Why Is Costa Rica “The Happiest Place On Earth” ? How Happy are Barbadians?

In an age of uncertainty, society globally needs a new compass to set it on a path of real progress. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) provides that compass by measuring what truly matters to us – our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives – and what matters to the planet – our rate of resource consumption.

The HPI brings them together in a unique form which captures the ecological efficiency with which we are achieving good lives. This report presents results from the second global HPI. It shows that we are still far from achieving sustainable well-being, and puts forward a vision of what we need to do to get there…

…”Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth.”

… from The Happy Planet Index 2.0 2009 published by the New Economics Foundation

“Economics as if people and the planet mattered”

The New Economics Foundation recently published the latest edition of their Happy Planet Index with Costa Rica grabbing the number one spot and the U.K. rated at a pathetic number seventy-four.

Barbados wasn’t listed, but if I had to make a guess I would think that true to our “Little Britain” moniker, Bim would fall closer to the U.K. than the land of “Pura Vida” (“Pura Vida” – Pure Life – is Costa Rica’s national cultural saying).

Why (IMHO) would Barbados be low on the Happy Planet list?

Look at what we, our families and our communities became as we raced for the dollar above all. Look at what our beautiful island became: garbage everywhere, destroyed coastlines and decayed water, health and public security infrastructures. Look at how “we culture” has so readily adopted bad parts of North American popular culture and consumerism.

Sure, you may have a new car or a bigger home than your parents did – but how many happy times do you spend with your family, your children? Can you walk to a nearby clean park or beach? Is your street clean and safe? Does clean water come from your tap without fail?

Remember when you were little – the excitement of waking up, the “can’t wait” to see what life would bring that day? How much do you enjoy waking up now? Do you enjoy your life, your country, your community at this moment?

How much of your dissatisfaction relates to the decaying natural and cultural environments of Barbados that you find yourself living in?

If progress means that five years from now I’ll have to spend an additional hour on the road driving the same distance to work, you can have your “progress”. If progress means that our green spaces will be filled with housing, and the beaches will be disappeared or inaccessible without buying a condo… you can have your “progress”.

How much more of this “progress” can our island take?

Barbados Queen Elizabeth Hospital Washroom - "Progress & Quality Of Life" As Defined By The Arthur/Mottley BLP Government

Barbados Queen Elizabeth Hospital Washroom - "Progress & Quality Of Life" As Defined By The Owen Arthur /Mia Mottley BLP Government

What is “Progress” for a Country and an Individual?

Since 1994, Barbados has had some truly good years economically. Considering how small we are, those years of economic success were probably not so much to do with how we ran our country as with the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats”. Barbados did well when the rest of the world was doing well, and not so well when the world’s economy shuddered.

During those good years though, where did we invest our profits? What were our priorities?

I’d suggest that during the good years the Barbados BLP government “invested” money in many places that didn’t matter: in failed mega-projects like Cricket World Cup, Hotels and Resorts Inc., that were supposed to “improve the economy”. Then there were the countless wasted smaller projects that were merely give-aways for political expediency and favours. (Hey… how many of those government giveaway weedeaters ever saw an honest day’s work and income generated for their original recipients?)

Instead of improving public transit, the BLP government built more roads and allowed more cars. The BLP government had money for roads, but not for repairing a water distribution system that is leaking up to 60% of the clean water we can produce. Money for “economic progress” instead of hospital maintenance and staffing.

Video: How Graeme Hall was before PM Thompson decided to let his friends build on the wetlands.

Graeme Hall as it was before PM Thompson stole 2/3 of the parkland for his developer friends.

Millions for new and fancy diplomatic missions in New York and Miami – but no money or government desire to fix a rusted sluice gate and save the last mangrove forest on the island.

Did the BLP Arthur/Mottley government make these choices because the citizens demanded such “progress”, or because this was the BLP’s vision of “progress”? Or a little of both?

How Do We Bring About Positive Changes To Barbados?

The current DLP-Thompson Government of Barbados has been conducting an “environmental sustainability” publicity campaign for the last six or so months. I use the words “publicity campaign” rather than just the word “campaign” because I wouldn’t want anyone to misunderstand what the Thompson government’s new-found environmental talk is really all about. The government’s environmental publicity campaign is about words, promises and more words. Image, not reality. Advertising, not positive change.

