Solving the Puzzle of Costa Rican Happiness

Golin Untern Les Latchman solves the puzzle of Costa Rican happiness on the next leg of his adventure to understand the secrets of the world’s happiest countries…

Reflecting on my Costa Rican experience, I’ve pieced together a unique series of events, which I believe explains why Costa Rica is consistently one of the happiest countries in the world…

After the abolishment of its army in 1948, the government stated it would re-purpose the funding to education and instead create an ‘army of teachers’. The success of this decision is evident in the literacy rate, which is currently at 97%. This is the highest in Latin America and subsequently creates opportunity for almost everyone in the country.

Another outcome of this education, is the genuine interest and passion all Ticos have for nature. This spark is first lit at a young age, where it’s mandatory for each child to plant a tree, and then nurture it throughout their education with incentives such as trips to the country’s bountiful national parks.

I believe this vast knowledge of the environment allows Ticos to access a deeper appreciation for nature compared to most other people. As with the Nordics, this closeness to nature provides an abundance of benefits; such as reduced stress, more focus on the present and an increased level of exercise and wellbeing.

This understanding of the native nature to the country and the world, led Costa Rica to begin protecting its country in the 1960s. Today, it currently conserves a colossal 25% of its territory and although it only occupies 0.03% of the planet’s surface, is home to almost 5% of Earth’s biodiversity!

Top left: The most chilled out 3 toed sloth ever. Top right: Endangered Grey top squirrel monkey. Bottom left: Injured Toucan. Bottom right: One of the hundreds of species of butterfly.

I witnessed the success of these conservation efforts in Manuel Antonio national park  and Kids Saving the Rainforest. I decided to learn more by visiting Drake Bay – a remote marine area which locals have petitioned tirelessly to be protected.

Signing up for a whale watching tour with ‘Divine Dolphin’, I met the locals leading the petition and ultimately had one of the best experiences of my life to date. Not only was I lucky enough to share the waters with two magisterial humpback whales, but I also inadvertently got involved with the conservation effort.

 Spectacular humpback whale breach

Roughly 40 minutes into the tour, the captain requested I fish out a piece of nearby floating plastic. To my great surprise, I pulled up a large lifeless Oliver Ridley sea turtle entangled in the plastic buoy lines. Using all my strength, I pulled it towards the boat and held it close till the captain and guide took over to cut it loose.

Once free, the turtle dramatically splashed to life, and immediately dove down into the deep blue. The guide gleefully shared her video footage, that would be shown to congress representatives visiting the area next month. They were making the decision whether this bay should be protected.

To see the footage, check out the video titled: Sea Turtle Rescue — August 16th 2017

Decisions of this nature, have shaped the past and will continue to shape the future of Costa Rica and it’s happiness. The rise of protected areas has proven synonymous with increases in tourism — the main driver of the ever-growing economy. More jobs are being created, which in turn has raised the standard of living, to the point where life expectancy is now higher than most developed countries, including the USA.

These unique series of events have ultimately culminated in Costa Rica’s superior level of contentment. The best part is that their extremely low ecological footprint  has helped achieve this happiness — a critical differentiating metric in determining the Happy Planet Index’s number one country.

When considering all of the above, the Pura Vida philosophy and that 98% of Costa Rica’s energy currently comes from renewable sources (with a target of 100% in 2021). It’s not only understandable why they are one of the happiest countries in the world, but crucially how they will remain there for years to come…