After my first full day in Sámara, it is clear to me that Ticos do not have a lot of material things. By itself, that may not be surprising, since it is, after all, a third world country. However, Costa Rica is ranked number one in the world using the Happy Planet Index, after considering the experienced level of well-being of Costa Ricans, their life expectancy, and the country’s ecological footprint. In another study, Costa Rican students were surveyed and of other students surveyed, again, Costa Rica has the happiest people. This is true even though the USA’s GDP is four times greater than Costa Rica’s. The USA ranked 16th in subjective happiness. It’s not all about stuff. The authors of the second study suggest that having strong familial bonds and friendships are critical, and feeling like your government is predictable also relates to happiness. (Russia and Egypt are at the bottom of the happiness scale.)
So the way the Ticos seem to live, observing them at work in restaurants for example as they goof around with each other, coupled with their small homes with satellite dishes on top and according to Eugenia, my driver, flat screen TV’s inside, shows interpersonal relationships are more important than having big houses and fancy cars. In the US, we work very long hours to afford lots of stuff, leaving little time to cultivate relationships with our existing friends, much less make new friends.
It is my experience that while working, it is extremely difficult to maintain friendships I have had for a long time. As work has slowed down, it’s getting easier to find time for coffee with old friends. It is also very difficult to find new friends. To find new friends means trying new things like studying Spanish. I stick my neck out there and go to Spanish-speaking “meet ups” I find on the internet. Some groups are friendlier than others but I’ve been able to see a few people regularly and make some acquaintances.
All of this has made me wonder about the Millennials, kids born between around 1982 and 2004. According to research by Goldman Sachs, this generation is putting off home buying and car purchasing, opting for renting their homes and ride sharing services such as Uber. Some of this is probably by necessity since they may be saddled with high student loans as the highest educated generation in history. But I wonder if they feel more freedom without the responsibilities of home ownership and car maintenance? Does this give them more time for their friends, decreasing loneliness and theoretically increasing happiness?
Here in Costa Rica there is a lot more time for family and friends without stressful jobs that bring in lots of dough to buy lots of things but that make the US the 16th happiest nation. Would I trade my Mercedes to be happier? Does freedom from the burden of material things equate to greater happiness?