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What makes people happy and are some countries really happier than others? Recently named the happiest country in Latin America by the United Nations World Happiness Report, Costa Rica ranked 12th in the world, behind Canada at #7 and in front of the US at #14, making them the 2nd happiest country in the Americas. Costa Rica has also been named the happiest country in the world by the Happy Planet Index twice. Clearly they are onto something!
The answer has to do with Costa Rica's history and their cultural values. The World Happiness Report defines a countries happiness by 6 factors: economic growth, freedom, health, trust, generosity and social support. A quick look at Costa Rica's history explains much of the report (GDP, freedom, health). The rest has more to do with cultural values, how they see and approach life, which can be harder to understand. Lucky for us, we have a Tica (how Costa Ricans refer to themselves) on staff, Grettel Calderon, our Central America director. To help explain their values, Grettel shared her 4 life philosophies with us to help understand why Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth. If you want to be happier, like ticos, here are 5 things we can learn from them.
1. History matters
Costa Rica has a high level of social services, caring people, long life expectancy and relatively low corruption, but how did they get that way? A brief look at their history can tell us a lot. Because the terrain of Costa Rica was never ideal for the development of large farms it was never dominated by the powerful landholding class like many of the countries in Latin America. Costa Rica grew on the backs of small farmers, who thrived when the international market for coffee was discovered. They elected presidents who consistently put education and health first. In 1869 Costa Rica made primary school mandatory for boys and girls and by 1930 Costa Rica had the highest literacy rate in Latin America. The 1940's saw the end of the military enabling them to invest even more in health care and in 1961 they established universal health care. Since the 70's their life expectancy has risen dramatically and the infant mortality rate has dropped significantly.
2. Think Collectively
Taking time to think of the collective, instead of making quick decisions, is something Grettel tries to practice in her daily life. "I try to make the right decisions by listening to my heart and waiting until there is clarity. I know my decisions impact not only me but the collective." Ticos are incredibly caring in their consideration of other people, constantly looking out for each other. This shows in their history, consistently electing presidents who worked for the collective good.
3. Stop trying to control things
Grettel knows that learning to role with life is healthier than trying to control it. She always tries to enjoy life's ride as a passenger, instead of being in the driver's seat. "As much as I can, I want to look out the window and just enjoy the view. I've learned that trying to be in control too much gives me a lot of anxiety." If you visit Costa Rica you'll hear the phrase "pura vida" a lot, which explains why ticos don't stress about what they can't control. Ticos have a very relaxed, simple way of looking at life. No worries, no fuss, no stress; 'Pura Vida' means always being grateful for what you have, and knowing that happiness is always your choice, no matter what happens. (Read more about Pura Vida)
4. Don't take things personally
Grettel tries not to take things personally and gives others the benefit of the doubt. She knows that everyone goes through tough times and tries to show compassion instead of taking things personally. Ticos are known for their generosity and compassion. They even see the country as being not their own but everyone's and welcome all people to share in its beauty.
5. Practice Presence
In the US we are always on the go and being busy is a badge of honor, the busier we are the better and even our vacations tend to be busy. We often need a vacation after a vacation because we try to do and see to much instead of really enjoying every moment. The Tico style of life is much slower and more laid back than Americans. To practice being present in everyday life, Grettel tries to see the beauty in everything, even dull or unpleasant moments. "I practice acceptance, taking each moment for what it is and look for the beauty in everything. It helps me to not judge myself or others."
With such a rich history of education, healthcare, and shared values, it's easy to see why Ticos are such generous and happy people. What values has your country of origin taught you about happiness? What could you learn from Costa Rica? We'd love to hear your life philosophies on happiness in the comments below!