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Costa Rica is happiest, greenest place on earth, survey says

July 7, 2009 |  9:12 am

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is for many outdoors enthusiasts the most magnificent place on earth. The Central American nation is blessed with good surf. It teems with more than 800 bird species. Its fishing fleets ply waters that abound with sailfish and tarpon. Its eco-lodges are watched over by tall green trees and monkeys.

Its volcanoes are sights to behold and with this in mind we share an image captured recently by Zach Smith of Arenal.net, a website promoting tourism to and around Costa Rica's spectacular Arenal Volcano.

Now Costa holds another distinction: happiest and greenest place on earth.

A survey by the New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, made the determination after looking at 143 countries that are home to 99% of the world's population and using an equation weighing life expectancy and happiness against environmental impact.

Costa Rica, whose rich biodiversity is breathtaking, emerged just ahead of the Dominican Republic and well above the United States with its 114th ranking. Australia was third.

The survey found that Costa Ricans, with their pura vida or "pure life" outlook, have a life expectancy of 78.5 years, and 85% of those interviewed said they were happy. That combined with the nation's tiny ecological footprint helped place it atop the Happy Planet Index.

The happy part is somewhat surprising as I've been there many times and witnessed poverty and know that lots of women and even girls there are drawn to prostitution, which sadly is also a primary tourist attraction for some. 

As sociologist Andrea Fonseca said in an Agence France-Presse story about the survey, Costa Rica's rise to the top of the happy list "has a lot to do with social imagination." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. Credit: Zach Smith