Pura Vida! Pura Vida! Puuura Veeeeda! I hear this happy phrase constantly, its joyful energy suspicious to my cynical American ears. It dances around me, like perfectly planned choreography, just waiting for me to catch on, join in the dance.
Pura Vida. It flows out of the lips, curling them ever so slightly into a smile, whether you like it or not. My American style skepticism is on high alert. Who are these cheerful people, throwing around such a blissful saying with such genuine happiness? I thought happy people, real live happy people, were just the stuff that myths and movies were made of? Could it be that I have found a treasure trove of happiness in this little nature drenched country? Suddenly; there was clarity—the true key as to why Costa Rica is able to cast such a spell on those who visit, leaving a permanent imprint on the heart. The secret, my friends, is the people.
As I meander through the crooked streets, I’m met with smiles. Friendly “holas” greet me as I saunter by. Warmth radiates, hangs in the air, mixes with the landscape, creates magic. There is soulfulness to the people, a friendliness not usually encountered in everyday life. Am I just drunk on vacation, I wonder? I must get deeper, so I set out to observe.
There is perpetual laughter in the air, a smile painting the lips of almost everyone. They throw nicknames at each other in an affectionate way. It seems as if everyone cracks jokes, exchanges glances, and “pura vidas.”
Are they faking it? I am now on a mission, seeking out anyone and everyone willing to give me the time of day (which, by the way, is pretty much everyone). They are funny, gracious, and curious. I find myself smiling more, the petulant American style attitude shedding more with each day.
Through many a long hour of conversations with locals, I discovered that life is not always smooth sailing in Costa Rica—wages tend to be lower than in United States but the cost of living is similar. People work long hours in hard jobs for half of the money. And yet… they just shrug this off when asked about it. They are happy to share details with you, but not once did it exit their mouths in the form of a complaint, a difference that I notice immediately. Is that their secret? I decide I need a second; third, many even tenth visit in order to further test my theory.
I later learn that Costa Rica is in the top 5 countries listed in numerous studies as the “Happiest Places on Earth.” Last year, it ranked number one in a study on the “happiest countries.” I am not at all shocked, but I am glad I didn’t know this before I went, so there wasn’t a chance that statistics and “supposed tos” could influence my mind.
So, you ask, what does “Pura Vida” mean? It means, well… everything. It’s “hello” “goodbye” “thank you” “you’re welcome” “don’t worry about it” “it’s awesome” “nice to meet you…” the list goes on and on and on. It makes no sense and yet perfect sense.
As my days in Costa Rica wind up, I find myself thinking of how I can bottle this happiness up and bring it home with me. Impossible. Then suddenly, I think of “pura vida.” If I blurt out this little saying out at home in the states, would people just crinkle up their face at me in frustration? I didn’t know, but floating on optimism, I vowed to try.