons You Think.

tropical ocean beach
In a walk across the web, I stumbled over this article about how Costa Rica is again the Happiest Place On Earth, and my stubbed virtual toe is still smarting a little.

A lot(!) is written about how Costa Rica is an undiscovered paradise (mostly by the Tourism bureau and real estate agents methinks), and this Happiness Index thing keeps popping up every year. 

This particular article, however, seemed more over-the-top than most, so I couldn't resist dissecting it a bit - tongue-in-cheek - based on my own experience in "paradise." Yes, I've cherry-picked for brevity's sake, but 80% of the article is intact below. I'm going to use my own scoring, +1, -1 and 0 for neutral. Let's see what my "happiness index" comes up with.

Having just been voted the single-most happiest place to live on the planet, Costa Rica has grabbed the attention of many. But the question burning up the Internet is, "why is Costa Rica ranked the happiest place on Earth?"
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First off, the country is ideally located in Central America between  Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.

I have no idea why that positioning would be considered an ideal location and the article doesn't say, either. I think a happier location would be between, say, France and Spain, or elsewhere on the Mediterranean. Will give this the benefit of the doubt, score 0.


It has an estimated population of just around 4.2 million and occupies approximately the size of West Virginia yet according to National Geographic, contains 5% of the world`s flora and fauna.

Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), ph...
Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), photographed near Playa Jaco in Costa Rica (retouched version). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Close, but no cigar. If 5% of the world's plants and animals were here, we probably would have been eaten by now or smothered under a mountain of bugs and leaves. Actually, CR has something like 4.5% of the world's species of flora and fauna. Still, that makes us happy! +1
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About 8 degrees off the equator, the country does experience extreme heat but more so worth mentioning is the humidity - it`s a spicy meatball that`s for sure.

I feel pretty confident that the recent East Coast heatwave was far worse than anything dished out down here even in the low-lying areas. Oh, and it's 9 degrees latitude, but who's counting? Yes, the humidity can be a bitch. 0
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Considering the climate and micro-climates, throughout the country, this would have to be one of the considerations when wondering what makes it so pleasing to live in. The average yearly temperatures in the Central Valley are a comfortable 21-27C.

Didn't they just get through telling us how hot it is supposed to be here? It's mostly about elevation here, which is why the Valle Central is cooler. The numbers above are the nominal range, but it's not unusual for it to go well beyond that range on both ends. +1

Anyone having visited Costa Rica will have likely noticed the rich reddish color of the soil - this makes a fantastic environment for growing fresh fruit and vegetables. In fact, Costa Rican bananas and pineapples are some of the best in the world. Not to mention how delicious the Costa Rican coffee is.

English: Photo showing a type of soil known as...
Sorry, but that red soil is crap. It is one thing that might make Costa Rica an un-happy place if it were in their tabulations. You can't grow much in it as-is, except maybe the first time you till it.  Like most tropical soils, it gets a LOT of rain and thus the topsoil is very thin and the soil is usually lacking in many water-soluble nutrients, such as magnesium and calcium. -1 and buzzer sound.

Organic and non-organic farmers here fertilize the hell out of their crops because of this. Commercial pineapples and bananas are over-fertilized, over-sprayed mono-cultures. Yeah, the coffee is superb, but it doesn't have so much to do with the soil as with the climate (and all that fertilizer). -1

Another contributor to longevity would certainly be the quality of the foods a person has access to - open air markets with organic vegetables and fruits are commonplace here along with the old school butcher shops, bakeries and fish markets.

NP 2DU colombia 24_lo
Yes, you can shop a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies here year 'round and at very reasonable prices. With not much effort you can grow your own too! But, keep in mind, they spray non-organic crops with all sorts of nasty stuff just like they do in the States, et. al. In fact, here they use some chemicals that are banned by the EPA. And I have no idea what is so great about an "old school butcher shop" or even what that is. Sounds unsanitary to me! Pastries here are an acquired taste, and I have no clue as to why they would contribute to your longevity given they use only white flour and a log of sugar to make them. 

Typical to most North American countries is the whole fast-food genre which is in fact the biggest contributor to diabetes and heart conditions in the USA, is a minority presence in Costa Rica. Sure you can find McDonalds and the likes however you won`t find one on every corner.
In contrast to the US, you might find a total of 4-5 McDonalds in the entire country!

Fast food places are popping up like mushrooms. Anyway, don't worry. Here in Costa Rica we don't need the BKs and McDs because we have within a cat's swing of just about anywhere, the ubiquitous "Soda." These are small mom and pop cafe's serving deep-fried anything, bread and cakes made with mountains of butter or the cheapest cooking oil and sugar. If you're lucky, a little romaine lettuce with a sprinkling of shredded carrot and a slice of tomato on the side. The rice and beans are the healthiest (and happiest!) part. -1

Always Open
Always Open (Photo credit: dvaires)
Costa Rican residents eat healthier and also live in a climate that promotes and encourages, outdoor behavior which hand in hand, contributes to a healthier happier lifestyle.

