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P is for Pura Vida

I have recently returned from my first ever long haul flight visiting Costa Rica. Before I left I had no real idea of its location or importance. Costa Rica is situated between Panama and Nicaragua and bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Whilst there it was impossible not to hear or see the phrase Pura Vida everywhere.

Pura Vida - literally means ‘Pure Life’ in Spanish and reflects the Costa Rican philosophy that encourages gratitude for everything you have instead of wanting more and the appreciation of life's simple pleasures e.g. focusing on enjoying everyday moments with friends and family and encouraging us to live a peaceful, simple, uncluttered life with a deep appreciation of nature, family and friends The spirit behind this is to to take life as it comes, to find joy in the small moments, and enjoy each day for what it has to offer. yet at the same time be conscious of your actions and their effect on others.

Pura Vida , in practice translates to not worrying about what could go wrong, but focusing on the positive things in our lives and appreciating them instead. With such a positive mindset, it can enable us to live life fully without stress or worry. This outlook is infectious and helps to bring people together from all backgrounds and walks of life, creating strong relationships based on mutual respect and appreciation. Whilst there I certainly felt this sense of underlying calm, lack of worry, stress etc and people were really chilled and you got the impression that people weren’t tying themselves up in knots over the little things and were instead pragmatic seeing only solutions that needed to be found rather than problems.

In Spanish, “pura” (feminine) or “puro” (masculine) often means complete or total rather than referring to purity so pura vida can be said to signify an optimistic attitude and positive outlook appreciating the fullness or completeness of life.

I have located two explanations as to how the expression Pura Vida, which has been present in Costa Rica’s vocabulary for almost 70 years, has been adopted into the Costa Rican way of life.

Some people believe that the term came into use in 1956 after a Mexican movie entitled “Pura Vida!” was released. The film’s protagonist, Melquiades Ledezma, is expelled from his village for being the source of bad luck. Misfortune follows him until he gets a winning lottery ticket. Throughout the movie, the main character repeats the words "pura vida”, to stay optimistic, happy, and full of life, despite all the negative circumstances around him.

Another explanation is rooted in the country’s emancipation from military conflict in 1948. Following the bloodiest civil war in Costa Rican history, its then-president decided to abolish armed forces and focus instead on greater investment in public health and education services. This radical approach paid off. Whilst other countries in Central America remain in states of civil unrest, Costa Rica continues to enjoy political stability. Pura Vida is as much about the nation’s commitment to peace, non-violence and the support of its people.

Whilst visiting Costa Rica, it became increasingly clear that Pura Vida doesn’t just mean one thing and people use it frequently in many different contexts e.g. to greet each other, to say goodbye, to express feelings of happiness or just to say ‘That’s life’ or ‘Oh well, too bad’ in a relaxed way when things don’t go as expected to consciously avoid any negativity entering the mind or language.

There are a lot of contrasts in Costa Rica e.g. between the luxurious hotels and the everyday ‘shanty style’ breeze block, wood /corrugated tin constructions that are inhabited by a lot of the locals but regardless of financial level what struck me was the smiling faces as groups of people hung around together, around street vendors or just chatting in the sun.

Pura Vida, in action, is much more than a term it’s an attitude towards life, a way of living. and means enjoying life no matter what your circumstances or the challenges you face; it’s a simple appreciation of life and the realization that life is what you make of it. Pura Vida embodies the idea that no matter how bad you may think you have it, life for someone else can be far more less fortunate then your own so be grateful

So how do we put Pura Vida into practice?

With a mindset of optimism and gratitude, Pura Vida is about making time for yourself to relax, appreciating the nature around you, and connecting with friends and family. It is about learning to savour life’s simple pleasures without worrying about modern society’s stressors ie appreciating what we have been given instead of focusing on material possessions or status symbols..

Pura Vida is about being kind to others and and striving to lead healthy, balanced lives.

When these practices are ingrained into everyday life, individuals become more closely connected with themselves, their community, and the environment

Life is too short to be worried and upset, In Pura Vida culture, speed and efficiency are not as important as relationships and enjoying the experience. Pura Vida is about not getting hung up on the inconsequential but rather becoming better connected with ourselves, nature and others and making the most of life!

The phrase Pura Vida is a powerful mantra that has come to represent the heart of Costa Rican culture. It’s not just a slogan or saying; it’s an attitude and lifestyle choice which can be employed wherever you live in the world and whatever your circumstances.

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