The Thompson government is certainly slicker at publicity and spin than the Arthur/Mottley government ever was – but the priorities and economics-based definition of “progress” have remained the same.

And like the Arthur/Mottley government, the David Thompson government deals primarily with words – not actions.

Some may argue that talk, discussion and education are necessary precursors to cultural change and real action – and that is true. Some say that words are the catalyst for the personal changes that lead to changes in individual actions.

All that is true as far as it goes, but without real actions on the part of government the status quo will remain. Talk does not produce change. Action does.

And then there is that one huge factor we love to ignore in Barbados when we speak of change, that one part of the equation that successive governments have failed miserably at: the leading role that laws and the rule of law play in changing culture and individual actions.

Want To Change Our Society? Establish Good Laws and Enforce Them Justly For Everyone.

When the USA and Canada wanted to stop public smoking and smoking in general for well-found reasons of public health and cost, not a whole lot happened until various levels of government started to change their laws to prohibit smoking in public places and in the workplace. Some jurisdictions enacted laws that even prohibited smoking in one’s own car if children were present.

And people stopped smoking.

Changes in laws led the way for societal change. The same was true for the cultural and attitude shifts that took place about wearing seatbelts, drinking and driving and wearing helmets on motorcycles and bicycles.

These changes saved lives and millions of dollars in health costs – but it took changes in the laws before the people embraced the underlying cultural changes.

The USA and Canada use laws to make cultural changes because their governments know that laws are generally respected by citizens and fairly enforced by authorities. In short, laws can change culture in the USA and Canada because the rule of law is respected.

"Campaign Donation" deposited to Prime Minister Owen Arthur's personal bank account. Barbados political elites break laws without fear.

No "Rule of Law" in Barbados - This "campaign donation" cheque was deposited to Prime Minister Owen Arthur's personal bank account. Barbados political elites break laws without fear because they know they will never be held accountable by the next government. Its all about being part of "the Club"!

There is a huge difference between the rule of law in the USA and Canada – and in Barbados where laws are seldom enforced and the rule of law is secondary to the social and economic position of privileged law-breakers. When powerful people can buy their way out of rape or assault charges, when ex-Prime Minister Owen Arthur doesn’t have to answer for depositing “campaign donations” into his personal bank account – or when Prime Minister Thompson can misuse his position to give public funds to his friend’s company (CLICO) – and at the same time shield it from public scrutiny – the citizens soon learn that the law is not to be respected or obeyed.

And that is the problem that is faced by any Barbados government at this time in our history: the law has been so disrespected by our leadership for so many years that it is no longer effective as a tool for leading positive change.

Robert with Cliverton


Filed under Barbados, Corruption, Crime & Law, Culture & Race Issues, Environment, Political Corruption, Politics, Politics & Corruption

18 responses to “Why Is Costa Rica “The Happiest Place On Earth” ? How Happy are Barbadians?

  1. Wright B.Astard

    Costa Ricans should be more than happy. It is one of the very few countries in the region ,Caribbean, Central and South America, where the taxpayers are not over burdened in supporting a standing army .

  2. Wright B.Astard

    But does this happiness include the inhabitants of the state of Limon?

  3. You know, NO eastern Caribbean island was included, which says more about the validity of the Index… See http://steves-dominica.blogspot.com/2009/07/happy-planet-index-misplaces-caribbean.html

  4. victor

    From reading some other bIogs, one in particuIar, especiaIIy re the BoardwaIk story, you’d be Ied to concIude that there indeed are quite a few Bajans who are very unhappy indeed Iiving here, in a frenzy of enraged misery, in fact,

  5. zion1971

    HAPPINESS IS A STATE OF MIND. Not MATERIAL POSSESSION or wealth. I grow up poor with the basic amenities but my family was happy.

  6. Wright B.Astard

    You could fool me,zion1971, I thought that happiness is owning a two-storey home in the Heights and Terrace,with a SUV and BMW in the double garage .Having a University degree,Masters,preferably and a couple of Blackberries

  7. Sargeant

    Don’t be so sure that everything is hunky dory when it comes to campaign financing, politics and FOI in Canada.




  8. Illuminator

    Many things in our political set-up in Bim want looking up but please don’t glorify the US and Canada’s own especially the US. The US is said to have over a million laws but it still boils down to if they are enforced each and every time with no regards to the person(s) involved and think I that is a resounding no .

