Pura Vida — the secret to happiness in two words.
Peace. That’s the first word that I think of when I remember Costa Rica. This isn’t because everything is perfect there — it’s just that the Costa Rican ‘Ticos’ approach everything with an effortless sense of calm. I spent some time wondering how it was possible and slowly it became clear to me — it was their mindset and attitude.
I was introduced to the famous Costa Rican phrase “Pura Vida” by our wonderful tour guide who told us that it literally translates to “Pure Life”. This was how Costa Ricans said hello, goodbye and it was even how they described things. I initially thought this to be idealistic, but through the course of the week, I fell in love with this philosophy and these two words that held the secret to happiness for the locals and tourists alike. With my friends, we had an opportunity to build a playground in an elementary school in the Tarrazzu region, and with that the chance to immerse ourselves in the culture of Central America’s ‘Rich Coast’. The more time I spent breathing that fresh air, the more I realized that life does not need to be as complicated as we make it out to be, that I can be happy with exactly what I possess: the body I’ve been given, the socio-economic situation I was born in, and the environment that surrounds me. Pura Vida today lives in all of us and I have some thoughts on how this can be incorporated in our daily lives.
Approach the world with an unwavering attitude of gratitude
My first reaction to Pura Vida was that it seemed like a total marketing gimmick. I then spent some time speaking to the coffee shop owners and teachers in the school we were working in. I came to understand that while it is used to draw in the tourists, Pura Vida is a philosophy that is definitely an integral part of the country’s culture. Pura Vida is a way of seeing the world: with simplicity, no worries, optimism, and positivity — almost like Hakuna Matata :)
Costa Ricans were not only happy with what they had, but they also strived to make it beautiful. It showed that it’s possible to be happy while also working towards improvement. This manifested itself in the incredible economic progress, conservation efforts and the general happiness and friendliness of the locals. I think this outlook has also made Ticos the kind of people who will take their shirt off their back to help you, who value time infinitely more than money and cherish precious moments of shared experience — even with strangers. This was clear to see as so many people who had interacted with the earlier groups that had come from Northeastern, came back to see some of their friends — even if this meant traveling long distances and taking a day off of work. I cannot stress just how many times strangers took the time to greet us, have genuine conversations and spend an afternoon drinking the wonderful coffee and just being.
Recognize that nature is an essential part of your well-being
Costa Rica is known to be one of the happiest countries and it was clear to see why. Costa Rica has stunning geography with enviable lush green forests and vast amounts of wildlife. This small nation contains nearly 6% of the world’s biodiversity! Now, a part of the Pura Vida philosophy is cultivating a connection to Mother Earth and Costa Ricans have their unique ways of showing their appreciation to her. This shows in how the local communities are hyper-conscious about their actions and the effect it has on the environment. A coffee farmer at a mill we visited encapsulated this well saying ‘what you do to the Earth, you do to yourself.’ This awareness of the environment is unparalleled — no wonder the Earth rewards them back with happiness and joy. During our time here, I found myself more present in the moment and enjoying the simplicity of life and that just showed the profound effect that nature can have on us.
Know that you get to create your own Pura Vida
I remember asking my friends on the trip and some of the locals what Pura Vida meant to them and I got different answers from everyone. I then decided to stop looking outward and I started looking inward to see what this meant to me. My Pura Vida means serendipitously making friends with the lovely elementary school kids who instantly invite you to be a part of their world. It is watching a blood orange sun plop into the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by human beings who shine from equally radiant light. My Pura Vida means having nowhere to be. Yes, we have things-to-do, but they are not here in this present moment. This philosophy asks us to savor the joy and happiness that life constantly gifts us and to recognize that you have everything you need right now. It’s manifested in the conversations where you speak and you know the person you’re giving your words to is listening. It’s giving your time, attention, and space to someone who reciprocates it. It’s living life, at its purest, at its simplest, with people who matter.