In a country ranked as the happiest and greenest country in the world, we expect our search for the definition of happiness in Costa Rica to be a piece of cake. Costa Rica has done an unusually good job preserving nature, and it seems like it’s surely easy to be happy while basking in sunshine and greenery. We’ve put our most favorite places of our journey through Costa Rica in another post. We’re curious to understand whether happiness in Costa Rica has something to do with the magical atmosphere, as well as find out what’s going on with all the relaxedness and laidback lifestyle.
Pura Vida. Pleasurable experiences and simple life.
So, what is happiness in Costa Rica. It is easiest, and of course obvious, to use the words Pura Vida to describe our happiness experience in Costa Rica. It is the concept that Ticos live by daily and bears a very profound meaning to them that really inspires us. Essentially, Pura Vida means living life simple and peacefully.
Whereas concepts like these often are little less than a few inspiring words, in Costa Rica it is their actual way of living. When walking on the streets in laid-back Samara, often referred to as the black hole of happiness, a few random strangers greeted us by yelling Pura Vida, accompanied by a cool, hipster-like hand gesture.
When you say, hear or see ‘Pura Vida’, the facial expression of the person changes and a smile is drawn on their face.
It seems like Tico’s deliberately choose to live a relaxed, uncomplicated life and not worry too much. Despite the relative financial prosperity of the past years, many Tico’s don’t seem to be seduced by the (rushed) Western culture.
The laid-back surfers we’ve met on the beach in Samara, a little surfer town called the black hole of happiness, don’t even need to use a lot of words to express Pura Vida. It’s the way they look, smile, walk and seem to be one with the ocean. Our surf instructor Joel understands why Costa Rica is reported as one of the happiest countries and says “it’s simply because the people here choose not to worry too much”.
His country is not only Latin America’s happiest; it’s also where people report feeling more day-to-day positive emotions than just about any other place in the world.
And it’s this same black hole of happiness that inhabits some of the world’s oldest citizens.
The black hole of happiness
We expected to see a village full of elderly people stumbling around the street, yet the opposite occurred. It’s a vivid city where indeed many people are on the streets, but none of them seem to be stumbling nor have an elderly appearance. It’s only later we find out that it’s just incredibly hard to guess ages of these Samarans. “My grandma is 99, and very alive. Most people become more than 100”.
Giselle said that without any emotion or awareness of the fact that this doesn’t apply to almost every other place on earth. “They say it’s because of the water. I think it’s also because we are used to working and continuing to work. We don’t stop doing the garden for example. We find our medicines in our own garden. I have many different herbs in my garden. It’s both for food and for medicines. The same goes for our food, we eat most of it directly from our garden. We don’t eat all the new food like hamburgers or fried food”. We immediately wonder how this relates to the new Pollandia, a chicken fast food restaurant in the midst of Samara. Before we got the chance to ask her, she added: “Unfortunately the younger generations are interested in this new type of ‘food’…”.
It turns out that besides seeing gardening as an activity and purpose to stay healthy, the environment plays a key role in the life of most Tico’s.
Happiness in Costa Rica consists of green, environmental activities
Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer, introducing a carbon tax in 1997 and investing this money in preventing their precious forest. The government, as well as the Tico’s, have a genuine care for the environment. Almost 99% of the energy is from renewable sources (click here to find out more facts on Costa Rica). They all love spending time in nature and the number of eco-lodges rising in Costa Rica is exploding. We’ve been introduced to lots of sustainable initiatives and visited Finca Luna Nueva.
One of the founders of Finca Luna Nueva toured us around the farm and gave us a powerful introduction to permaculture. He explains that since he moved to Costa Rica 35 years ago, the importance of restoring the planet is rising fast. He sees happiness and ecological care being intertwined.
“It’s a way to help others, to be connected to something bigger than yourself and to contribute to society and future generations”.
Besides all the inspiring initiatives to restore the planet, Costa Rica calls herself lucky to host many magnificent natural treasures, such as tropical rainforest, splendid beaches, and mighty volcanos. There are many ways to get at ease and connect with nature.
And it turns out that the level of peace Tico’s have with the planet they also have in other life domains.
Peace and family.
According to Pablo, it’s about having peace with everything that’s around you, including yourself. Happiness is about being with the people you love and helping them whenever necessary.
Although he has no car, no expensive jewelry, no fine clothes or big electronics, he doesn’t need any of those things for happiness or a sense of self-esteem. He lives in a country that, for most of the past century, has believed in supporting every citizen. In a country that places great value on helping one another, seeing everyone as a human being. And the family in particular. Regardless of living in the highlands, the Pacific area or the Caribbean coast, your culture or social status, everyone stresses the importance of being with the family. And this stretches beyond blood-related family, as many Tico’s see their neighborhood as one big family.
Happiness in Costa Rica expressed in numbers.
Ranked #12 on the World Happiness Index and #1 on the Happy Planet Index , it’s hard to imagine people will be unhappy in Costa Rica. As a result, in addition to these rankings, Costa Rica also does very well on the Global Index of Happy Workers (#3). We’ve already found some other impressive numbers…
Costa Rica has achieved a lot since it turned away from war and toward national well-being a half-century ago. But many challenges – from preventing violence to increasing income equality – remain for it to become both green and truly happy. And it is confusing to talk about happiness in countries where living conditions are not even minimally acceptable. Even the authors of the report on the Happy Planet Index note when discussing Costa Rica that despite its environmental commitment, Costa Rica’s ecological footprint is not small enough to be totally sustainable and that its income inequality remains quite high.
Conclusion: Day-to-day Joy.
Costa Rica is an alchemy of geography and social policies that have created a powerful blend of family bonds, universal health care, faith, lasting peace, equality, and—a quality that everyone possesses in spades—generosity. This combination—all statistically associated with well-being—delivers more happiness per GDP dollar than just about anywhere else.
No matter whom we talked to, all were willing to share some pretty good tips on the Pura Vida lifestyle. And as we found out, for us, it’s this way of life we are eager to learn. Where there are numerous self-help books written about how to live an uncomplicated and happy life, the Tico’s simply don’t know any better.
“All components of Pura Vida culminate in an special rich recipe for enjoying life day by day—the pleasure strand of happiness”
Pura Vida means to enjoy the pleasure of living daily life to the fullest in a place that mitigates stress and maximizes joy. It’s the type of happiness scientists call: experienced happiness or positive effect. We 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.