If you ask the marketers for certain theme park, the happiest place on Earth in a giant resort with costumed characters, roller coasters and a pinch of pixie dust.
However, according to surveys and studies, the actual happiest place on Earth has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse. The happiest place on Earth is actually a small Central American nation. According to the New Economics Foundation’s “Happy Planet Index,” one of the happiest countries in the world is Costa Rica. And when you look at some of the reasons why Costa Ricans — and the travelers who flock to their country every year — are so happy, you’ll see that this title is well-deserved.
Reason #1: Costa Rican Culture Is Laidback
One of the top reasons Americans love to travel to countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America is the slower, more relaxed pace of life. Everyday life in the U.S. is fast-paced and often stressful, and many people travel as a means to decompress. Costa Rica is an ideal destination, because the pace of life is slower. Costa Ricans do not rush from place to place or task to task like Americans do, but instead go about their daily business in a more relaxed manner. They take time to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and weather of their country, and the relationships they have with each other.
Reason #2: A Positive Outlook
Some experts chalk up Costa Rica’s happiness level to their unique cultural traditions. For example, Costa Ricans do not dwell on anything and are quick to forgive. It’s rare to find a local who holds a grudge; most will tell you it’s part of their heritage to end any argument in three days. In fact, this desire to avoid fighting may be the reason that Costa Rica doesn’t have military forces.
It’s also natural for the people of this country to want to please others. In fact, ticos tend to be people pleasers to a fault and would rather inconvenience themselves than disappoint someone else. It’s this focus on relationships and avoiding conflict that contributes to the country’s happiness.
Reason #3: Costa Ricans Are Healthy
The average life expectancy in Costa Rica is 78.5 years, which is on the older end of the spectrum for any country. One of the reasons for this high life expectancy is the people here tend to be healthier than many others. Costa Ricans have access to excellent, affordable medical care, and consume diets higher in fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins than other countries. Not to mention, their more stress-free lifestyles help reduce the likelihood of certain ailments, and the outdoor-focused lifestyle means they get plenty of fresh air and exercise, both of which contribute to better overall health.
Reason #4: Costa Ricans Protect the Environment
Costa Rica is a healthy and peaceful place — for both humans and the environment. Environmental conservation is a priority here, as the government, businesses and residents put a great deal of effort toward reducing their ecological impact and preserving natural resources. Costa Rica has long been a leader in environmental protection efforts, making significant strides in alternative fuel usage, reforestation efforts and effective land management, and serving as a model for the rest of the world.
So how does this make people happier? There is a sense of pride here. Ticos realize their country is an important ecological resource to the rest of the world and that it’s important to preserve what they have for future generations — and reduce their individual impact on the planet. This pride, and the benefits that come from maintaining a pristine environment, contribute to the overall happiness of the people who live there.
All of this is not to say that Costa Rica is perfect — no country on Earth can make that claim. Even with all of the positive aspects of life in Costa Rica, there are some downsides, including a slightly higher-than-average cost of living and pockets of poverty in some urban areas.
However, even with those drawbacks, the overall feeling here is one of “pura vida.” Loosely translated, the expression means everything from “pure life” to “doing great,” and is the most common response to the question “How are you?” Many people book a vacation to Costa Rica in search of pura vida and soon realize exactly what it means when they see how happy the country really is.