Costa Rica is the happiest and most sustainable country on Earth.
Costa Rica ranks #1 out of 140 nations in the 2016 edition of the Happy Planet Index, which considers life expectancy, well-being, health, and ecological footprint among factors when ranking countries for happiness.
High life expectancy and literacy rate
Why does it receive such a high rank? A Gallup poll discovered Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of well-being in the world. It was one of the highest life expectancies– 78.5 years. This is no doubt partly a result of the nation’s excellent public health and hospital system. Costa Rica has free primary and secondary public school education and a literacy rate of 97.8%.
Environmentally sustainable and low ecological footprint
Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia but boasts 6% of the world’s biodiversity which the country protects by designating over 25% of its land as protected national parks. It does all of this while utilizing less than a quarter of the the resources typically used in the Western world. It gets 99% of its energy from renewable resources such as hydro-power.
Peaceful and protective of human rights
The oldest democracy in Latin America, Costa Rica is a peaceful nation that abolished it’s army in 1948 and reallocated those military expenditures to health care and education. Often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America, it is ranked ahead of the United States and #2 in Latin America by the Institute for Economics and Peace in its Global Peace Index. It is also well known for its protection of human rights and it ranked #6 out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders.
Oldest democracy in Latin America
Costa Rica has enjoyed continuing stability after almost two centuries of uninterrupted democratic government. The legal voting age is 18. Costa Rica has a single Legislative Assembly made up of 57 people. The general public votes once every four years for a president and 2 vice presidents. The general public votes for the party of their preference for the Assembly. After all votes are counted, the percentage of votes determines how many seats each party will have in the Assembly. Each party selects their own representatives to fill these seats.
After two and a half centuries as a Spanish colony, Costa Rica declared its independence from Spain in 1821. In 1948, President Jose Maria Figueres Ferrer made vast reforms in policy and civil rights. Women and blacks gained the vote, the communist party was banned, banks were nationalized, the military was abolished, and presidential term limits were established.
In 1987, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez earned world recognition when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the Nicaraguan civil war; he was elected president again for the 2006-2010 term during which he helped pass free trade agreements with the United States and several other countries. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. Costa Rica elected its first woman president, Laura Chinchilla, in 2010. Luis Guillermo Solis, a representative of the socialist-leaning PAC party was elected president in 2014.