Guest Blog: Costa Rica + Jungle Gyms, Food and Laid-Back Attitudes = Happiness

By Brianna Gunter, part 2.

Costa Rica is widely known as one of the world’s happiest nations. Actually, it is the happiest in the world. Just last year, the World Database of Happiness (yes, it exists) ranked this tiny Central American country first out of happiest nations with a score of 8.5 on a scale of one to 10. The U.S. ranked 20th with a score of 7.4.

While I lived in the capital of happy — a place more than 10 points happier than my homeland — I decided to examine just what it is that makes Costa Rica so darn full of smiles. After all, studying abroad has the tendency to turn a person into a great cultural examiner. There are of course the obvious reasons for happiness there: nice beaches, access to both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, awesome forests and waterfalls, good weather, democracy, ice cream places on every corner, etc. Nevertheless my semester abroad led me to believe the true reasons for Tican happiness are a little more complex than palm trees and blue skies.

I mentioned in my previous post the terrible condition of the sidewalks. I frequently walked with an eye to the ground so I could navigate around potential chasms of death (you can see straight down to the sewers). Costa Rica is full of needless hazards actually. In fact, there is a great lack of “danger” or “restricted area” signs and due to this laid back authority Ticos are free to wander where they please. Going along with this, there is a great lack of censorship when it comes to profanity on TV and photos in newspapers. As a professor of mine there once said (in Spanish of course) “That’s just life. Just take it for what it is, good and bad, and don’t worry.” Yes, life sure is happier when you just let go and don’t stress the small stuff.

Having a happy childhood also helps and Costa Rica is on well top of this. Aside from a great educational system (the country has a very high literacy rate), there are many locations throughout the country designed to educate children but let them have a great time learning. An example is the Museo de los Niños or “Children’s Museum” in the capital city. There my study abroad group spent a day running and playing alongside Tico children in ridiculously elaborate interactive learning setups. Actually, we never would have stopped playing in the helicopter has some children not come along. My personal favorite however was the “terremoto” room, which shook to imitate earthquakes. Last one to stay standing was the winner!

I should also mention that almost every fast food restaurant there has a play place for children — even Papa John’s. These aren’t just any play places mind you; they are the best. Full-on jungle gyms and ball pits. It certainly wasn’t hard to spot a happy child while grabbing a quick lunch.

Of course, lunch in Costa Rica was never really “quick.” People there take it slow and hardly ever eat or drink on-the-go. Fast food is popular but not that popular. Not even the huge smiling Wendy balloon (“Fat Wendy” as my friends and I called her, because she really was a chubby balloon child) perched on top of every Wendy’s joint could lure people away from their much healthier, more filling and much tastier traditional meals. Gallo Pinto, the national dish of rice and beans mixed with other good stuff, is really the way to go in Costa Rica.

There is really an endless sea of reasons for why Ticos are so happy, and I could keep going on and on. Nevertheless all things must come to an end at some point. As everyone happily says in Costa Rica when it’s time to say goodbye, Pura Vida or “Pure Life.” Basically, go live life to the fullest and be happy.

Brianna is Managing Editor at The Signal, The College of New Jersey’s Newspaper.