The Overwhelming Stress Involved Searching for Tranquility in the USA

I’m obsessed with replicating the tranquility that makes Costa Ricans the happiest people on Earth. Since I arrived back in Denver, I have repurposed my 25 year old YETI FRO racing mountain bike into an around town bike. It now sports a purple basket on front and skinny tires. My idea was to ride it to Cheesman Park, which I have learned from the Internet is the best place in Denver from which to view sunsets. One problem is since I have returned home, it has either rained or snowed most afternoons, making that idea impractical. It is also migraine season for me, since I am a human barometer and storms moving in tend to make it feel as though someone is chopping wood with an axe on my head.  So one of the things that makes Costa Ricans happy, getting out in nature, is not as easy as I had hoped.

I also went out and bought sneakers.  Yes, sneakers.  As an aside, I just learned after living in Colorado for 37 years that people from here do not call that type of footwear sneakers.  They are called tennis shoes.  I find that odd since most people do not play tennis in sneakers.  No one has ever corrected me.  The closest someone got was at the airport last week while I was waiting for my mother-in-law.  I had struck up a conversation with the woman next to me who was also waiting for her mother-in-law when I suggested to her that everyone on my mother-in-law’s flight from South Dakota would be wearing sneakers.  She smiled and said, “You are from New York, aren’t you?”.  I asked how she knew and she said no one in Colorado or the whole midwest called that form of footwear sneakers–they are tennis shoes.  So all this time I’ve been giving myself away.  That and I wouldn’t be caught dead traveling in sneakers.  Going to a foreign city whether in this country or in Spain or France or anywhere in sneakers just, to me, screams, “Rob me!” aside from being terribly unoriginal.  But I digress.

I bought sneakers so I could walk around Washington Park and look at the mountains and smell the fresh air.  Well my dog and I have done that exactly one time in one month.  It was not fun.  There were hundreds of people.  There were people speeding by on bicycles at 20 m.p.h., the speed limit. My dog was freaked out.  It was not relaxing.  I did not feel like I was in nature with all the pavement and concrete sidewalks.  So I started walking around my neighborhood.  That is nice.  However, I miss the monkeys and coatis and trees.

So, I have looked up hikes that are within a 30 minute drive from Denver.  I’m thinking that may do the trick.  Now I just have to find my hiking boots.  While I’m not thrilled about being in the car for an hour a few times a week, I am determined to get my nature fix.  It’s too early for mosquitoes so it should be very pleasant, if it would ever stop raining.

I am lucky enough to own a house up in the mountains near Winter Park ski resort.  But I was also smart enough to put it on VRBO where it has stayed rented pretty much all year.  There were a few days open during mud season (now) so I’m headed up tomorrow.  Maybe walking around in the muck will drop at least 1/2 load of endorphins into my brain so I feel joyful being in nature.

I’m truly stressing myself out trying to replicate the feeling of the real jungle and pristine nearly empty beach of Samara, Costa Rica, population 4,000, in the City of Denver’s concrete jungle of carefully manicured neighborhoods and perfectly-placed well-tended parks, population 650,000.  I think it’s time to take Denver as it is and realize Samara was super special.  I need to just calm down.  I’m missing something big–Gratitude.  I got to spend 31 days in that beautiful place.  If I have to drive for an hour once a week or twice a week to get out in nature, so what?  The rest of the time I can spend with my family and recognizing what is important in my life every day.  Denver is an awesome place to live.  I just have to figure out the best way to do it.

Love At First Sight-An Anniversary Insight

I believe in love at first sight.  I know it’s true.  It happened to me.

When I met Joel 14 years ago (with whom I just celebrated our 14th anniversary), I was very surprised.  I had spoken to him on the telephone about a lawsuit that he was handling.  I was working at the Attorney General’s Office in Colorado at the time.  He was trying to enlist my assistance, and it so happened that my client, the Division of Insurance, was on the same side as him.  So I had occasion to talk to him on the phone several times and liked his voice.  I had been divorced for five years and I was certain that as charming, witty, intelligent, sarcastic and funny he was on the phone, he was equally short, chubby, married or otherwise unavailable.

I attended his hearing at the Federal Court House one cold snowy day in the winter and was very excited to see an extremely tall good looking young guy giving his oral arguments to a judge who had already said he was inclined to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, not Joel who represented the defendants.  He had no one with him at the table and brought nothing but a notebook.  Meanwhile, plaintiffs had a whole gaggle of attorneys and paralegals and documents at their table.  I watched as Joel gently swayed the judge completely around until the ultimate decision was in favor of the defendants.  It was quite the mesmerizing performance.

