Category: Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Central America

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.

People of Park Morazán

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.

Park Morazán by dayDuring 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.

People of Park Morazán

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.

Park Morazán by day

The mystery of the Costa Rican happiness

Dios te ama – God loves you! With these words I was greeted into Costa Rica after my long flight. The mystery about Costa Rica that I travelled across the Atlantic to solve is about happiness. According to different polls, namely, Costa Ricans are a happy bunch of people. In Gallup’s much quoted Global Well-being survey, Costa Rica ranks sixth, far above what would be expected in terms of its economic situation – and far above such countries as United States, Britain or Germany. The other countries in the top five – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and Finland – are among the richest and most economically equal societies in the world so their success is easy to understand but Costa Rica seems to have produced almost the same amount of happiness with far smaller Gross Domestic Production. In addition, if we combine life satisfaction with measures of the ecological footprint like Happy Planet Index has done, Costa Rica comes out as number one in the world.

Another cultural anomaly coming through in statistics is the fact that in Hofstede’s cultural dimension of ’masculinity versus femininity’ Costa Ricans rank – unlike other Latin American countries with their machismo image – among the countries with the most feminine values (interestingly, the top six countries in both the well-being survey and Hofstede’s femininity dimension are exactly the same. Could this be a mere coincidence?). The shortcomings of these self-reporting surveys are of course well-known and it might be disputed whether they tap into happiness at all. But at least it can be stated that there is something interesting and unique going on in Costa Rica in terms of cultural valuations and happiness.

But back to the park Morazán in the centre of San José in which I sat relaxing after the long flight drinking an ice tea. The park alone offered me three different insights into Costa Rican happiness. Firstly, the greeters with a message from God were young Salvation Army members who invited me to their church. Naturally, I accepted the invitation despite the almost total language barrier between us. More of that later. But their mere presence in the park reminded me of the strong influence religion has in this country and in these people’s lives. Religion has been found on average to increase people’s happiness within the nations so perhaps religiousness was one building block in Costa Rican happiness.

I found the second key to explain Costa Rican happiness whilst observing the other people in the park. Certain easiness of being characterized the faces of these people who hanged there with no hurry whatsoever. In contrast to us northerners who always are a bit tense and on our way to the next achievement, these people seemed to be completely at home in wasting away a proper working day in the park. More about this theme in the next post but I believe that in this attitude of not taking one’s achievements too seriously one can find much potential for better well-being.

Park Morazán in the evening

Later in the evening when the sun had already started to lighten other continents, I passed by the same park on my way back to the hotel. Gone were the happy youthful people with their skateboards and juggling balls. Instead, an ominous group consisting of prostitutes, pimps and drug-dealers seemed to have taken over the place. In fact, it looked exactly like a place where a western tourist like me finds himself facing a knife or a gun and quickly surrenders all his valuables. I turned around looking as confident as possible and took the next available taxi and got safely to my bed. My hotel was only a few blocks away from the center but the locals as well as my travel senses advised me to take a taxi always in the evening.

The possibility of being robbed was all too much present in many areas of San José. For a guy like me, who is used to live in Finland where armed robberies are relatively unheard of, such constant sense of fear would have a strong negative effect on one’s well-being. Safety is among the most basic needs of humans so disturbances in one’s sense of safety ought to have a remarkable negative impact on one’s happiness. How could they be happy if they always have to be careful and vigilant in the streets to avoid robbery?

Ease of living and religion on the one hand, criminality and unsafeness on the other, the mystery behind Costa Rican happiness had found its first dimensions. I felt sure that I would crack the mystery of Costa Rican happiness in no time…

Dios te ama – God loves you! With these words I was greeted into Costa Rica after my long flight. The mystery about Costa Rica that I travelled across the Atlantic to solve is about happiness. According to different polls, namely, Costa Ricans are a happy bunch of people. In Gallup’s much quoted Global Well-being survey, Costa Rica ranks sixth, far above what would be expected in terms of its economic situation – and far above such countries as United States, Britain or Germany. The other countries in the top five – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and Finland – are among the richest and most economically equal societies in the world so their success is easy to understand but Costa Rica seems to have produced almost the same amount of happiness with far smaller Gross Domestic Production. In addition, if we combine life satisfaction with measures of the ecological footprint like Happy Planet Index has done, Costa Rica comes out as number one in the world.

Another cultural anomaly coming through in statistics is the fact that in Hofstede’s cultural dimension of ’masculinity versus femininity’ Costa Ricans rank – unlike other Latin American countries with their machismo image – among the countries with the most feminine values (interestingly, the top six countries in both the well-being survey and Hofstede’s femininity dimension are exactly the same. Could this be a mere coincidence?). The shortcomings of these self-reporting surveys are of course well-known and it might be disputed whether they tap into happiness at all. But at least it can be stated that there is something interesting and unique going on in Costa Rica in terms of cultural valuations and happiness.

