You’ve seen all those surveys about the most enjoyable places in the world to live, right?
Vancouver, Melbourne, Cape Town and Auckland are often mentioned. In the most recently published version, Vienna was again voted the world’s most liveable city.
The Austrian capital was deemed to offer the highest quality of living in the latest survey of 230 cities, ranked by a measurement based on factors including political stability, crime, currency exchange, recreational facilities, housing and climate.
But does that mean the good burghers of Vienna are happy? Does quality of life equal contentment?
The annual Happy Planet Index (really!) was also published recently. And this time, the criteria – amongst the surveyed 140 countries – was what matters most…sustainable well-being for all. Not GDP – economic growth – but how well countries are doing in providing their people with long, happy, sustainable lives.
And by these measures, the UK ranks a lowly 34th and the USA – so-called land of the free – sits near the bottom, in 108th place.
And the happiest? Costa Rica. Yes, this small country in Central America brings more smiles to its people’s faces than Sweden. Or Switzerland. Or Spain.
According to the HPI:
This tropical Central-American country is home to the greatest density of species in the world. Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is less than a quarter of the size of many Western European and North American countries, and is primarily based on tourism, agriculture and exports.
Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, and has since reallocated army funds to be spent on education, health and pensions. In 2012, Costa Rica invested more in education and health as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product than the UK. Professor Mariano Rojas, a Costa Rican economist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, attributes Costa Ricans’ high well-being to a culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods.
Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. The Costa Rican government uses taxes collected on the sale of fossil fuels to pay for the protection of forests.
In 2015, the country was able to produce 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, and the government continues to invest in renewable energy generation in an effort to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.
As luck would have it, I’m travelling to Costa Rica in October, on a press trip with Explore, the adventure travel experts.
So I might leave a country still supporting an army and Trident missiles, struggling to pay for its education and pensions systems, and burning through its energy resources…but I’ll return from Costa Rica with a huge smile on my face.