Two recent reports prove that GDP does not measure quality of life, using Costa Rica as an example for other countries. The two reports are the Happy Planet Index report and the Social Project Index of 2016. The reports use Costa Rica as an example because it has been ranked time and time again as one of the happiest countries in the world, even though its national GDP is low according to international standards. Ticos live the pure life, they do with what they have and they are happy. Costa Rica proves that happiness cannot be measured in wealth!

The Happy Planet Index report, published by the New Economics Foundation, moves away from purely economic measures of happiness and instead ranks countries by how much happiness they get from the amount of environmental resources they use. They ranked Costa Rica number one in the world.

In this report, happiness is calculated by measuring a country’s happiness in relation to the well-being, life expectancy, and social inequality and then dividing it by its ecological footprint.

Saamah Abdallah, Senior Wellbeing Researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: “The Happy Planet Index provides a compass to guide nations towards genuine progress, and shows that it is possible to live good lives without costing the Earth. We can learn much from smaller, often overlooked economies – making huge strides for their populations with limited resources.

“Too often governments prioritise accelerated economic growth above all other concerns. They lose sight of what truly matters – long, happy, sustainable lives for people around the world.”

On the other hand, the 2016 Social Project Index ranks all the countries of the world by how socially progressive they are. It includes measures of opportunity, healthcare, education, and tolerance. While quality of life in these countries does tend to rise with decent GDP growth, it does not guarantee the highest levels of social progress.

Social progress, as defined by the SPI, is the “capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens to improve their lives, and create the conditions for individuals and communities to meet their full potential.” GDP per capita is based on the World Bank definition.

Costa Rica, which has high levels of education and excellent access to medical care, ranked 28th overall, although its national GDP per capita is only $14,232.

“The Social Progress Index proves that GDP is not destiny. We need more countries to be like Costa Rica, which squeezes a lot of social progress out of its modest GDP,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of the US-based non-profit organisation Social Progress Imperative.

Here is the SPI chart:

SPI3

So, what has this small nation done right to create such a happy society and, more importantly, what kind of changes can other countries make to achieve more happiness in their everyday lives?

In 1948, Costa Rica eliminated its army, and in 1949, women got the right to vote. Soon after that, the government established a program to send students to study abroad, as long as they promised to return and spread their knowledge throughout the country. Ticos needed a saying to describe their newfound happiness after these reforms, so they came up with the term “pura vida,” which is now used as hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome, and more.

In relation to the environment, Costa Rica declared in 1978 25% of its territory as protected land in an effort to preserve the rich biodiversity that today has made the country one of the most visited ecological destinations in the world. It has been praised by institutions around the world for its sustainability practices and environmentally-friendly businesses.

Socially, Costa Rica has become a society that can count on accessible education for all and a national healthcare system that even provides for medical tourists. Ticos enjoy a literacy rate that is comparable to any other well-developed nation, advancements in LBGTQ rights, a political system which allows for strong participation of its citizens, and an almost complete elimination of fossil fuels for electric production.

Costa Rica has proven that a life focused on the well-being of the people and the planet is the best recipe to living a long and happy life. While many tourists initially visit the country for its natural beauty and endless choice of activities, the longest lasting impression they leave with is the kindness and joy that the Costa Rican people offer.