Did you know that, according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI), Costa Rica is the happiest country in world, four times running?
It’s true! With a 62.1 Happy Planet Index score, we’re currently #1 of 152 countries. By comparison, the U.S. is #122, Canada is #105, and European nations place anywhere from #4 (Switzerland) to #143 (Luxembourg).
So, what’s the secret to the happiest country in the world? For the HPI, at least, it’s a function of life expectancy (80.3 years), ecological footprint, and wellbeing (7/10 for Costa Rica): the overall sustainability equation.
But, what’s the real secret? Because, as soon as you spend time here, you can see that we Costa Ricans are a happy bunch. Here, there’s always a smile on offer and time for an afternoon cafecito. Time moves a little slower but you somehow seem to have more of it. And there’s always a new trail, a new forest, a new view to discover.
So, what’s the secret? There isn’t one. Or, at least, not just one. But we do have a few lessons to share, compiled from our many years here on Guanacaste’s Gold Coast.
Lesson #1: Embrace Your Pura Vida
Costa Rica’s famous catchphrase, pura vida, is not so much a statement (“pure life”) as it is a way of life: take it easy, roll with the punches, and enjoy the moment. Think of it as Costa Rica’s version of hakuna matata.
Love it or hate it – and, we’ll be honest, when things aren’t quite going your way and someone responds with a shrug and a pura vida!, you might hate it – Costa Rica’s approach to life can do a lot to reduce your stress.
Don’t get us wrong: It’s an adjustment – and not an automatic one. It takes time and willingness. But, someday, when the power goes out (in the middle of your video call) or your contractor doesn’t show up on time (or ever) or a sloth crossing the road causes a traffic backup (when you’re already late) – someday, you’ll be able to shrug and genuinely, from the heart, write it off with a relaxed pura vida.
Because a lot of happiness is about mindset. And Costa Ricans have a great mindset.
Lesson #2: Emphasize Personal Growth
One of the most oft-cited reasons for Costa Rica’s high happiness index? In 1948, Costa Rica abolished its army and funneled its defense funds into national public education.
Nearly 75 years later and, while public education here isn’t perfect, Costa Rica is one of Latin America’s most literate populations and successful workforces.
So, what does a decades-old policy change have to do with happiness – especially for new arrivals who don’t attend public schools and won’t enter the Costa Rican workforce? It’s more about the takeaways – about emphasizing education and personal growth and the value of challenging yourself to new experiences and new knowledge.
Luckily, moving to a new country, where you’re likely not fluent in the language, provides plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself, learn new things, and embrace a wide world of new experiences.
Lesson #3: Protect Your Great Outdoors
When discussing Costa Rica’s HPI, former President Carlos Alvarado commented: “We saw, in the 80s, that [Costa Rica’s] forest coverage had been reduced to 20%, due to animal farming and timber. We’ve managed to recover [those losses] and we’re back to forest coverage of 50%. This is how we are combating climate change.”
Again, we’re back to policy and governance. How does this affect Costa Rica’s people (and your happiness)?
It’s pretty simple: Costa Rica is 50% forest coverage and more than 25% of its terrain is protected within a national park, wildlife refuge, private preserves, and other types of parks. Enjoy the landscapes. Breathe the fresh air. And take a minute (or many) to marvel at just how biodiverse and beautiful your home is.
Lesson #4: And Go Outside. Often!
Speaking of forest coverage and parks to explore, here’s another big lifestyle change when you live in Costa Rica: You can go outside, every day of the year.
And while you’re outside, there are so many green acres, rugged trails, and waterfall swimming holes to explore, and uncountable peaks, mountains, and incredible views to summit.
So, get doing it! Go explore your new backyard. Go revel in the glory of year-round short-sleeve weather. Go out and play. We’ll bet you come home happier.
Lesson #5: Nurture Your Relationships
Another reason cited for why Costa Rica is the happiest country? Our relationships.
Costa Ricans deeply value family, community, and interpersonal relationships. You’ll see it in a lot of obvious ways: People embrace each other in greeting. Strangers wave as they say “¡adiós!” (a kind of passing hello/goodbye). Smiles are freely handed out. And people make time for each other.
It’s as simple as that: Costa Ricans make time for their loved ones. And when you’re here – when time has slowed down a bit – you can, too. Because you’ll have that freedom. You’ll have that afternoon open for coffee with friends. You’ll invite friends and family over for Sunday dinner. You’ll take a walk with your neighbors.
You will nurture your interpersonal connections and, in turn, they will nurture you.
Lesson #6: Work to Live
You’ll likely hear people comment: In Costa Rica, we don’t live to work; we work to live.
It’s an important distinction – again, one of mindset. And if you’ve ever been unhappy with the rat race, you’ll understand why it’s so crucial to the happiest country in the world: When you live to work – that is, when your entire life is dedicated to working – then you forget to actually live.
Costa Rica does its best to flip that paradigm: Instead of living to work, we work to live. That is, we work to achieve goals but work is not the goal. Life and its enjoyment are the goals. We take time off. We walk away from work email. We enjoy our weekends. And we go on vacation.
As for you? When in Rome…
Lesson #7: Eat Local
The Costa Rican diet may not be the key to absolute bliss – but it’ll get you part of the way there! (It’s also a key factor to Costa Rica’s famous Blue Zone longevity.)
But, speaking more to the enjoyment of food and its contributions to your happiness, you’ll be happy to know that Costa Rica grows fresh produce, year-round.
Yes, there are seasons to certain fruits and vegetables. But yes, also, when you visit your local feria (farmers market; click through for more helpful Costa Rican Spanish), you’ll explore a whole new world filled with things like guanabana (soursop) and mamón chino (rambutan), raíz de chayote (squash root) and pejibaye (peach palm fruit, although more of a vegetable!).
Lesson #8: And Walk Softly
A key factor to the Happy Planet Index? Sustainability.
And, while there’s always a bit of greenwashing to any ecological, sustainable, or otherwise eco-friendly anything, Costa Rica does so much right, when it comes to sustainability. What’s more, the country is forever working toward doing even more right – to being regenerative in every way.
And so, as a resident, you will have the chance to walk softly: to do your part, to embrace a greener lifestyle, and to tread as lightly on Mother Nature as you can.
Just wait to see how good it makes you feel!
Want to Live in the Happiest Country in the World?
That just happens to be one of our fortes. At Blue Water Properties, we are happy to help you in any way we can. We can talk about locations and costs of living, schools and lifestyle. We can refer you to residency attorneys or other sources of information, and share our own experiences and lessons learned.
As a company and as people, we thrive on relationships and promise the fastest communication and best services in the industry. And that begins with lots of information. We are happy to answer your questions and point you in the right direction, even if you’re only in the beginning phases of planning your future move.
We’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate, from condos and homes to land and businesses for sale. So, go ahead – try us. Give us a chance to show off our expertise – and wow you with the possibilities! We look forward to it.