Chasing Pura Vida

A friend of mine who used to live in Vermont, and now resides in Las Vegas was visiting this summer. “It’s actually ridiculous how much energy I put into being happy during the winters here,” she commented. “I mean, a light therapy visor…really?” I laughed with her conspiratorially, but knew in truth I’d be relying on an arsenal of happiness tools come November, a light therapy visor included.

I really believe that here, in the northern climates, we’re fighting biologically against an urge to fatten up and hibernate for the winter. I read recently that before the invention of the lightbulb, humans slept up to 17 hours a day! Massive doses of Vitamin D, regular exercise, and good friends are all part of my “surviving winter” repertoire. Last year I went so far as to sign up for an online course called “Raising Happiness” with Dr. Christine Carter, a “happiness expert” from Berkeley. (Very interesting, actually).

Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula
Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula

The silver bullet for me, however, is getting out of dodge for a few days, preferably somewhere warm, and ideally to Costa Rica, my happy  place. Yes, it’s tropical and warm, and the ocean is a glorious 87°F, but there’s more to it than that. The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the happiest places in the world, a so-called “Blue Zone.” According to National Geographic and something called the “Happy Planet Index,” people living on the Nicoya are happier and live longer than most other people on earth, and it rubs off on you, even if you’re only there for a week.

Scientists and researchers have spent time analyzing the world’s Blue Zones and have identified nine common denominators:

  1. Move naturally.
  2. Have a purpose (the Nicoyans call this a “plan de vida”).
  3. “Down shift” to manage and relieve stress.
  4. Eat less in general.
  5. Eat more vegetables in particular.
  6. Drink moderately.
  7. Have faith.
  8. Love your family.
  9. Be part of a “tribe” or community.

The people who live on the Nicoya walk more, drive less (moving naturally) and are generally living much closer to nature, eating fruits and vegetables that are in season and sold at the local market. During one visit a few years ago, we happened to be there when the marañóns (cashews) were in season. We stopped on the way home from Playa Hermosa and sent the kids scampering up a tree to toss down the fruit, which we dried and ate later for dinner. A surfers paradise, the “ticos” are more likely to be catching waves before work than sweating it out on a treadmill at the gym. Pura Vida!

Lined up for a morning surf session at Peaks ‘n Swells

The other Blue Zones are Ikaria, Greece; the Barbagia region of Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. And while I’m mighty tempted to visit each of these places in the name of research, I also look at that list of common denominators and think that any place could be a Blue Zone…even Stowe, Vermont in November. After all, eating well, exercising, making time for friends and family, managing stress, and having a sense of purpose are not geographically dependent, they all come from within.

BUT, they sure come a little easier on vacation, so tomorrow, I head back to Peaks ‘n Swells for a week of Pura Vida, which should carry me right through the holidays. I’ll be posting on my Facebook page and tweeting about our trip if you care to follow along.

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