Happiness in Nicaragua is easily visualized: friendly faces, artistic buses, family gatherings on the street and many, many, did we say many already, places to eat. We’ve put our most favorite places of our journey through Nicaragua in our post. It’s a country with acolorfull lifestyle, full of traditions and vivid festivals for every occasion as well as for no particular reason. The latest World Happiness Report even announces that Nicaragua made the greatest gains in happiness of any country. Are the people as happy as how we experience happiness in Nicaragua?
Food, family and friendliness.
Our very first experience with happiness in Nicaragua is a bus ride from Granada to a large market in Masaya. It’s a few rides later that we realize how easily you can absorb the way locals live simply by spending time in public transport. It’s a bus ride full of experiences: people are both smiling, talking and in between and sometimes during those two activities taking a small nap. There’s uplifting music coming out of the speakers, and people hopping on and off continuously.
During these rides, we immediately make a lot of new friends and the Nica’s (a word they are very, very proud of) are always in for a chat. Some try to tell us where to go to, others explain where they’re going to, and some are interested to find out where we’re from. In the midst of all of this chatting, some friendly vendor passes you by to offer you some food, only to hop off at the next stop (roughly every two minutes) to get on a new bus.
During our chats, it quickly becomes clear that food and family are the most important elements for a happy life in Nicaragua. According to Sabina, a business owner who works together with her 8 brothers, you don’t need a lot of things to be happy. “It’s not materialism. We don’t have a lot, and most of us don’t even have a lot of money, but it’s not our biggest concern. We are focused on the things we do have: family, friends and good food”.
“La comida de Nicaragua es lo mejor”.
And she’s not the only one. Three lovely ladies in the central park of Granada use the exact same words as Sabina. They too seem to be very content with their local dishes and snacks. We got to talk to them not because of using any words, but because of the genuine smile they gave us and apparently, we were able to return.
Jasmine, the lady on the right, refers to happiness as friendliness. “Feliz es agreeable. Everyone in Nicaragua is nice. Look at us. We just love sitting in the park together. To have a talk, a laugh and enjoy each other’s presence”. She quickly adds to this “and of course the good food”. Her two friends give us an assignment: pay attention to the people on the street to see that everyone will give you a smile. And (no longer a surprising advice) we should try the comida tipica.
And so we did, and they definitely make a good point. We haven’t met (or seen) a single person who wasn’t willing to show us their smile. And we won’t talk any more about the food here because we’re not a #foodporn blog, but holy cow do the Nica’s know how to do magic with rice and beans.
But it turns out they have much more wisdom besides some good recipes and family traditions. They know how to prevent headaches.
Don’t think too much. You don’t want to hurt your head.
One of the most important ingredients for happiness in Nicaragua is without a doubt their relaxed attitude. Not only the locals but the foreigners also quickly found out how to adapt to the locals’ lifestyle. We’ve met quite a few expats who started a new life in Nicaragua. Most of them explain to us that it’s the mindset and lifestyle that convinced them to relocate. For them, Nicaragua is really a community-based environment where people enjoy life just the way it is, something I’ve missed in all European cities I’ve lived”.
When we met Dennis, a taxi driver in the south of Nicaragua, we got a crash course on how to become a Nica and apply this relaxedness in your daily life. “You don’t need to do anything else but live day by day. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If I want to have a nice dinner today, I will. Tomorrow I will start again”. He’s a hard-working father and husband whose life is far from perfect, working at least six days a week for about 14 hours a day. “Sure it’s OK to have some plans in the future, but I want to have enough time to be with the family, so I don’t worry about the future too much. After all, it’s not something you can control right now”.
When being on Ometepe island, the electricity is out and the whole town is dark. But we can hear laughter, music, conversation in Spanish and the different sounds of the tropical night animals surrounding us. No one seems to worry or stress about the internet not functioning or not having the possibility to take a hot shower. It’s the attitude here that plays a key role in happiness: things are never really as bad as you think they are.
“It’s quite amazing to see how the people who have almost nothing actually feel like they have everything.”
And maybe it’s because they do… because they have nothing else to wish for except for having a nice experience right NOW.
Happiness in Nicaragua expressed in numbers.
Nicaragua is ranked #7 on the Happy Planet Index. Their ecological footprint is high, and so is their life expectancy. The latest World Happiness Report says Nicaragua made the greatest gains in happiness of any country, ranking #43 now. Even though the GDP is relatively low compared to other countries, the percentage of social support Nica’s perceive to have is sky high, and a great part of their happiness is related to cultural circumstances. These facts don’t surprise us after being in this country.
Yet these statistics should be put in perspective. The Nicaraguan Central Bank puts unemployment at 9.5 percent, even higher for people under 30, and that’s not the only unhappy number in Nicaragua. The percentage of the population living in poverty is about a third: 29.6 percent according to government statistics, 39 percent according to research by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenges (FIDEG).
So, the World Bank warns that despite progress, “poverty remains high…. Nicaragua is still one of the least developed countries in Latin America, a country where access to basic services is a daily struggle.”
To us, this does put this in a greater perspective. Even though everyone we’ve met is seemingly happy, content and lives a meaningful life, they still need to deal with challenges that are not even imaginable in a country like the Netherlands. Yet despite all these numbers, Nicaragua does illustrate that happiness is relative.
Happiness in Nicaragua is about appreciation.
Happiness is strongly embedded in the Nicaraguan culture and we totally understand the huge progress in the happiness score.
“They might not have much, they are willing to share everything.”
It feels like you can step back in a time machine to a period where material possessions didn’t make people happy, but people did. It’s about appreciating the little things in life. The things we often overlook in our Western life.
And the second important feature of happiness in Nicaragua is without a doubt the social ties between family members and friends. Whether you’re in trouble, want to have fun or need a little help, everyone has loved-ones around them whom they can count on. Even if it’s just to have a small chat or share some food.
From the low crime rate to strangers offering to help carry grocery bags, Nicaragua proves itself to be a country that values its fellow man and lives for the community. We are in doubt whether we should continue our journey and look for more answers, or whether Nicaragua is simply the answer to our prominent question: What does happiness mean?