Happiness and kindness add up to feeling of gratitude

It seems to be that time again when the various pollsters and investigators talk about the countries with the happiest people. Over the years Costa Rica has been in the top 10. As in other years, it is the Scandinavian countries that top the list. As for other countries, it depends on which criteria the various pollsters base their hierarchy of happiness. They range from material prosperity to safety nets to how daily life is perceived

I have heard Costa Rica mentioned on TV more often lately. I am waiting for a very clever PR person with Costa Rican tourism to persuade someone who has just become famous and is asked, “What’s the first thing you are going to do?” to ignore Disneyland and respond with “I’m going to Costa Rica!”

According to the latest Forbes pollsters, all the countries at the top of the list are social democracies that spend more of their income on the general welfare of their people, than on defense. (The U.S. probably enables the latter.) The people also have a sense of freedom, and of having enough of what they need. A pollster, interviewed by CNN said, “Can you imagine the tiny country of Costa Rica in the top 10?” then added that a Costa Rican friend explained, “We have a beautiful country and generally we are a laid back people.” I will certainly vouch for that.

Recently I made my first visit to a clinic, which is part of the national health insurance coverage. I’ve had enough of clinics and the waiting and the fact that if I don’t like my doctor, I don’t know how to tactfully change him or her, and if I do, I may not see that doctor again. Clinics are large and usually have lots of people seeking help.

I was told to arrive 15 minutes early for my 11 a.m. appointment. A nurse took my blood pressure and weighed me, then asked the usual questions about my health history. At about two minutes after 11 a.m., a pretty doctor came out of a nearby door and called my name.

After we sat down in her office, she spent about 20 minutes asking me questions, using her stethoscope and writing prescriptions (doctors really know how to do that!) then told me the various places I should go to make appointments for x-rays, lab tests, an electrocardiogram and to get my prescriptions filled.

It was easy to get lost in the maze of hallways, but everyone I asked, whether a rushing employee or another patient, gave me directions in a polite and unhurried manner. I also was aware of how peaceful everything seemed. Patients were quietly chatting with friends (No Tico goes to a clinic without family or friend.) Lines were short and at the farmacia I was told to come back in an hour to pick up my prescriptions. I decided to wait outside in the sun where there were some benches. As I opened my book, I paused to enjoy the view and realized I was smiling. The past hour had been a pleasant experience and was going to be even more pleasant when I left because I would not have to open my wallet. The trip would not destroy my budget.

And I realized that happiness is more than secure survival. The other part of my experience — the kindness, patience and helpfulness of others — made my day memorable. It is that feeling I had sitting in the sun – a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the kindness of strangers, as well as a beautiful country and family and friends to tell about it.

It is possible that in the future there will be a change in the ranks of happiness. The subjects in the studies have always been people of different countries. Lately we are learning more and more about other animals and discovering how much more they feel and can do and how much smarter they are than we thought – even birds. I would not be surprised if in some future study of happiness it may be the denizens of the Serengeti or the Antarctica who are among the top 10. I don’t doubt they feel gratitude, too.

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