Why is Costa Rica the World’s Happiest Country?

“Pura Vida” is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Costa Rica. Anyone that has visited knows how frequently it’s used. Among the locals, Pura Vida is an acceptable response for pretty much any question, because to them it’s more than a saying it’s a mentality and a way of life.

Due to this relaxed and easy-going perspective, Costa Rica was ranked as the happiest country in 2018,2016,2012 and 2009. (Happy Index).  The Happy Planet Index measures and compares sustainable wellbeing amongst countries. Their yearly reports tell us how well countries are doing in achieving happy and meaningful lives. In 2018 Costa Rica ranked 1st out of 140 countries.

If being 1st wasn’t enough Costa Rica is also home to one out of the five Blue Zones in the world. A blue zone is referred to as the place where residents live longer and healthier lives.

The 5 blue zones in the world:

  • Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica)  
  • Icaria (Greece)
  • Ogliastra, Sardina (Italy)
  • Okinawa (Japan)
  • The Seventh-day Adventist in Loma Linda (California)

All these outstanding results make us wonder, what is Costa Rica doing differently and can it be imitated? After research and countless interviews with locals and expats, we have narrowed it down to the top 5 reasons why Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world.

Restructured Values

In Costa Rica, its’ citizens prioritize their life with different values. Their main values are centered around family, religion and social interaction. On contrary to other countries which focus on achieving financial security or getting ahead.

This shift in values makes all the difference with the meaningfulness of one’s life.  In other countries, life goals are centered around themselves. How can I get ahead? How can I be successful? How can I get that promotion?

However, in Costa Rica, the thoughts shift and they are less self-evoked. They focus their energy on: What am I going to do with my family this weekend? What fundraiser event should I do with my church?  What neighbor should I go visit today?

This shift in mentality makes Costa Ricans live a more meaningful life while creating a stress-free environment.

Community Mindset

Costa Ricans are brought up in a community-driven environment. Even the cities are designed in a way that provokes conversations and bumping into each other.

They share a mindset very similar to villages in the olden days, where neighbors are extended family. Another impacting aspect is that in Costa Rica many generations live in contiguity, either living under the same roof or very close by. This sense of togetherness has an impact on the life and happiness of the residents.

They feel as if they are in it together and can rely on their family and neighbors for whatever they need. This feeling of security within the community is something very rare to see in other countries and is a key contributor to Costa Ricans relaxed easy going mindset.

A quote by Dr. Robert Waldinger a psychiatrist at Harvard emphasis that the Costa Ricans have the right idea when it comes to relationships and togetherness.

 “Our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with the community,” 

The Costa Ricans we interviewed shared that the connectivity within their community was a larger contributor to their happiness.

Lack of Materialism

One expat’s comment really hit home with the aspect of materialism and its role in different nations. He said “When we lived in New York we were reminded daily of all the things we didn’t have yet here we are reminded daily of all the incredible things we get to experience”

We loved his quote because it really embodied all the answers we get kept hearing. In Costa Rica, the emphasis is on experiences and not on materialistic things.

This lack of materialism and need for things has a large impact on the countries happiness. Their focus on experiences and simplicity is crucial to their happy and fulfilling lives.

Materialism is toxic and Costa Rica Citizens do an excellent job of naturally avoiding it. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, renowned happiness researcher:

“At the individual level, materialistic individuals are less satisfied and grateful for their lives, have less purpose, feel less competent in general, are more antisocial, and have weaker connections with others.”

 Living a materialistic free life is a key factor in living meaningful lives. All Costa Ricans that we interviewed shared that they felt a great purpose and that they were grateful for the lives they lived.

Government Involvement

In 1949 Costa Rica abolished its army. Ever since 1949, the government has been allocating the funds on pensions, health care, and environmental programs. This transfer of funds established the foundation for good health care, employment opportunities, and education.

In Costa Rica, the employment rate is 91.5% and the literacy level is at 97.8%. 100% of the citizens we interviewed felt that the Government was on their side and looking out for their best interest. They all believed the government had contributed to the happiness and the security of their lives.


Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. Majority of the citizens we interviewed had never heard of this quote yet they agreed with the principle. Some even joked that it was 99% how you react to it.

There are many reasons why Ticos are so happy and content with their lives however attitude is huge. The way they decide to look at the positive side of things is truly remarkable.

They wake up every day feeling grateful to have another day and to be able to watch another sunset. They enjoy the simple things in life and spend their time among family and friends in nature.

Their way of life is simple, authentic and stress-free. It’s a life and a pace that many other nations can’t comprehend.

Yet it’s the key to happiness!

 In your everyday lives try the Pura Vida Challenge and try to think positively, act generously and align your priorities with the things that will truly bring you a meaningful life.