Costa Rica is world's happiest nation
Hmmm. You think it’s a coincidence? Costa Rica is one of the very few countries to have abolished its army, and it’s also arguably the happiest nation on earth.
There are several ways of measuring happiness in countries, all inexact, but this pearl of Central America does stunningly well by whatever system is used. For example, the World Database of Happiness, compiled by a Dutch sociologist on the basis of answers to surveys by Gallup and others, lists Costa Rica in the top spot out of 148 nations.
That’s because Costa Ricans, asked to rate their own happiness on a 10-point scale, average 8.5. Denmark is next at 8.3, the United States ranks 20th at 7.4 and Togo and Tanzania bring up the caboose at 2.6. Scholars also calculate happiness by determining “happy life years.”
This figure results from merging average self-reported happiness, as above, with life expectancy. Using this system, Costa Rica again easily tops the list. The United States is 19th, and Zimbabwe comes in last.
A third approach is the “happy planet index,” devised by the New Economics Foundation, a liberal think tank. This combines happiness and longevity but adjusts for environmental impact — such as the carbon that countries spew.
Here again, Costa Rica wins the day, for achieving contentment and longevity in an environmentally sustainable way. The Dominican Republic ranks second, the United States 114th (because of its huge ecological footprint) and Zimbabwe is last.
Maybe Costa Rican contentment has something to do with the chance to explore dazzling beaches on both sides of the country, when one isn’t admiring the sloths in the jungle (sloths truly are slothful, I discovered; they are the tortoises of the trees). Costa Rica has done an unusually good job preserving nature, and it’s surely easier to be
happy while basking in sunshine and greenery than while shivering up north and suffering “nature deficit disorder.”
After dragging my 12-year-old daughter through Honduran slums and Nicaraguan villages on this trip, she was delighted to see a Costa Rican beach and stroll through a national park. Among her favorite animals now: iguanas and sloths.
(Note to boss: Maybe we should have a columnist based in Costa Rica?)
What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of
computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists.
I’m not antimilitary. But the evidence is strong that education is often a far better investment than artillery.
In Costa Rica, rising education levels also fostered impressive gender equality so that it ranks higher than the United States in the World Economic Forum gender gap index. This allows Costa Rica to use its female population more productively than is true in most of the region. Likewise, education nurtured improvements in health care, with life expectancy now about the same as in the United States — a bit longer in some data sets, a bit shorter in others.
Rising education levels also led the country to preserve its lush environment as an economic asset. Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer, introducing a carbon tax in 1997. The Environmental Performance Index, a collaboration of Yale and Columbia Universities, ranks Costa Rica at No. 5 in the world, the best outside Europe.
This emphasis on the environment hasn’t sabotaged Costa Rica’s economy but has bolstered it. Indeed, Costa Rica is one of the few countries that is seeing migration from the United States: Yankees are moving here to enjoy a low-cost retirement. My hunch is that in 25 years, we’ll see large numbers of English-speaking retirement communities along the Costa Rican coast.
Latin countries generally do well in happiness surveys. Mexico and Colombia rank higher than the United States in self-reported contentment. Perhaps one reason is a cultural emphasis on family and friends, on social capital over financial capital — but then again, Mexicans sometimes slip into the United States, presumably in pursuit of both happiness and assets.
Cross-country comparisons of happiness are controversial and uncertain. But what does seem quite clear is that Costa Rica’s national decision to invest in education rather than arms has paid rich dividends. Maybe the lesson for the United States is that we should devote fewer resources to shoring up foreign armies and more to bolstering schools both at home and abroad.
In the meantime, I encourage you to conduct your own research in Costa Rica, exploring those magnificent beaches or admiring those slothful sloths. It’ll surely make you happy.
WORLD DATABASE OF HAPPIENESS.
AVERAGE HAPPINESS IN 148 NATIONS 2000-2009
How much people enjoy their life-as-a-whole on scale 0 to 10
1. Life-satisfaction is assessed by means of surveys in general population samples. Mean scores may be inflated in some countries. due to under sampling of rural and illiterate population. This distortion is partly corrected by weighting afterwards. but may still affect the scores. This means that the real differences in life-satisfaction are
probably somewhat greater than appears in these data.
2. Data from 2000 up to and including 2009. If the below mentioned questions had been used more than once in this era. the average score is used.
3. The scores are based on responses to a question about satisfaction with life. the answers to which were rated on a numerical scale ranging from 'dissatisfied' to 'satisfied'. The questions differ slightly in wording and answer format. Most questions are type O-SLW/c/sq/n/10/a (used in the World value Surveys) and OSLW/ c/sq/n/11/a (used in the Gallup World Poll). This classification is explained in section 4/3 of the introductory text. Data were taken from the tables 122D and 122E from this collection of distributional findings on Happiness in Nations. Rating scales ranged from 1 to 10 or from 0 to 10. Scores on this 1-10 scale were transformed linearly to range 0-10. This transformation in explained in the introductory text. chapter 7.3.
4. Scores of 13 nations are based on responses to a somewhat different question: "Suppose the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder the worst possible life. Where on this ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time?". The response was rated on a ladder scale ranging from 0 to 10 (question code C-BW/c/sq/l/11/a and c).Data were taken from the tables 31C en 31D from this database. We transformed the scores using the information of nations in which both this item and the above question on lifesatisfaction had been used in about the same years. There are 103 such cases. The scores on the two items appears to be highly correlated: r = +.82 and examination of the scatterplot shows a linear pattern. We computed the regression equation and used these to estimate the score on 0-10 life-satisfaction. The formula is: Estimated
0-10 life satisfaction = 1.156 x observed score on the Best-Worst item - 0.457 . These estimates are reported in this table. The 95% confidence interval around these estimated values is about 1.3 points. which means that these estimates are not very precise. This estimation technique is described in more detail in the Introductory Text. chapter 'Comparability of the data' in section 7/3.1 'Converting scores on measures of different happiness variants'.
5. On this list the following cases are left out: Puerto Rico (8.3). East Germany (6.4) and West Germany (7.0). These cases are included in the collection of Happiness in Nations but are no real 'nations'.
6. Cuba and Myanmar were involved in the 2006 Gallup WorldPoll. but are not included in this list since the sample was restricted to urban people.
7. The use for these data for estimating livability of nations is discussed in the Introductory Text to this section on 'Distributional Findings in Nations'. chapter 5: Validity of happiness as an indicator of livability'
8. This list is included in the datafile 'States of nations' as variable HappinessLSBW10.11_2000.09.
Cite as: Veenhoven. R.. Average happiness in 148 nations 2000-2009 . World Database of Happiness. Rankreport Average Happiness, version 10/09. Internet: worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl
Happy Planet Index.
The Happy Planet Index (HPI) provides that compass by measuring what truly matters to us – our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives – and what matters to the planet – our rate of resource consumption.
The highest HPI score is that of Costa Rica (76.1 out of 100). As well as reporting the highest life satisfaction in the world, Costa Ricans also have the second-highest average life expectancy of the New World (second only to Canada). All this with a footprint of 2.3 global hectares.