But back to the park Morazán in the centre of San José in which I sat relaxing after the long flight drinking an ice tea. The park alone offered me three different insights into Costa Rican happiness. Firstly, the greeters with a message from God were young Salvation Army members who invited me to their church. Naturally, I accepted the invitation despite the almost total language barrier between us. More of that later. But their mere presence in the park reminded me of the strong influence religion has in this country and in these people’s lives. Religion has been found on average to increase people’s happiness within the nations so perhaps religiousness was one building block in Costa Rican happiness.

I found the second key to explain Costa Rican happiness whilst observing the other people in the park. Certain easiness of being characterized the faces of these people who hanged there with no hurry whatsoever. In contrast to us northerners who always are a bit tense and on our way to the next achievement, these people seemed to be completely at home in wasting away a proper working day in the park. More about this theme in the next post but I believe that in this attitude of not taking one’s achievements too seriously one can find much potential for better well-being.

Park Morazán in the evening

Later in the evening when the sun had already started to lighten other continents, I passed by the same park on my way back to the hotel. Gone were the happy youthful people with their skateboards and juggling balls. Instead, an ominous group consisting of prostitutes, pimps and drug-dealers seemed to have taken over the place. In fact, it looked exactly like a place where a western tourist like me finds himself facing a knife or a gun and quickly surrenders all his valuables. I turned around looking as confident as possible and took the next available taxi and got safely to my bed. My hotel was only a few blocks away from the center but the locals as well as my travel senses advised me to take a taxi always in the evening.

The possibility of being robbed was all too much present in many areas of San José. For a guy like me, who is used to live in Finland where armed robberies are relatively unheard of, such constant sense of fear would have a strong negative effect on one’s well-being. Safety is among the most basic needs of humans so disturbances in one’s sense of safety ought to have a remarkable negative impact on one’s happiness. How could they be happy if they always have to be careful and vigilant in the streets to avoid robbery?

Ease of living and religion on the one hand, criminality and unsafeness on the other, the mystery behind Costa Rican happiness had found its first dimensions. I felt sure that I would crack the mystery of Costa Rican happiness in no time…

The beginning of a journey

Sometimes a man has to go. Sometimes a man needs a purpose to go. I am going to Central America, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The purpose of my journey is to learn more about the local culture, the way they live their lives and the way they think about vital issues such as happiness, morality and good life.

What makes Costa Ricans happy, what is their measure of success? What kind of attitudes do Nicaraguans have towards life’s big issues: family, work, friendship and death? What kind of things do they value, what is sacred for them? And of course: What can we learn about our own lives and our own deeply-held values and attitudes by comparing them with the Central-American culture? In other words, what can we learn from them in terms of how to live a good life ourselves? These are the questions I will be examining.

My mission in life is to explore novel ways of thinking that enable people to better understand how to live their life in a good way. I aim to find fruitful ways to answer the ancient question about what is good life and how to live one’s life. The journey I will now be taking is a part of this mission. Through absorbing myself to the Central American culture for a couple of months I hope to widen my perspective and thus be able to think about these basic questions in a more open and wide-reaching way.

This blog will be a report of this journey. I hope to give the reader two things: (1) To broaden her or his perspective about what good life could be about. (2) To give practical insights into how to live a better life within one’s own life-situation, whatever that situation is.

How then to live your life? Truth to be told, there is no such thing as one correct way of living. Everyone must carve their own path. As Zarathustra said:

”This is just my way, where is yours?” Thus did I answer to those who asked me ”the way.” For the way – it does not not exist!

Sometimes a man has to go. Sometimes a man needs a purpose to go. I am going to Central America, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The purpose of my journey is to learn more about the local culture, the way they live their lives and the way they think about vital issues such as happiness, morality and good life.

What makes Costa Ricans happy, what is their measure of success? What kind of attitudes do Nicaraguans have towards life’s big issues: family, work, friendship and death? What kind of things do they value, what is sacred for them? And of course: What can we learn about our own lives and our own deeply-held values and attitudes by comparing them with the Central-American culture? In other words, what can we learn from them in terms of how to live a good life ourselves? These are the questions I will be exploring.

My mission in life is to explore novel ways of thinking that enable people to better understand how to live their life in a good way. I aim to find fruitful ways to answer the ancient question about what is good life and how to live one’s life. The journey I will now be taking is a part of this mission. Through absorbing myself to the Central American culture for a couple of months I hope to widen my perspective and thus be able to think about these basic questions in a more open and wide-reaching way.

This blog will be a report of this journey. I hope to give the reader two things: (1) To broaden her or his perspective about what good life could be about. (2) To give practical insights into how to live a better life within one’s own life-situation, whatever that situation is.

How then to live your life? Truth to be told, there is no such thing as one correct way of living. Everyone must carve their own path. As Zarathustra said:

”This is just my way, where is yours?” Thus did I answer to those who asked me for ”the way.” For the way – it does not not exist!