Jun 18 2012

Newsletter – Happiness Issue – June 2012

Welcome to our RetireForLessInCostaRica.com Newsletter!

Paul and Gloria


In this issue:

• Featured Article: How do you define happiness?

• Enjoying the Life

• Book Review: Butterfly in the City, by Jo Stuart

• Featured Reprint: Why Choose Costa Rica?




How Do You Define Happiness?

written by Gloria

Happiness can be different things to different people, but what is it really? One definition is that it is a “state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” Another says that “Happiness is thought of as the good life, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.” And “Martin Seligman, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness, describes happiness as having three parts: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure is the “feel good” part of happiness. Engagement refers to living a “good life” of work, family, friends, and hobbies. Meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose.”

There have even been studies ranking the countries in the world in terms of happiness, in each case, according to their own specific criteria of happiness.  In two such studies, Costa Rica tops the rankings.

The most recent study is the 2012 Happy Planet Index. The new economics foundation has just released its third Happy Planet Index (HPI) report which evaluates 151 countries in terms of their sustainable well-being. This study rates countries on three criteria: life expectancy, experienced well-being, and ecological footprint, using the following formula to calculate the HPI scores.

You can watch an introduction to the Happy Planet Index by its creator, Nic Marks, below:

While no one country gets the highest scores for all three criteria, different countries do well on different criterion. For instance, Japan ranks the highest in “life expectancy” with a score of 83.4 years. Denmark ranks the highest in “experienced well-being” with a score of 7.8. And Afghanistan has the lowest “ecological footprint per capita” of 0.5. But once the formula is applied, which calculates all three criteria, Japan ranks 45th of the 151 countries, Afghanistan ranks 109th, and Denmark ranks 110th. The United States ranks 105th.

“For the second time, Costa Rica tops the HPI, again with a substantial lead. The country has embraced sustainability in its national policies: it produces 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, has reversed deforestation in the country, and, in 2008, committed itself to becoming carbon neutral by 2021. Costa Rica has the second highest life expectancy in the Americas, higher than the USA’s; experienced well-being higher than many richer nations; and a per capita Ecological Footprint one third the size of the USA’s.” (HPI Report, p. 13)

Here are some of the results from the 2012 Happy Planet Index, including the top 10 ranked countries:

You can read the entire report of the 2012 Happy Planet Index here.

The second happiness study is the World Database of Happiness which ranks how long and how happy people live. It considers 149 countries around the globe, from 2000 to 2012, by calculating Happy Life Years (HLY). In this study, “Happiness is defined as the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his life-as-a-whole favorably.” Overall happiness, in this definition, includes the two components of pleasure (our pleasant feelings) and contentment (our personal assessment of having what we want).

Here again, Costa Rica places at the top, with an overall score of 66.7 HLY. Following is their top ten, along with Mexico (#14), Panama (#16), and the United States (#18):

In the end, happiness, I think, is a very personal thing. So what is happiness to me? It’s having the time and money to enjoy life without worrying about having enough of either of them. It is spending time being near my husband – sharing a hug, talking, or just reading in the same room. It’s snuggling with our cats while watching television in the evening. It’s listening to the birds and frogs while sitting on our patio at just about any time of the day. It’s the smell of bread fresh out of the oven and the flavor of a perfectly seasoned pot of homemade chicken soup. It’s taking a nap on a rainy afternoon while the rain drops pound on our tin roof, and it’s the fresh smell in the air after a rainy season downpour. It’s listening to cows lowing and roosters crowing nearby. It’s moving my feet to a Latin rhythm. It’s a sugary bite of watermelon and the sweet crunch of an amazing Costa Rican carrot. Happiness to me is the simple things in life. And that means that I am blessed beyond measure, because these simple things are all around me and call me into happiness…if I am merely aware of them.

Enjoying the Life

written by Gloria

Our cat, Tori, in the flower bed

Today, for me, is one of those perfect rainy season mornings. The sky is blue, with puffy clouds in the distance. I’m sitting on our patio, drinking my coffee, watching and listening to all the activity going on around me. Our cats are mesmerized by movements in our flower beds – geckos and insects mostly – and the squirrels jumping from tree to tree.

Rufous-tailed hummingbird in our yard

Though I can hear the traffic on the Pista, what has my attention are all of the bird sounds. There are Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds squawking as they feed on the nearby flowers. Large brown and yellow Montezuma Oropendolas fly through the trees and make the branches shudder when they land while making their turkey-sounding call. And then there is the distinctive call of the Wood Rails who are our frequent visitors, and the non-stop symphony of other birds I’ve yet to identify. The birds are the first things I hear in the morning and the last I hear before falling asleep.