What that translates to is that most people don't have a car, so they walk a lot. Most of the country is mountainous, so they walk a lot uphill. Certainly obesity is not as prevalent here as in the States, but it's not uncommon either. Most Ticos don't participate in sports per se, such as swimming, hiking, skiing (no snow!), etc., though the #1 sport, soccer, can certainly burn off tons of calories. Since Ticos seem to me to be generally healthier though, this gets a +1

One final note on the subject has to be the cost of living in Costa Rica...
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A lower cost of living frees up more money to spend on higher quality foods and even recreational activities that promote exercise like water sports or attending a gym.
In comparison to North America, one can living a higher quality of life - a healthier one - while spending less money. 

It's possible, but the lower cost of living does not come from more affordable food, which is generally more expensive than in the States due to taxes and transportation costs. It comes from cheap labor, period. You can get housing much cheaper, and private dental and medical care is about 20-25% of the cost in the U.S. Cars and fuel are way more expensive. Everything seems to balance out, though. For the lower stress of not having to carry expensive health insurance, which you're not even sure will pay when you really need it, this gets a thumbs up. +1

This is what makes Costa Rica such a happy place to live.

If you say so.  The unoffical Dull Roar Index says +1 net, which means it's happy, but is it the happiest place on earth? Probably not, but it's getting better and we like it!

Seriously,though, long-term happiness doesn't come from the food you eat, the climate, or being able to spend less money. Those are nice, but don't you think genuine happiness comes from within yourself? One's sense of well-being is a product of culture and customs, family values, feeling part of something bigger than just you. These can create a state of mind -a collective state of mind- that translates into self-confidence, friendliness, helpfulness, and attitudes that don't take life (or ambition) too seriously. Ticos seem to have found a near perfect mixture of those qualities, and that is what truly makes it a happy place to live.

What do you think are the necessary ingredients for happiness?

27 comments:

  1. Thanks for this truth filled article. I have to admit, I laughed a lot for how this article completely lied and how you set it straight!!! Wonderful.
    Well said!!!

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    1. Thanks Suzanne for the comment. I think it was less mendacity than ignorance on the part of the article's author. These kinds of articles must come from people who have never even set foot in the country!

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  2. I have never been to Costa Rica before but whatever photographs of the beautiful beaches I have seen, I can assure that it is definitely a beautiful and an amazing place indeed!!

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    1. Indeed it is Aditi, else I wouldn't be here, but it is also a Third World country (more like 2.5, lol), so it has its problems, too.

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  3. Well done, Casey. I'd say one of the biggest contributors to the 'happiness' factor is that the pollsters don't interview beggars and don't venture into Barrio Cuba or Leon 13. Locals will know that even the police don't go there.

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    1. Most likely, though you have to admit, if you've been to other Latin American countries that CR doesn't have a large percentage of people in absolute crushing poverty.

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  4. Great post Casey! I think you nailed it when you said, "... genuine happiness comes from within yourself? One's sense of well-being is a product of culture and customs, family values, feeling part of something bigger than just you."

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    1. Thank you Pat. I wasn't sure myself that I'd expressed it well.

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  5. love it! I've forwarded to friends who are considering CR for retirement. We too always try to paint a realistic picture.

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    1. If they get too discouraged encourage them to visit La Zona Sur, CR's best kept retirement secret ... ooops!! :)

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  6. its an amazing blog that you have here my friend.. love the info's that you have provided...keep up the good work..

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  7. postingan yang bagus tentang Is Costa Rica The Happiest Place On Earth? Why?

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  8. Wonderful reply! Your summation is spot on as well.

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  9. I must say Casey, I was just checking on your blog after adding me, but I found this story compelling and interesting. the picture you painted is superb. culture and food looks like same to west Africans'... and i agree, with the unique stats you gave, you are in the the happiest place on the planet!

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    1. Hi Robert, well if I had the money I'd probably prefer retirement in the Mediterranean, but I'm not complaining!

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  10. I agree with you. Happiness is in your mind and not exterior factors. Don't forget CR is also 10 Degrees Above! (obvious plug): )

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    1. Kim,

      Don't be shy! :) Here's the URL: http://10degreesabove.com/

      Visit folks, beautiful photography there!

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  11. Great post, Casey. I too stumbled across the "Happiest Place.." article and glad I found yours explaining the truth. I am let down that fruits and vegetables are sprayed there :(

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    1. Hi Joseph,

      Well, the outward image of a high respect for the environment is not exactly what goes on under the covers, so to speak. I hand it to them that they make a good effort to educate the upcoming generations about caring for the environment, it's in every schoolbook through high school. The older set are the example, however, and many are still burning their garbage, plastic and all. Sigh.

      Pura vida!

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  12. Don't like your opinions, seems like you are an angry selfish person with low tolerance for pretty much everything, and you like to see the glass half empty. I also think you have anterior motives, and quite honestly, you have grammar problems.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Sally! Keep working on that spelling and grammar yourself. "anterior motives"?

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  13. A great post with 'checks and balances'. Thank you.

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  14. Great post! Pretty much sums it up. I read the other day that Costa Rica farmers use more chemicals on their crops than any other country in the world, not sure that is true or not but i do beleive it. It is possible to find good organic fruit but you need to know where to look. Don't expect to find it at a local pulperia, Mas X Menos or any of the other supermarcados., A.K.A Walmart. Pura Vida!

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    1. I heard that almost 10 years ago, it still floats around, but I've never seen a link to the source nor could I find anything on my own. Rural myth?

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Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey

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