Costa Rica: Pura Vida – what does it really mean?
Costa Rica is consistently voted as one of the happiest countries in the world. Is it because of the tropical climes, sunshine and magic scenery? (That can’t hurt.). Or is it all to do with Costa Rica’s Pura Vida motto? Time to find out…
What does ‘Pura Vida’ mean in Costa Rica?
Put simply – because simple is at the heart of the philosophy – it means ‘Pure life.’ For the people of Costa Rica – the ‘Ticos’ – it’s both a mantra and lifestyle. It embodies the true Costa Rican spirit and is part of a shared attitude and values system. More importantly, it’s a choice. Pura Vida can just as easily mean: ‘nothing but life.’ It’s this uncomplicated, open approach that characterises how Ticos see the world. One that’s filled with positivity and cheer!
We could all learn a little something from the Pura Vida philosophy. And, once you’ve been to Costa Rica, you’ll understand why.
Where did Pura Vida originate?
There are a couple of theories here. Back in 1956 a Mexican movie called ¡Pura vida! was released and the protagonist, an unlucky man, uses the term throughout to remain optimistic despite the trials and tribulations of his life. Supposedly, from this cultural phenomenon, the Costa Ricans chose to adopt the very same motto themselves.
The other 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, the political stability of Costa Rica continues. Pura Vida is as much about the nation’s commitment to peace, non-violence and the support of its people.
When should you use the phrase ‘Pura vida’?
The phrase Pura Vida can be used in everyday language as a greeting, a conversation filler, or to shrug off a bad day. Other phrases roughly translate to mean the same– simple life, good life, that’s life, no worries, all good!
Examples of times this would fit well include:
- As a hello, a greeting or a friendly acknowledgement in the street; like ‘Buenos días’
- To say goodbye, or ‘see you later’
- As a response when someone asks how you are or how you’re doing
- To brush off a negative comment or a bad day
- When you’re indifferent, disinterested or only half paying attention to something (or someone)
- To show enthusiasm for something: ¡Este café es pura vida! – this coffee is pure life!
You can use it almost anytime, anywhere. It’s part of a dialect that fits both positive and negative situations and with that in mind, it’s easy to understand why the vibe of Ticos is so laid-back. Nothing’s really worth getting that stressed about, so why bother? Pura Vida!
Why is Costa Rica called The Happiest Country?
Here are just a few reasons as to why Costa Rica continues to earn this coveted title:
Yep, living in a beautiful country surrounded by flowers, fauna, rainforests, oceans and white sandy beaches gives the locals plenty to smile about. It’s well known that proximity to nature and wildlife can help reduce stress levels, and positively impact our mental and physical wellbeing. Here, paradise surrounds the Ticos, and with over 500,000 species of wildlife there’s no escaping the feel-good factor…
The people of Costa Rica choose to invest their money into education and support for students, rather than soldiers and armed forces. This forward-thinking and empowered approach is a large part of why the country and its people are so relaxed, happy and fulfilled. Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 95% and there are now more teachers than police officers. The emphasis here is centred on wellbeing and ways to uplift its community.
Costa Rica is a global leader in sustainability. Nearly 98 percent of its energy comes from renewable resources and its goal is to become the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2021. The government have invested heavily in conservation and ecotourism, and the positive impact from all this is the deep connection of Ticos to their land. It’s a green and happy country – one that nurtures both the environment and its people.
And so, we circle back to the Pura Vida mentality. The warm, open, trusting nature of the Ticos is precisely because they live in a place that invites such a warm, open, trusting approach. This mindset positively feeds the ecosystem of the country. People stress less, live longer and have a healthy attitude to life. They’re community driven and don’t sweat the small stuff. Turns out all this can make you pretty happy – who knew?!
Famous Costa Rican slang words and phrases for livin’ that Pura Vida
Aside from the now familiar Pura Vida which of course fits in here too, there are a whole host of other phrases to help you feel right at home when you visit Costa Rica:
- Tico/Tica – a Costa Rican man/woman
- Tuanis – cool, nice, awesome
- Mae – Dude
- ¡Que chiva! – so good
- ¿Qué es la vara? – what’s up?
- ¡Que lechero! – what a milkman! aka ‘how lucky’
- Suave – take it easy, chill
- Buena nota – literal translation: ‘good grade’ aka nice guy, good person
We challenge you to leave this country without a healthy dose of the good vibes coursing through your veins.
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