skip to Main Content

Costa Rica: Lessons for a Happy, Sustainable Future

Costa Rican clothesline, by Jennifer Sassaman

Here at GNHUSA, one of our favorite people is Nic Marks, creator of the Happy Planet Index which “measures what matters: sustainable well-being for all. It tells us how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, sustainable lives.” Nic, who is also a statistician and author, introduced the Happy Planet concept to the world at a July 2010 TED talk which has so far received 1, 637,058 views. At that time, Costa Rica was way ahead of all other nations in a combined total of high levels of happiness AND a collective low carbon footprint.

It’s not just TED viewers but also deep thinkers who are paying attention (of course, they can be one and the same!). Most recently, Jason Hickel wrote an article for the Guardian about what Costa Rica is doing right and how their  model can help the rest of us “avert the apocalypse.”  On November 9, 2017 our friends at Local Futures/Economics of Happiness republished this  article by Jason Hickel on their blog site, which is where we picked it up.

Reading Hickel’s piece, it’s easy to see why Local Futures, with their profound concerns about the growth economy, would republish his work. Hickel makes the connection between a growing international GDP and the rising carbon emissions at the heart of climate change, and stresses, “If we want to have any hope of averting catastrophe, we’re going to have to do something about our addiction to growth. This is tricky, because GDP growth is the main policy objective of virtually every government on the planet. It lies at the heart of everything we’ve been told to believe about how the economy should work: that GDP growth is good, that it’s essential to progress, and that if we want to improve human well-being and eradicate poverty around the world, we need more of it. It’s a powerful narrative. But is it true?

“Maybe not. Take Costa Rica. A beautiful Central American country known for its lush rainforests and stunning beaches, Costa Rica proves that achieving high levels of human well-being has very little to do with GDP and almost everything to do with something very different.”

What is that “very different” coming from Costa Rica? Seven years after Nic Marks’ first TED Talk, Costa Rica is still doing remarkably well for its people and its environment, without, as  Hickel observes, “… much GDP at all, and therefore without triggering ecological collapse. ”

How has Costa Rica accomplished this? And what are the implications for those of us who live far from a lush tropical landscape and miles of beaches? For those of us who believe in collective, systemic answers to make happiness our new bottom line, Hickel has plenty of answers and questions here. It’s a good read, a fine follow-up to Nic Marks TED talk. Let’s hope Hickel gets nearly as many readers as Marks got viewers!


Back To Top