    If you roll with the right crowd and you know your place and play the game then you are ok but if you get out of line , well , you probably might have broken one or more of those million laws and could get one or more testes squeezed real hard.

    I just have a feeling that that is what happened to Madoff and Stanford . I mean they didn’t just recently start doing whatever they were doing .

  9. Duppy Lizard

    I visited Costa Rica in 1990 – just before the mass influx of tourists. I remember an uncrowded country of immense beauty and diversity, it’s people kind and gentle. Beaches so pristine and unspoilt one could imagine Christopher Columbus anchored off shore.

    It’s wildlife was abundant, huge turtles would come ashore at night to lay their eggs, giant iguanas would bask in the sun on fallen trees and troops of howler monkeys would roam the forests as lone Agoutis foraged beneath.

    But tourism spoils everything, the very thing which attracts people to visit is destroyed. I don’t think it’s still as innocent.

  10. kiki

    Paulo Wanchope

  11. Wright B.Astard wrote:

    “You could fool me, zion1971, I thought that happiness is owning a two-storey home in the Heights and Terrace,with a SUV and BMW in the double garage .Having a University degree, Masters, preferably and a couple of Blackberries…”

    This is also my conclusion and I concur sadly…

    This is the basic physiological and psychological characterization of life in most Western developed and developing countries…

    It is certainly that way in the UK where I live and in the US where I reside a few months every year…

    We worship the “god” of materialism and it is from that aesthetic place, is where we glean our happiness…

    The Bible reminds us that a man should not be measured by the abundance of the things for which he possesses – but that unfortunately is now an oxymoron in 21st century society…

    We respect “MONEY” and those who have it – even when they are as crooked as a cassava stick… Politicians and all…

    We worship “celebrity” and all it entails for this is the highest form of human achievement putting those “dysfunctional” buggers on the top of the food chain….yet when as is often the case their lives comes crashing down (i.e, MJ’s- we too want to commit suicide)

    We covet and envy success as if life itself depended upon it – forgetting the wise words of Solomon which reminds us that it is like chasing after the wind and chasing rainbows in this desperate rush for fame and fortune…

    Yet when we have it in our hands – it suddenly turns into sands and fall right through our fingers leaving us with the (Bernie Maddoff & Alan Stanford Syndrome) – a tortuous, pathetic end which reminds me of my dearly departed grandmother’s words -“the higher the monkey climb, the more you see he backside…”

    The only in life that is constant is change – yet the more things change, the more they stay the same…

  12. Mathilde

    I beg to differ, lived there long enough to know they’re all just as miserable as the rest of us. The only ones that were happy were the ex-pats who went there to stretch their pensions out big enough to live in mansions with a full household staff.
    Average Costa Rican is just as grumpy as all of us, they complain about the Nicas (Nicaraguans) illegally immigrating and stealing acres of land by squating. San Jose is a just as, if not more, polluted as most south american cities. The lovely ‘happy’ places are where the tourists live.

  13. J

    Mathilde wrote “San Jose is a just as, if not more, polluted as most south american cities. ”

    I’ve visited more than once and I agree with Mathilde that the air pollution in San Jose is bad, much, much worse than in Bridgetown. The air stinks and after half an hour outdoors in San Jose if you lick your lips you can taste the bitterness of the air pollution. If the people are so happy how come there are just as many or more burglar bars on the houses in San Jose, as there are in Barbados? And how come there is such extreme poverty on the east coast where the people of Afro-Caribbean descent live? I somehow don’t think that they are happy to be living in abject poverty.

  14. J

    I of course am happy.

    No 2-storey house in the suburbs.

    No SUV.

    No Blackberry.

    But a wonderful family and excellent health.

  15. J

    Terence Blackett wrote “We worship “celebrity”

    Not all of us do.

    If Rihanna or Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley, or Bernie Madaff or Allen Stanford walked down my gap now I would not even bother to get up and look out of my window.

    Some of us can happily ignore celebrity.

  16. PiedPiper

    This is one of the times when an emoticon would come in handy : 0 . 3 consecutive posts by J, each and everyone of them interesting, informative and TRUE.

  17. “Celebrity worship” according to Wikipedia says that – “Psychologists have indicated that though many people obsess over glamorous film, television, sport and pop stars, others have unlikely icons such as politicians or authors. The only common factor between them is that they are all figures in the public eye (i.e., celebrities).

    The real question is – “who do you worship?”