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For more than half a century, the phrase “pura vida” has been synonymous with Costa Rica. While life before the common phrase was still pure and simple, pura vida has caught on like wildfire, and is an embodiment of the Costa Rican people and way of life. It is a philosophy that can be incorporated into anyone’s life, though, and in Costa Rica it is thought that if more people lived a pura vida lifestyle then the world would be a better place.
Pura vida (pronounced POO-rah VEE-dah), is also used as a greeting, a farewell, and a way to express gratitude or contentment. It basically can mean “all good,” “this is the life,” “take it easy,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” Living “la pura vida” is quite simple!
Family is very important in Costa Rica. Often large family groups – which also include friends that are considered family as well – gather for barbecues, celebrations, holidays, and get togethers that don’t even need a reason. The love, support, and sense of belonging and community that comes from having a tight knit group of multi-generationals is something that has been linked to why Costa Rica is considered the happiest place on Earth and why a part of Costa Rica is a blue zone. Embrace the important people in your life and make the time to be together.
Costa Ricans are some of the most friendly people. It takes almost no consequential effort to say hello to someone walking by you, wave to and smile at a stranger as you drive or cycle by, offer assistance to someone in need, or even ask how someone’s day is going. The smallest and simplest interactions can produce the sweetest warmth in our hearts and in the hearts of others. We often go through our busy days with our heads buried in our devices and our minds five steps ahead. We don’t acknowledge each other and carry on through our daily routines without even being aware that we are closed off to one another. Let’s start saying hello to each other. Let’s start connecting with one another in real life.
Aside from the major cities, like San Jose, the rest of the population of Costa Ricans and ex-pats live in small towns that are dotted along the coastlines, valleys, and forests. Small town life doesn’t revolve around having the biggest television, the most expensive and newest model car, a celebrity-worthy designer wardrobe, and a collection of stuff that just sits in the house as a trophy of our success. Pura vida is about simplicity. Is it stuff that really makes us happy? We work to afford stuff, and because we have and want so much stuff we have to work so much harder. In the end, we are living the opposite of pura vida. What we own doesn’t define us; life isn’t material.
We have been scared into believing that the sun’s rays are harmful and only lead to skin cancer and premature signs of aging. However, moderate sun exposure has been linked to a stronger immune system, adequate vitamin D absorption, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improved sleep quality, and even happiness. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) doesn’t only affect people living in the midst of cold, dark winters; it also affects people who work long hours indoors. In Costa Rica, it is easy to spend time in the sun! Even just a little sun kissing every day can make you healthier and happier, just like those living in Costa Rica.
Costa Ricans in general are very active, whether recreationally or work wise. Between farming, homesteading, constructing, fishing, walking, biking, and surfing, among so many other body moving activities, Costa Ricans and ex-pats living the pura vida dream are seemingly always on the move. A very high percentage of Americans and Europeans are not sufficiently active. It is this sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity, depression, and a long list of health maladies. When we are active, endorphins (feel good hormones) are released and happy people tend to live happy lives. Simple as that!
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It also has impressive bio and ecological diversity. Spending time in and with nature is good for your soul. We are all connected to Mother Earth (Pachamama). It can be easy to forget how special and awe-inspiring the natural world is when a lot of us live in predominately concrete surroundings. In Costa Rica, it is easy to be reminded of this on a daily basis. Sometimes, you just have to look a little harder and make a little effort to find your space in nature. Maybe enjoy your lunch in a park, plan a hike or bike excursion on a day off, or just go jump in the salty sea on a Sunday (or any day). Nature is a great reminder of how beautiful life really is. That is pura vida.
The staple Costa Rican diet consists of rice, beans, plantains, yucca, vegetables, fish, meat (chicken, pork, and beef), and fruit. The majority of what is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is homemade and locally sourced. The protein, vegetable, fruit, and bean-rich diet is typically made fresh every meal. When we fuel our bodies with the right type of food (not overly processed fast food), it is easier to stay healthy, active, and productive.
It is a cop-out to say that you don’t have time. Life is about decisions and priorities; you get to make and choose those. Pura vida is about making the time to go watch the sunset or sunrise, having a cup of coffee in the afternoon with a friend, neighbor, or family member, taking your dog for a walk, preparing a home cooked meal, or drinking a beer and watching a futbol game at the local cantina. Costa Ricans work hard, but really know how to enjoy life. When your life comes to an end, you probably won’t wish that you had worked more. Most of us wish on a regular basis that we had more time to do the things that we love to do and be with the people we love. Pura vida is about making that time. Pura vida is about happiness, well-being, and a life well lived.