San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Country Scores High in Happiness

Are you happy?

Scientists say you are more likely to be if you live here.

Two recent surveys rank Costa Rica among the world’s happiest countries.

The nation ranks third in the world in the Happy Planet Index, calculated by Britain’s New Economics Foundation (NEF), and first in Latin America according to a study by the University of Leicester, England.

Costa Rica earned 66 of 100 possible points in the Happy Planet Index, which measures life expectancy, life satisfaction and ecological footprint, or impact on the earth.

Rather than indicating absolute levels of happiness, the index focuses on the efficiency with which nations convert their natural resources into happiness and long life for their people.

To calculate the Happy Planet Index, British investigators multiplied life expectancy by the results of life satisfaction studies, and divided the product by ecological footprint.

A country’s ecological footprint, or the level at which its economy stays within its natural resources, includes the consumption of goods produced within the country, according to the Web site. For example, the impact of a Chiquita banana plantation in Costa Rica is assigned to the country that consumes the exported bananas, not to Costa Rica.

Vanuatu, an archipelago in the south Pacific, earned the most points in the index, and Colombia placed second in the calculation that “represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being experienced by their citizens,” according to the Foundation’s Web site (You can calculate your own personal happiness score on the site.)

Other Latin America countries ranked in the index’s top 10, including Panama (fifth), Cuba (sixth), Honduras (seventh), Guatemala (eighth) and El Salvador (ninth).

Lowest ranked countries included Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Ukraine.

The United States is listed close to the bottom at number 150. It earned only 28.8 out of 100 possible points. According to the New Economics Foundation, the ideal is 83.5.

In “The World Map of Happiness,” published by the University of Leicester, England, Costa Rica ranked first in Latin America and 13 among 178 countries worldwide.

The university’s calculations are based on factors including 80,000 personal surveys, life expectancy data from the United Nations Human Development Report, percapita GDP and access to secondary education, according information about the map posted on the Leicester University Web site (

Happiness is most closely linked to health, wealth and education, concluded Adrian White, a social psychologist at the University of Leicester who analyzed data for the study. However, health is more important than wealth or education when it comes to being happy, according to the survey results.

White names Denmark, Switzerland and Austria as the world’s happiest countries. Iceland, the Bahamas, Finland, Sweden, Bhutan, Brunei and Canada round out the top 10.

The highest-ranked Latin American countries after Costa Rica are Venezuela (25th), Colombia (34th) and Honduras (37th). Zimbabwe and Burundi were the lowest ranked.

The United States ranked 23rd.


Ticos Agree it’s a Happy Country

The Tico Times conducted an informal survey on the streets of San José this week, asking citizens whether they agree Costa Rica is among the world’s happiest countries. Here’s what they said:


Carla Arlette, 19, student, from Atenas: “Yes. (Costa Rica has) natural riches. … The flora and fauna bring in tourism. That part (being rated above the United States) surprises me, because despite the economy, (Costa Rica) is not a developed country.”

Miguel Sánchez, 35, business administrator: “In general I think so … The Tico by nature always is content.”

Rafael Mesén, 39, elementary school teacher, from Orotina: “I would say so … Because of culture, because of Tico idiosyncrasy” … (He said he is not surprised Costa Rica ranked higher than the United States, because he has heard that Gringos lead very chaotic lives.)

Carlos Chaves, 61, San José welder: “Yes, because we have liberty in every sense.”

Alonzo Sosa, 20, timbre (legal stamp) seller: “Yes. It’s pretty and there is no army.”

Mariella Campos, 54, San José, works at the Soda La Coca Cola: “I don’t agree … In other countries they have rules … We don’t have strict laws. Here someone kills a little girl or rapes a little girl and they go to jail and three or four days later they are back on the streets.…If there were stricter laws we would not have so much crime.”

Iván Cruz, 20, student from Alajuela: “It seems true to me, because of the nature that exists here, and because of the tranquility. (Surprised by the U.S. ranking lower, Cruz continued) … The United States is the superpower, and everyone thinks that it is the happiest.”





Comments are closed.