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The Happiest Country.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is Costa Rica the best place in the world?

In recent months several sources have said that Costa Rica is the world’s best country.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times concluded in a January 6 column that Costa Rica is the happiest place, mainly because it has many tropical birds and no soldiers.
Kristof also cited the World Database of Happiness, which asks people how happy they are, and the Happy Planet Index, which measures personal satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental impact, both of which ranked Costa Rica number one last year.
But during the past decade many researchers have published happiness rankings, the results of which are often contradictory.
A 2006 Socyberty report concluded that the five happiest places were Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden, Canada and Austria.
Meanwhile, a 2003 study published by the New Scientist magazine in the United Kingdom, reported that the top five were Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico.
Given these contradictions, it’s clear that if we want to measure happiness, we need better ways to do it.
Migration patterns say a lot about levels of personal satisfaction, since people normally don’t leave home, except in extreme circumstances.
In Costa Rica’s case, only a tiny fraction of the country’s population has emigrated, and most Costa Ricans who attend foreign universities return home when they finish their studies.
Probably the most important criterion involves life expectancy.
It’s hard to know how much happiness there is in people’s lives, but it’s easy to know how much life people have.
Costa Ricans generally live to a ripe old age - 78.8 years on average, according to United Nations data - longer than those in all except other 20 countries, and only 3.8 years fewer than those in first-place Japan.
What makes the result especially striking is that Costa Rica is more efficient than any other country at providing long life at low cost.
A simple way of calculating each life efficiency involves dividing life expectancy by annual per-person purchasing power.
The formula doesn’t allow comparisons among countries with widely different life expectancies (40 years divided by $20,000 produces the same numerical result as 80 years divided by $40,000, but most people would no doubt prefer to live in the 80-40 country).
But among the 25 countries with the greatest life expectancy – a reasonably narrow range – Costa Rica is far more efficient than any other.
A combination of long life, achieved with only modest revenue, along with a positive migration picture, may or may not make Costa Rica the world’s happiest place.
But people in 150 countries with low or moderate incomes would no doubt like to live as well – or at least as long – as Costa Ricans.
People in rich countries would probably like to live as efficiently.

Fred Blaser
Republica Media Group