I was so enthralled, I devised a plan to exit with the court crowd and then head back in as though I had forgotten something, and just bump into Joel.  So that’s what I did.  When we bumped, I could not get over how tall he was at 6’8″.  He pierced his way right into my soul (okay that’s overly dramatic), he gave me a piercing gaze (that’s overused), his light green eyes knowingly gazed into mine and I was gone.  Someone introduced us.  I felt a strange feeling in my stomach.  I know, I know.  You’re supposed to feel it in your heart.  When I got home that night, I remember looking out my window and saying to myself, “I’m going to marry that man.”  And that’s after five years on the singles scene and having no intention of ever settling down again.  I was happy on my own.

He began sending me huge bouquets of exotic flowers that would say, “Enjoy your Tuesday.”  It took us quite a while to finally hook up.  We danced around each other for awhile and then finally met up for a bike ride followed by sushi.  We were basically never apart again.  We went to his office and looked at a map of the US to find a place where neither of us had been with any other date and booked tickets for three days later.  That place was South Beach Miami on Valentine’s weekend.  We had a fabulous time.

We were married six weeks later in the bar at Panzano’s in the Hotel Monaco in Denver, witnessed by our two gay bartender friends.  In the meantime, I had to kick out a guy who was living with me and he had to tell a woman who was moving here to live with him goodbye so there were so rough edges and I hope by now they have forgiven us.

Fourteen years later I can say there is love at first sight.  You feel it in your gut.  You know it in you body and it cannot be intellectualized.  A list of pros and cons will do no good.  Love wants what it wants.

Biceps Boy and Hitting the Tranquilo Button

FullSizeRender (1)My first full day back in the US, my husband stayed home from work so we could go to lunch together.  I drove my car since it had been a long time since I had been behind the wheel of my own vehicle.  I was feeling as though I had good parking karma as a car was pulling out right in front of me in a primo spot near the café.  As I moved to turn into it, a driver coming from the wrong direction (these were diagonal spots for those going in my direction) held up his heavily muscled arm and shot me the bird as he nearly hit me, zipping into the recently vacated parking spot with his oversized truck.  He actually gave me the finger and practically grazed my front end!

I suppose he presumed his muscle head t-shirt rolled up above his bulging biceps gave him the right to do that, as in he could beat me up.  Or maybe it was his oversized truck that has absolutely no practical purpose in the City of Denver and contributes to our reliance on foreign oil that made him feel entitled since his rig was bigger than my sedan and he could crush me.  (For places where an enormous pickup truck is necessary see photo above of cow walking down the street in Costa Rica.  They graze freely.  I’m sure a rancher would love a big truck to bring hay to his ranch, if any were to be had.  I doubt hay had been in back of said Biceps Boy’s pickup truck.)

But there may have been a problem with Biceps Boy and his astounding fitness level as gauged by his enormous upper body.  I wonder if he had frog legs and perhaps could not obey the law and drive halfway around the block to park and walk to the restaurant.  Maybe he really needed that spot.  Maybe he didn’t have time to work out his lower body so it had atrophied.  In that case, I feel sorry for him.  Maybe they have handicapped stickers for guys who overwork their beach muscles and neglect their walking muscles.

Whatever the reason, I assumed he had completed his shifty maneuver, but I had misjudged him.  Since he came from the wrong direction he needed to straighten out his truck.  As I was passing, he slammed his monster into reverse and attempted to ram into my car, the side my husband was sitting in.  Biceps Boy was actually going to smash my husband’s pelvis to prove that the parking space was his damn parking space.  I temporarily froze and honked, a sound I hadn’t heard for 32 days so it shocked me.  Regaining my senses, since he kept backing up and it appeared he was about to jump down from his now open driver’s side car door, I sped up and went halfway around the block myself where there were plenty of spots and a whopping 30 second walk to the café.

I did a quick body scan and realized I wasn’t angry.  The tranquilo button had worked.  You see, I had tried to figure out a way to maintain the feeling of tranquility that came over me after the first week in Samara, Costa Rica and rested in my bones by the end of the trip.  So I decided I would mentally install a tranquilo button in my brain and push it when I was about to lose my tranquility for whatever reason.  I was not about to let Biceps Boy’s problem and anger become my problem and anger.  Why should I care that he was a jackass?  I’m not married to him, in fact, I’m not married to a jackass at all.  I have a wonderful husband and family.  So I forgot about him until I decided to write about him today as a comparison to my more contemplative mode beginning March 1st.

