What Does Pura Vida Mean to You?

The popular expression pura vida is as synonymous with Costa Rica as the abundant wildlife and picturesque beaches that make up this small tropical country. If you’ve never visited this part of Central America, there’s a good chance the phrase (“pure life” in English) is new to you, but those that have spent time here know the saying is an everyday occurrence.

A Quick History of Pura Vida

Interestingly, the origin of pura vida is not Costa Rican at all. In 1956 a Mexican movie by the same name gained wide popularity in Costa Rica. The likable but unlucky lead character, Melquiades Ledezma, experiences several difficult setbacks, including being expelled from his neighborhood and accusations of thievery and arson. Despite these challenges, he keeps his optimistic outlook on life and continually utters pura vida throughout the film.

It didn’t take long for the phrase to catch on in Costa Rica and by the ’80s and ‘90s, its use was widespread. The country’s peaceful history and lack of a military further emboldened locals to identify with the pura vida lifestyle.      

Ironically, the simple expression is far from simple to define. It can be a substitute for hello, goodbye, “everything is good” and as a way to show admiration, to name just a few.

What Does Pura Vida Really Mean?

With such a wide range of meanings, it’s nearly impossible to pin down a single definition for these iconic two words. So to better understand pura vida, we went directly to the best source: the people of Costa Rica. Discover Corps is fortunate to have an office in the country, so we spent time in the community asking locals to share their personal opinions on the meaning of pura vida.

Here’s what we learned:

JP, 36:

JP sees pura vida as more than just being fine or relaxed. To him, it means to be as happy as you can with what you have. It’s an expression that allows people who live in or visit Costa Rica to identify with the country – no matter where they are from. It represents joy and gratitude for being here.

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Pura vida is felt by locals and travelers

Lizzy, 29:

Lizzy views pura vida as a representation of tico (Costa Rican) lifestyle which is basically a laid-back approach to life. It’s living life to the fullest regardless of surrounding situations.

Jose, 46:

For Jose, pura vida means to do things in a peaceful and thorough way which leads to a deep satisfaction. He also uses the term to cheer someone up or send them off in a positive way. Additionally, as a Costa Rican, he sees the phrase as a mantra of sorts and a shared identity for locals. When reflecting on the good things in his life, Jose often summarizes his gratitude with a simple pura vida as well. Lastly, Jose described a commonly held belief in Costa Rica that his pura vida country is protected from natural disasters and wars that have severely impacted other neighboring Latin countries.

Barbara, 24:

Pura vida defines Barbara’s identity as a Costa Rican. She sees it as a way of life and a mindset that means in the midst of her daily life, her routine, the highs and lows, she is grateful to live here.

Patricia, 59:

Patricia believes pura vida is part of the essence of being tico. It is being well always. It is feeling good and making other people feel good in their country.

Pura Vida is Meant to be Shared with Others

Clearly, no matter their age, pura vida has special significance to all Costa Ricans. But the beauty of the expression lies in the fact that it’s meant to be shared with others, of any nationality. And while it may be challenging to fully define the popular expression, it’s easy to know when you are living pura vida.

This way of thinking is reflected in Costa Rica’s consistently high ranking for overall happiness. In fact, the country is currently rated number one in the world for sustainable well being for all its citizens by the Happy Planet Index (HPI). The HPI “tells us how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, sustainable lives.”

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A pura vida smile while exploring Tortugero National Park

A great representation of this exists in our Costa Rican office. From the kindness shared between coworkers, to the community feel of our workspace, we strive to demonstrate pura vida in the work we do. Thankfully, we’ve created an environment that makes it easy to adopt this positive mindset.

To experience pura vida for yourself, consider one or more of our Discover Corps vacations with purpose:

Family Volunteer Adventure

The Sea Turtle Initiative

Wildlife Safari

The itineraries for these trips all vary, but they share common pura vida themes: the enjoyment of life, appreciation of beauty, gratitude for good things and living in the moment.

Finally, we must ask, what does pura vida mean to you?

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