Does saying PURA VIDA change your brain?
Written by Rosemary MacGregor
When you ask a Tico, “Como le va?”, he/she will invariably answer, “Pura Vida”. We Americans ask, “Hi, how are you” and we invariably get the answer, “Fine thank you”. What’s the difference?
According to a measure of Happiness, the New Economics Foundation, in measuring how efficiently a country consumes ecological resources to support a given level of happiness, has picked Costa Rica to be number one. The United States is number 114.
Translated, this index is measuring the number of years of a happy life based on satisfaction and life expectancy. Quite complicated, but this is determined by how much land one has or needs for one’s source requirements and absorption of CO2 emissions from the products used. Costa Rica embodies a happy population who uses few natural resources.
Getting back to Pura Vida. You can ask a Tico anytime about himself and he will respond or end the conversation with Pura Vida. They seem to know something we don’t comprehend. While the United States is based on consumerism, Tico life is like a recent parable I encountered in which a father took his son on a trip to see how the poor people lived. Upon their return the father asked the son what he learned from the trip.
The son responded:
I saw that we have one dog and they had four.
We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end..
We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night.
Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.
We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs.
We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.
Some people are grateful for what they have and not worrying about, striving for what they don’t have. With the advent of Kafka and the changes in the Tico mentality we are seeing a change in attitude. “Pura Vida” in San Jose is not said as often as in the countryside. That is another article or chapter on Social Change in Costa Rica.
While reading about Yongey Mingyur Rimpoche, the Tibetan lama who has been dubbed “the happiest man in the world”, I quickly connected to the Tico and his solving all his problems in the moment by saying “Pura Vida”.
Yongey Rimpoche has written a book on “Joyful Wisdom”. His background is one of anxiety and tough times in a remote Himalayan village lacking most amenities. He suffered years of panic attacks and anxiety. Like the Ticos, Rimpoche has studied and practiced the art of well-being and is finally, in his life at a point where he can “switch” from being irritated or upset, anxious about an issue to laughing, being happy and instead enthusiastic. His brain has shifted from high activation in the right prefrontal lobe and amygdala, a region important for hyper vigilance typical of those under stress to high activation of the left prefrontal cortex, the upbeat, positive engaging, enthusiastic and energetic side of the brain.
I say “Switch” because with years of practice, a strengthening or increasing of the neural pathways can take place, overriding and inhibiting messages from the amygdala that drive disturbing emotions. With practice, this switch can be a conscious choice, an ability to override a negative. Is this what happens with years and years of conditioning in the Tico, who very much lives in his left prefrontal “happy” cortex, smiling and repeating many times a daily his mantra, “Pura Vida".