I’m determined to keep the tranquilo button attached and active.  So far, so good.  In some ways, too good.  I was 20 minutes late picking my son up from school.  Meeting times in Costa Rica were mas o menos, more or less.   A little parking space rage had not made me into an angry person.  Pura vida I whispered as a blessing to Biceps Boy.

Culture Shock Upon Re-Entry To The USA

Dwight

I have one day left in this beautiful country where howler monkeys swing from trees in front on me while I sip coffee at dusk, where the sunsets are red, where armadillos and porcupines root around on the ground at dawn, where parrots are not in cages and where the cacophony of insects, reptiles and birds lulls me to sleep at night.  I am nervous about going back to Colorado after 31 days here, and not just because it is cold and snowy there.

I’m afraid I will fail to incorporate the things I have learned here into my daily life and I will go right back into being a materialistic person, ensconced in a big house that keeps out nature.  Sure, it will be nice not to have to pick bugs out of my juice and shower without ants, and drip with sweat at 7:30 a.m. as I’m doing now, but I’m talking about the bigger stuff.  Will I make it a point to find out what time the sun sets and go watch it?  Will I continue to rise at dawn because after all of these days, my circadian rhythm is in tune with the sun?  Will I continue to be active, not because it is exercise but because I want to see things and it is a mode of transportation, such as hiking?

And then there are the biggest things.  One night last week I received real insight into Tico families. One of their biggest holidays is Semana Santa, or Easter Week.  Everyone from San Jose and all across the country rushes to the beaches (where I am) and sets up tarps and chairs and blares boom boxes and dines from their ice chests.  It is a tremendous party and traffic comes to a complete halt wherever you go if it is towards a beach.  It is quite the scene.

Well at the little hotel to which I had escaped to get some air-conditioning (okay, I’m soft, but it has been hard to sleep at the house I rented when the temperature is 98 degrees!), I met a Tico family.  The 28 year old marketing executive from San Jose was very patient with me and we spoke only in Spanish.  His 11 year old niece and mother only spoke Spanish.  They invited me to a different beach and I invited them to dinner.  I could tell the expense concerned them so I chose a place where we could split a pizza.    I learned that Daniela lived with her grandmother because her mother was beginning a new life with her new fiancé.  Dwight continued to live with his mother, even though he has a girlfriend and a job, because that is how it is done in Costa Rica.  A 21 year old brother  with a baby and the grandfather also live at their home in San Jose.

I did not do a good job hiding my shock to learn Daniela’s mother had “abandoned” her so she could run off with a new man.  When I asked why Daniela did not live with her mother, the grandmother seemed to thing I was estupido and answered that her daughter needed to start a new life.  All three of them looked at me like I was crazy.  Of course beautiful Daniela was going to live with with her grandmother and two cousins who loved her.  And there is my point.  There seems to be no distinction between immediate family and extended family in Costa Rica.  Cousins are as good as sisters and all are welcome to live in each other’s homes.  I have noticed this when I ask questions of other Ticos.  I ask who they live with and they initially say my brother but it turns out it is really a nephew.

So back to the biggest things–family.  There’s a saying in the US when family comes to stay with you that family is like fish:  After three days you throw them out.  (Notice I do not say American anymore.  I got chewed out by a Tico for saying that.  He said, “We are all Americans.”  He was correct.)  So personally, I would like to get rid of that idea of fish and family in my psyche.  The Ticos have it right.  I watch the way my son adores his cousins.  My son is basically an only child since my two older boys are 12 and 14 years older than him.  So when he sees his cousins, he’s in heaven.  Unfortunately, they moved from Denver to Minneapolis.  But we have airplanes.  I need to help strengthen those bonds.  I picked this family.  My husband’s family is awesome.  My son could see more of them.  I do not have to just talk about the importance of family but I need to show it, even when it is not convenient for me or it is not necessarily what I want to do.

And another biggest thing is materialism.  My Spanish teacher wore the same shorts to school three days out of four.  I am positive she knew how cute she looked in them. Ticos do not care as much about material things as US people do.  For us, it is always a rush to have the latest iPhone and the newest MacBook and the coolest car.  Ticos do not seem to have the sense of entitlement that we have grown up having.  Yet I have to repeat myself from previous posts, all polls show they are the happiest people on Earth.

