The happiest people in the world — Costa Rica?

The World Database of Happiness. For a data nerd, seeing "database" and "happiness" together is clearly too good to resist.

A recent Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times said Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth.

I thought Walt Disney said that was Orlando, but Kristof writes:

Costa Rica is one of the very few countries to have abolished its army, and it’s also arguably the happiest nation on earth.

There are several ways of measuring happiness in countries, all inexact, but this pearl of Central America does stunningly well by whatever system is used. For example, the World Database of Happiness, compiled by a Dutch sociologist on the basis of answers to surveys by Gallup and others, lists Costa Rica in the top spot out of 148 nations.

That’s because Costa Ricans, asked to rate their own happiness on a 10-point scale, average 8.5. Denmark is next at 8.3, the United States ranks 20th at 7.4 and Togo and Tanzania bring up the caboose at 2.6.

A few weeks ago I blogged about a ranking of the U.S. that put New York at dead last in happiness scores. Now this evaluation bumps it up a level to study global happiness.

So if the U.S. is 20th in the world, and New York is at the bottom in the U.S., there are a whole lotta people in the world happier than New Yorkers. Does that mean it’s time to pack up and move? Or to just borrow some inspiration and bring it home?

Kristof writes:

Latin countries generally do well in happiness surveys. Mexico and Colombia rank higher than the United States in self-reported contentment. Perhaps one reason is a cultural emphasis on family and friends, on social capital over financial capital — but then again, Mexicans sometimes slip into the United States, presumably in pursuit of both happiness and assets.

Cross-country comparisons of happiness are controversial and uncertain. But what does seem quite clear is that Costa Rica’s national decision to invest in education rather than arms has paid rich dividends. Maybe the lesson for the United States is that we should devote fewer resources to shoring up foreign armies and more to bolstering schools both at home and abroad.

I’m still slowly making my way through the wonderfully written Geography of Bliss, which also explores the connection between where we live and how happy we are. If I ever finish it, I’ll offer a short book report.

Why do you think Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth? Do you believe it is?

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Categories: home and family, lifestyle

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3 replies

  1. I’ve been to Costa Rica, and it was pretty good. My wife and I spent our honeymoon there. I wouldn’t mind going back someday.

    It’s a beautiful country and I think the beauty of the natural resources must contribute to people’s happiness as well. It took me a long time to realize that beauty is actually a need. Beauty helps is to be happier people.

    ~ Z ~

  2. The sage Larry David once said that the keys to happiness were having a job you like and getting laid. Maybe the Costa Ricans are on the David plan.

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