Brilliant Blue Morpho Butterfly

I am also aware of the other creatures with which we share this space. There is a huge bumblebee just now flitting between the flowers. And over there is a caterpillar inching its way across the patio. Butterflies float through, including the brilliant Blue Morphos which we are lucky enough to have in our area. And then there is the chirping of frogs which I hear but never see.

There is so much LIFE here in Costa Rica. Perhaps there was as much life going on back at our home in Baltimore. But there, I rarely had the time to just sit and observe it, or the weather was too hot, or too cold, or there were too many mosquitoes for me to enjoy it for long. Here in Costa Rica, the weather in the Central Valley is almost always comfortable, and I have the time on most days to just be. What a great gift our life here has turned out to be!

Side Note: One of my favorite websites is: http://www.naturesongs.com/CRsounds.html, which is where the bird songs in this article came from. It’s helped me identify many of the sounds I hear around me and never fails to entertain our cat Tori.


Book Review: Butterfly in the City, by Jo Stuart

written by Paul

Butterfly in the City by Jo Stuart is one of the best books I’ve read on Costa Rica. As the name implies, she is the “butterfly” and the city is San Jose, Costa Rica.

Most other books on Costa Rica are guide books about its natural beauty – waterfalls, beaches, flora and fauna – with recommendations on hotels, B&Bs, hostels, attractions, and restaurants. But this book is about how to adapt to the culture. It’s the story of Jo Stuart’s day-to-day life, of her city, and of the people of Costa Rica as seen through her eyes — the eyes of a single woman who wanted a new experience. She retired and settled here over 20 years ago, in the early 1990’s. She had been looking for a place where she could live simply, within a limited budget, and without “owning anything.” After a couple of visits, she chose Costa Rica, feeling comfortable in a country without an army, and at home with the culture and people.

Jo Stuart Loves San Jose's Pedestrian Boulevards

She tells the story of Josafinos (residents of San Jose) in particular, and Costa Ricans (also called Ticos) in general. I consider it a must-read for anyone living in Costa Rica or considering moving here, as it provides great insight into the Tico personality, way of life, values, attitudes, how to adapt, and provides many other interesting and helpful tidbits of information. I always thought of this book as an ethnography of sorts, perhaps an inadvertent one, but one nevertheless. It’s practically a reference book for me as I’ve gone to it several times for confirmation of something I was thinking or wanted to express. It’s a quick and easy read, so if you want to understand Costa Rica and Costa Ricans, read this book. (Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.)

Although being retired is a happy condition in itself, living in Costa Rica has a great deal to do with our sense of well-being. I’ve been thinking about what I have here: a beautiful and peaceful country unlikely to be threatened by another world power, large or small, a host country whose citizens are gracious and charming, a climate that requires no air conditioning or heating, a great variety of good food at reasonable prices. These are all conditions that contribute to the good life…Yes, it is very easy to be content in Costa Rica.”         — Jo Stuart, Butterfly in the City, p. 214


Featured Reprint: Why retire outside of the U.S.?

written by Gloria

So why Costa Rica?  Why not Mexico, or Panama, or right here in the U.S.? There are so many reasons that I’ll continue to write more about it in future posts. First and foremost, we wanted to live in a country where the government was stable. Long called the “Switzerland of the Americas,” Costa Rica is a thriving democracy and its people are very patriotic. They are proud to be citizens of the most progressive and peace-loving country in Central America.

There have been no military actions since 1947 when a successful civil uprising against the government, which was being influenced by communist factions, led to an era of democracy and reforms. While there have been scandals and corruption over the years, Costa Rica has remained a country of proud citizens who pride themselves in 150 years of free and honest elections. If you would like to read more about Costa Rica’s history and culture, read The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica. You can read a review on our “featured books” page.

Since 1948, Costa Rica has had no standing army. 1947, Costa Rica and all of the other countries in the Americas, signed the Rio Reciprocal Assistance Treaty which promised that they would defend each other should one of the countries face attack. Costa Rica also spends no money on nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

These decisions have allowed them to fund public education and health care. Compared to other Central American countries, Costa Ricans are relatively affluent, with a large middle class and much less poverty. I love that Costa Rica is so peaceful and that they take care of their own. This is the kind of place I would like to call home.

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    That’s all for this month, but we’ll be back in touch soon!  If you enjoy our newsletter, please share it with your friends.  We hope to see you online!

    Gloria & Paul Yeatman
    San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica

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