Costa Rican kids have the benefit of the extended family

Famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen. Photo: A.M. Costa RicaMy friend Sandy is back from another extended trip. This time she was in the U.S., Europe and Russia. She has worked in or visited 66 countries in the world so far. Because she is smart, observant and insightful, I learn a lot from her. And since she has family in both Costa Rica and the United States, and I have recently written about children, I asked for her opinion on what makes the difference. (We both agree that generally speaking, from an adult’s point of view Tico children are well behaved, happy children who seem content with little and can be around adults without demanding constant attention. In the U.S. children are less so.)

She sees it in terms of the extended family still being within frequent touch with one another so that children learn that the rules are pretty consistent in the family, so they should listen to their grandparents, aunts or uncles in disciplinary matters when they are with them.

In the U.S. couples with children may have chosen to live many miles away from where they grew up and from their extended families. A visit to relatives is not an everyday or every week affair. It becomes special and often both parents work, so that time spent with children, whether with parents or grandparents, is quality time, and quality time is not often spent disciplining or teaching good manners. The child is the center of attention.

And, of course, the size of the countries affects this. Even if young adults move from their hometowns in Costa Rica, the country is so small, it is not difficult to keep in frequent touch with family. In the United States, it can be a big deal. I recall going from California to New York State with my daughter, both by train and by plane.

We also talked about current day Europe and England, and she said that signs of World War II and the Stalin years are still present, sometimes in the destruction of buildings that cannot be fully restored, as in England, or in Russia, in the psyche of the people. Wars and dictatorships leave long-lasting scars.

Then talk drifted to friends she visited. She experienced a typical British village, familiar from the books about the 19th century. She actually got to walk on the moor, with the wind whipping as she imagined it did in Jane Eyre.

In Denmark, two friends, insisted she see their home. They are an upper middle class family, both professionals. She said it was a lovely large house, but it was totally cluttered with paper and books (I could relate to that).

Denmark comes in first in just about any poll, whatever criterion, as the happiest country in the world. Her friends said that between 50 and 70 percent of their incomes go to taxes. How can anyone be happy being so heavily taxed?

Well, the government covers their health needs, education and spends more on children and the elderly than any country. Your choice of career does not define you, nor is one job more valued more than another. Denmark is considered a post consumerist society where ownership of stuff is not as important as hanging out with friends, playing games or following some interest. In some cases, the government will even cover social groups. Obviously weather does not figure in their happiness quotient. It can be dreary and cold in Denmark. But as fellow Danes say, they feel tucked in and safe.

Costa Rica comes in pretty close to the top when it comes to being a happy country. A lot of it has to do with being able to live comfortably within your means and having close ties with friends and family. Paul and Gloria Yeatman, who live in San Ramón de Alajuela, seem to have achieved that. I visited San Ramón. I don’t think it is large enough to be considered a small city, but it has most of the amenities of a city, including a fine public hospital. The Yeatmans share their contentment in their blog,

Of course, it seems to help to be small. Denmark’s population is just 5.5 million and Costa Rica’s is just over 4.5 million. And I am back to small is beautiful and happy that Sandy is one of my hanging out with friends.

Don’t need much to do that and be happy.

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