For Ticos, a biggest thing is ecology.  I mention this last because in Colorado, most of us are very good at recycling, taking care of our forests, and conservation.  This comes pretty naturally to me from 37 years of living in Boulder, Denver and Fraser.

So I gave myself, and my husband said take it, unlimited freedom to explore myself while exploring Costa Rica and working on my Spanish.  I have shared what I have learned through these posts.  The real challenge begins when I hit US soil, hopefully on time, tomorrow night.

I want to plan a trip with my son to visit his cousins this summer when school is out.  I may make this break from work permanent since my son is entering those dangerous years–those teenage years that can be so crazy.  I want to be around for him.  I want to stop my addiction to Zappos.com (I’m a VIP member) and take a walk or look up the time for the sunset and go watch it.  I already have at least 100 pairs of shoes to walk around in!  Even though I am renting out our home in the mountains, I am going to  make it a point to get up there and hike and kiss a tree, seriously.

I am so grateful for all of the things I have in my life, whether I need them or not.  At this moment, after being here in Costa Rica on my solo adventure, I am most grateful for having a loving family, and a loving extended family.  I am grateful we have a second home in the mountains to use as a base for mountain biking, although now slower hikes to appreciate the beauty of the trees and trail and streams are what I am after.

My husband said he needed to purge some of his junk.  After this trip, I think a purge of things I do not need is a great idea.  It will be a big pile.  After all, we really do not need much in the way of material items.  I have learned that here.

I continue to feel nervous.  As soon as I arrive in Houston I imagine myself freaking out when I see a Starbucks.  I have not seen one for 30 days.  I do not care for Starbucks at all.  I prefer independent coffee shops.  I imagine Texans will be very loud and that will make me anxious.  People here are very tranquil.  I imagine the person sitting next to me on the plane asking me why I have such a nice tan, and I will say, “Because I was in Costa Rica at the beach,” as I put my headphones on.

Freedom Is Not Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose

Monteverde-130Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  I’ve thought a lot about those lyrics over the years.  I’ve come to disagree with her.  I am writing about it because the nature of this trip is having unlimited freedom to do whatever I want to do for a month.  I decided to come to Costa Rica and I picked Sámara, a beautiful beach town in southwest Costa Rica in Guanacaste as my home base.  I rented, through VRBO, the bottom level of a house about a mile from the beach with no air-conditioning and two bedrooms.  I have my own courtyard and outdoor kitchen, Costa Rican style.  I wanted to keep costs down so I could travel other places and not worry about double paying.  It has worked out well, although I admit, I came to a hotel a few nights just for the air-conditioning.

I have had three weeks to think about what total freedom means, and it is not what you think it means.  (Isn’t that a line from Princess Bride?)  Freedom, to me, is taking 100% responsibility for my actions.  I cannot think of a time when I would have “nothing left to lose” as Joplin sang.  I always have my trustworthiness, caring for myself and others, respect for myself and others, my strong sense of justice, responsibility for my actions and my sense of community.  I do not see how those could be taken away without becoming unscrupulous.  For me, being unscrupulous, breaking my moral code, would bring guilt and make me feel bad.  That is not freedom.  I cannot think of a time when I would have nothing left to lose because I would always have my honor even if I lost my material possessions.

As an example, take the person who smokes cigarettes.  She is free to smoke even though she knows it is not good for her health.  But shouldn’t her freedom end at the beginning of my nose?  Second-hand smoke is bad for one’s health.  Should her unlimited freedom include the right to harm someone else?  In my opinion, it should not.  If it were me, and I smoked, I would not smoke around others because it would hurt me to hurt others.  So, would I lose my freedom because I would feel like I had done a bad thing to someone else and that feeling would not provide unlimited freedom?  No, I think I would feel greater freedom.  I would respect others’ freedom to breathe clean air so my unlimited freedom to smoke is unlimited in the sense that it’s contained by my sense of responsibility to others.

I recently took a trip out to central Costa Rica to explore a cloud forest called Monteverde.  There, the Ticos are rapid environmentalists.  In the hotel, a sign proclaimed sarcastically that the tap water was fine, but if the guest wanted to support the plastics industry by insisting on buying bottled water, it was available at the grocery store.  Each room had three bins for recycling.  The trip to the Visitors’ Center was accompanied by a lecture about staying on the paths and packing out what you packed in.  I was used to this from hiking in Colorado but they were particularly adamant in Monteverde, perhaps because of the number of foreign tourists.

