For those who have been to Costa Rica, « pura vida » sounds like music to the ears. It is impossible to not come across this expression when you travel there. Everybody says it all the time, all day long. It basically means « life is beautiful man, it’s all good, pure life, don’t worry be happy. »
« Pura vida maé »
Ticos and Ticas use it daily, as a way to say hi and goodbye, or just to answer a « what’s up? » So they pretty much say it every other sentence! If this expression is used in a very casual and automatic way, without even thinking about it, it is definitely also a deeper philosophical affirmation. The beautiful life is a national art here.
To me, it meant: « life is beautiful since the beach is just nearby. »
The most important things for Costa Ricans are their family, their friends and the small pleasures in life -among them, go to the beach! It felt extremely easy for me to connect with their culture and lifestyle. I’ve always thought that the beach was the best public space. It’s something clearly missing in the city… You can do anything at the beach: swim, read, eat, sleep, work and meet people. It is free and open to everyone. Bodies are free from their uniform and reconnected with the natural elements, sand sea and light.
Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste
Pura vida. I thought about those words very often when I was going to the beach to run, to collect seashells or to watch an umpteenth sunset. My whole body vibrated with these words and this environment.
A mantra, a way of life
Pura vida is based on peace, tranquility and trust. Sometimes it almost becomes an « extra zen » mode of existence! Like an old farmer who lived near our camp in Cabuyal. His stoicism was beyond impressive. A fire was burning right next to his house, the dry jungle hill threatening his backyard. We were very worried because he didn’t have a car, and we had already evacuated our place. Packed in our pick-up, we asked him if he wanted a ride to escape from the fire. His answer, « pura vida », left us wondering if he had heard the question… He didn’t seem afraid or worried at all. He was smiling at the flames very peacefully. He stayed home and the fire passed. Meanwhile, being way less confident than him, we ran away for the night. When we came back to Cabuyal the next morning, not even one house had burnt down. He was right: pura vida.
The « pura vida » attitude is particularly useful when dealing with crisis situations.
One evening in the hostel I was staying in Tamarindo, a quebecois in his forties, Hugo, snapped. He was drunk and pretended to smoke crack. Unable to calm him down (and leaning more and more dangerously over the railing), the managers ended up calling the police reluctantly. When the policemen arrived, Hugo showered them with insults in all languages. He refused to give them his passport and started to become violent. The police guys were very relaxed and kept smiling. They stayed two hours, calmed him down and finally put him to sleep in his bunk bed. When they left, as everybody was staring at them very surprised to not see Hugo spend the night at the police station, they greeted us with an unexpected and genuine « pura vida. »
Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste
This expression is repeated as a mantra over and over. Travelling from mouth to mouth, it spreads an invisible aura of kindness across Costa Ricans. This might sound too naive or ingenuous… but it’s true! Positive thoughts bring positive things. So is the law of attraction, and positive reinforcement.
Saying « pura vida » at least 10 times a day to friends as well as total strangers creates a very special atmosphere. It is a perspective on life that is carefree, laid back and optimistic. The result? People look happier and are happier! I have another theory about their happiness. I think it also has to do with the peaceful relationship they establish between humans, nature and animals.
The lifestyle of Costa Ricans significantly influences their capacity to experience happiness. Money doesn’t bring happiness (that we knew already!), it is a way to live in the world. Here nobody owns nature’s beauty, the ocean or the sunset more than anyone else. In the cities, it’s different. Places usually charge fees and are not accessible to everyone, resulting in segregated populations.
This daily philosophy of « pura vida » made me deeply question the lifestyle I have had for years, living an urban hectic and stressed out way of life. I suddenly wondered what I would wish for myself, which lifestyle would I choose if I could. I realized I had always built my lifestyle around my job. Now I was convinced that I didn’t want to choose a job first anymore, but the daily life: the place, the people, the activities.
I became farm manager in a small intentional community in California because eating vegetables that I’ve grown, being out in the sun most of the day, discovering free activities in the wild and experimenting in creative ways with what surrounds me is the life I totally wish for myself. A life made to appreciate every moment and every thing.
Now try to see for yourself, and repeat this out loud: « pura vida. »
-My article: « The body knows »
-My article : « One month without internet, fridge or cellphone »
-My article: « Cooking in the garden of Eden »
-My article: « Sound transe on San Pedro »
-My article: « Reinventing work »