Despite the Happy Planet poll that insists that Costa Ricans are the world’s happiest people — and have been for a number of years — a recent Gallup poll says that they are only the tenth happiest.

6a01156f56a197970b0148c7b84a08970c-800wiMoreover, close neighbors in Latin America appear to be happier with their lot — Panamanians are number one, Salvadorans in third place and Guatemalans in seventh.

In fact, the hemisphere ranks high: Paraguay is second, Venezuela fourth. Nor do riches seem to be an indicator: Trinidad and Tobago are a happy fifth place, closely followed by Thailand while prosperous Singapore, long admired for its industry, is dead last at 148th.

Even earth-quake wrecked Haiti which was known for corruption and grinding poverty before a record severity quake hit, is ahead of Singapore at 138th. Afghanistan at 139th and Iraq at 146th are more understandable.

How did the Gallup people arrive at their conclusion? They asked 1,000 people in each country six questions. These were basic inquiries about self esteem such as: Did others treat you with respect yesterday?

Or, did you smile or laugh much yesterday? Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday? Do you feel full of positive sentiments yesterday?

In first place Panama, citizens answering in the affirmative were 85.4%, followed by Paraguay at 85.2% and El Salvador with 84.3% In Costa Rica it was 81.3% — not a lot of pessimists.

Commentary: With due respect for the Gallup surveyors, we prefer the Happy Planet poll. But we at this blog have no scientific basis for our opinion. Like most people, we would like to believe the more favorable results… “Happy” Holidays.

Analysis – Clarification: Despite the common perception of — and arguments over — the now famous Happy Planet poll, we have to point out that the poll isn’t strictly related to the happiness of the population of a particular country.  We wouldn’t argue that Singaporeans are actually happy due to economic reasons — certainly the gay population can’t be very happy — but their last place ranking is due to the environmentally disastrous consequences of their development. The Happy Planet Index attempts to link the physical and mental well-being of the population TO the environmental impact of that population on natural resources.

With very little heavy industry and 25% of the country’s territory being protected in national parks and reserves — Costa Rica consistently tops the poll.  Because the people earn more than in other countries, they are also emotionally balanced with strong family ties, they have good public health services, are educated, AND the environmental resources consumed to earn the relatively high standard of living are much lower than in most OECD (developed) countries. This makes Costa Rica a model for sustainable development.

Meanwhile, the Gallup Poll is clearly focused on the present emotional status of each person answering the question, focusing on the past 24 hours.  It can be argued whether such lightweight questions and ephemeral time frame are even a valid measurement of a country’s true happiness, but even so the high ranking of Latin populations – including Costa Rica – would seem to logically reflect the relatively higher value that they place on personal relationships and family. In addition, the Gallup poll doesn’t pretend to have any measure of the environmental cost required to achieve this ranking.

In the end, Costa Rica’s high ranking in both polls is welcome publicity.  But it isn’t surprising that the ranking achieved is different, given that one is measuring the happiness of the planet as a whole, while the other is measuring the emotional state of people in the last 24 hours.


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