The index doesn’t rank the happiest places on Earth, exactly. It combines the self-reported life satisfaction of a nation’s population with its ecological footprint and life expectancy to rate “the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens.”
I’ve been to Costa Rica many times, starting in the early 1990s, when my parents served in the Peace Corps there. And I’m not surprised it came out on top. (The Dominican Republic came in second, and Latin America scored well, generally.)
(See my Costa Rica photo gallery.)
It’s a lovely country of beaches, rain forests and tropical dry forest in Central America (no, it’s not an island) between Nicaragua and Panama. It has the highest standard of living in the region and a serious commitment to the social welfare of its people. It abolished its army and has enjoyed a stable democracy for the past 60 years.
Families tend to be closely knit, children are valued, literacy rates are high and health care is universal. The country’s stability has attracted tourists and foreign investors, but the government has resisted some open-market reforms, such as privatizing utilities, that it considers harmful to its citizens.
Over the past decade or so, the country has aggressively developed alternate energy sources, including wind power and geothermal power. It has also erased some of its foreign debt in pioneering debt-for-nature swaps that preserve tropical forests.
Certainly, there are problems. The country struggles with illegal immigration, property crime and government corruption. But on balance, Costa Ricans seem a pretty relaxed bunch. As they say, “Pura vida.”