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The Footprint of Happiness is Small

Footprints of HappinessBefore we left for vacation to Costa Rica, my oldest daughter and I stumbled upon the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  It is a measurement of the happiness of the people of every nation on Earth.  The score is based on life satisfaction, life expectancy, and an ecological footprint. 

To her utter dismay, America ranks one of the lowest.  Costa Rica ranks the happiest place on Earth.  We scrolled the mouse over every country, and tried to understand the disparity between nations.  Unable to appeal to her logical mind, I proposed that we find out for ourselves. 

In just a short week’s time, this is our observations and theory.  While the research is limited and ungrounded, I believe there is validity in sharing what we learned. 

This is a short list of the national perspective and life circumstances of the people.

  • The people consider themselves “peaceful.”  There is no army and few guns.  People feel safe, and crime is low. 
  • Health Care is available to all people at the cost of a 9% flat income tax.  If just one parent has earned income, the whole family receives coverage.  
  • The weather is “ever-spring.”  If weather affects your mood, then Costa Ricans definitely have an advantage.  The weather is pleasant all year long.  There are just two seasons – pretty and beautiful.  Even during rainy season, there is sunshine nearly every day of the year. 
  • Costa Rica is very eco-friendly.  The people are proud of their natural resources and work to preserve them.  There is clean, drinkable water for everyone.  Geothermal plants capture the volcanic steam to produce electricity.  Most of the rainforest is protected. 
  • The Costa Rican diet is rice and beans, or beans and rice (whichever combination you prefer) and lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and coffee.  The growing season is year-long; they eat what is grown locally and in season; there is plenty for everyone. 
  • There are few imports.  They are a people who are self- sufficient.  They grow their own food; use their own workforce; build their own reality; create their own happiness.  
  • There are few cars, and public transportation is available even in the rural areas.
  • People tend to stay in the community they grew up in.  There is not a lot of moving around, unless for work.  Multi-generational families live in close proximity.
  • A free education is available to all children, even the most rural.  The government school includes primary, secondary, university by test (about 25% of graduates), and trade school for all interested. 
  • No government welfare assistance is available; they offer job placement services.  Unemployment is low and extreme poverty is approximately 2%.  Most of the population is considered middle class.          
  • The people live simply with what they earn.  There is no personal debt.  The only purchase they borrow money for is a to buy a home.
  • The people are hard workers and do work they enjoy.  The average work week is 48 hours with 2 weeks of vacation for hourly employees.  Farm work is of course, more and less. 

How do these life circumstances translate into a happy life?

Live within means.   There is freedom and responsibility inherent in living within our means.  Only when we internalize our freedom of choice and take responsibility for our choices can we be happy.  I asked one Costa Rican about personal debt.  He placed his hands around his neck and said, “It strangles the life out of you, no let someone else own you.”  

Live without waste and excess.  There is a mindset of plenty; they have a life of plenty.  No need to compete for social status where enough is not enough to the point of waste and excess.   

Live a life of gratitude and appreciation.  The people work to add value to life, not to extract the life from life.  They appreciate nature, beauty, and God.  There is a sense of pride as a nation and love as a family.      

Freedom, responsibility, security, health, and gratitude are the core values of the people of Costa Rica.  The people have a simple lifestyle and walk this Earth with a small footprint.  The means are relatively little and the quality is grand. 

So simple and basic is this seemingly child-like way of life.  The footprint of happiness is small.          

I am grateful to have experienced this with my children, and pray that we are able to apply these lessons to our lives.  May we live within our means, waste less, and appreciate all things.  May our home be filled with happiness.

A special thanks to our local guide Meghan for planning a most memorable trip, and Roy of Costa Rica for Everyone for great tours and hospitality.

Cultivating Happy Kids,


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