Should we choose ease of living instead of the current achievement fetish?
During my first days in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, I did what I always like to do when arriving to a new city and culture: I wandered around aimlessly through the streets, looking at people in their everyday activities hoping to capture something of the local atmosphere. What I found startling here was the idleness of many people; the way they just sat there – seemingly satisfied – in parks, in front of their houses, on the streets, everywhere. I realized that one central difference between Costa Ricans and us Northerners is certain relaxation as regards one´s life.
The Park Morazán quickly became my favorite place to sit down and watch the crowd hanging out with their friends, juggling with pins, trying out a trick with the skateboard once in while, and mostly just relaxing. There are of course parks in north also, but somehow I felt that these people were more home with this idleness thing. Let me put it this way: When my friends go to a park to chill out it is an event, something out of ordinary, but for these people this was the ordinary. For them nothing was more natural than to waste the day away without any purposeful activity in their minds.
We westerners are always busy achieving something. We put much effort into generating more cost-effective ways of accomplishing our tasks. Whether it is the cultural legacy of living in the harsh conditions of the north, the religious influence of protestantism, or something else, our culture has chosen to emphasize accomplishment. It has made life of achievement honorable and measures success in life much through what one is able to achieve. In fact, the whole phrase ´success in life´ is a symptom of this worldview.
One of the foremost authorities of the psychology behind happiness, Martin Seligman, recently proposed that human well-being consists of five elements that we pursue for their own sake: positive emotions, engagement, accomplishment, positive relationships and meaningfulness.
Taking this perspective it is easy to see that our western culture is very big on accomplishment, that is the one dimension we are encouraged to chase. The Costa Ricans seemed to offer another cultural solution to what dimensions to emphasize. For them achievement was not such a fetish as it is for us. Future engagement with these people will hopefully reveal what is their cultural fetish but accomplishment it is not – at least not to the same extremes as in the north.
All in all, these Costa Ricans in the park thus held a mirror in front of my face showing me that the life concentrated on achievement is not the only possibility. I could live without the constant latent stress of having to claw my way to the top. I could accomplish less and be more satisfied with whatever the everyday life brings in front of me. That is a genuine possibility for me or you. Merely through their way of being, the Costa Ricans had thus succeeded in showing me that another way of appreciating life does exist.
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