What D.C. Graduate Students Can Learn About Costa Rica’s Happiness Culture

A close look at Costa Rica could give American students insight into leading happier lives.

Montezuma Beach, Costa Rica (Credit: Renee Garcia)

Costa Ricans are some of the happiest people in the world. They are the happiest country in Latin America and rank 13th in the world. Self-reported happiness measured by the most recent World Gallup Poll asked people to rank their happiness from 0 to 10. Costa Rica averaged 7.07, higher than these other much wealthier nations:

  • United States
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • United Arab Emirates

So why are ticos, as Costa Ricans affectionately call themselves, so gosh darn happy? Without generalizing the Costa Rican people, their culture and society reveal some trends. Over the years, researchers have identified the following factors that influence happiness levels for ticos: 


Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica Credit: Renee Garcia

Furthermore, the government and society of Costa Rica point to some highly unique characteristics.

In 1948, Costa Rica made a risky move in abolishing its army and spending military funds on health and education. It was well worth it. According to UNESCO, Costa Rica now has over 97% literacy rates for males and females in all age groups.


San Jose, Costa Rica (Credit: Renee Garcia)

Costa Rica is a pioneer in environmental protection and sustainable living, pledging to be the world’s first country to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.

High importance is also placed on helping elderly people stay active and engaged in their local communities.

Ticos even have an expression that represents their culture of happiness —it’s called “pura vida” and it’s everywhere! The country’s website  describes it as enjoying your life no matter the circumstances and the realization that life is what you make it.

So how can tico happiness be applied by D.C. graduate students who are busy studying some of the most pressing global issues? Researchers who study happiness and well-being at the London School of Economics are encouraging Americans to rethink their definition of success.  

Instead of defining success as wealth or status, Americans should think more about improving their relationships and spending time in greener areas to decrease mental distress.

If you’re convinced, leave the books behind for a day and find your own pura vida. Connect with nature by heading to one of these spectacular local destinations, offering free admission on Sunday, November 11, 2018:


Blue Ridge Mountains, VA (Credit: Renee Garcia)


Harper’s Ferry, WV (Credit: Renee Garcia)


Great Falls, VA (Credit: Renee Garcia)

You won’t find any sloths or spider monkeys, but a peaceful getaway to escape the hectic D.C. chatter might leave you feeling happier.

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