So, if no one was looking, didn’t I have unlimited freedom to dump my protein bar rapper in the woods?  I don’t think so.  My freedom extends to the point where someone else’s enjoyment ends due to my actions.  That wrapper would ruin the feeling that one was all alone in a magnificent forest, the feeling I had while treading lightly on the meandering footpaths through the tropical jungle filled with toucans, quetzals, monkeys and  all kinds of exotic animals.  The way the clouds rushed into the valley creating multiple rainbows is a whole other story.  Was I really free to destroy that enjoyment for someone else by leaving evidence of a human?  I do not think so.  My unlimited freedom again was contained my own character.

I have friends who have lied to me.  They have unlimited freedom to lie to me.  But there are consequences.  I do not trust them anymore.  I am not friends with some of them any longer.  It’s difficult to tell the truth all the time.  But I’ve come to believe it is more difficult to lie.  No, I’m not Catholic.  I’m not wracked with guilt when I lie.  I just feel the consequences to me are worse.  I have defeated my own moral code and sense of justice that I expect of others.

So while I have unlimited freedom here in Costa Rica, that does not mean I will suddenly change my character.  Freedom in not another word for nothing left to lose.  Freedom is taking 100% responsibility for your actions.  Only then can you feel totally free to enjoy your life and do whatever you want.  At least, that is my experience.

 

Asking For Directions From Latin Men Is A Touchy Feely Business

So believe it or not, after 17 straight days at the beach, I got bored.  I was doing things other than going to the beach, but I wanted to take going to the beach off my list.  The amount of time I could stand sitting in a chair reading a book got smaller and smaller until all I could do was swim in the ocean, have lunch and go back to my rental house to paint, write, read and practice my photography skills.

I decided to take a trip to Monteverde, a cloud forest that is 3 1/2 hours inland from here at a much higher elevation where it is considerably cooler.  It is also a rainforest and not dry like Guanacaste where I am now.  I was not sure what to expect.

Since childhood, I’ve suffered from carsickness.  So against the advice of all guidebooks and tour guides, I rented a car and drove myself.  There is a reason the guidebooks and tour companies advise against this.  For some unknown reason, in a country that depends on tourism, there are no road signs to tell you where you are headed, where to turn or where the next Estación Gasolina is.  Monteverde is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.  I did not see a single sign for it until I was there.  I passed through many very small villages with streets made of cobblestone that dead-ended at an intersection.  Should I go left or right?

So, luckily, I have been studying Spanish for a year and a half and studied it here intensely for a week, four hours a day.  I practice as much as possible in a tourist town where the Ticos speak better English than I speak Spanish.  But few people speak English in the tiny towns I found myself lost in after four wheeling towards Monteverde.

Now here’s the touchy feely part.  I see a person who looks like he might know his way around.  I’m sitting in my car.  I say, “Disculpe me,” for excuse me.  The señor comes over to my window and I ask the ruta to Sámara.  He gives me directions I understand, thank God, because all three times this happened I was going in the opposite direction, but it doesn’t stop there.  All three times I asked directions they were of men in their mid-60’s and older.  They wanted to see exactly how much gasoline I had in my tank because apparently everyone keeps a little extra in their homes for emergencies so they stuck their heads in and looked–each of them.  Then came the chit chat about where I was from, how long I was staying and so on.  But the surprising thing is all three men in some way touched me in kind of a younger daughter way, even though I’m not that young and one man’s wife was standing there.

The first man was all smiles and after I said, “Feliz Samana Santa”, basically Happy Easter which they celebrate for a week, he reached into the car, I kid you not, and began stroking my hair saying “muy linda.”

The next man was in an even smaller town, gave me the directions I needed, and then told me how he used to know English when he was younger and an economics professor.  As I was leaving, he reached inside my window and stroked my left arm up and down very lightly and sensitively, wishing me luck.

The third man seemed to be in his seventies.  He directed me back into the opposite direction then put his hand on my hand and patted it.

Can you imagine a women in the US asking a man for directions and he begins stroking her hair!?  He’d get an assault charge.  But there is a cultural difference here.  I don’t know if it’s a Latin man thing unique to Costa Rica or if all Latinos do it.

I’m just now reminded that it is not just the older guys who do this.  I was walking across a tributary toward the ocean to watch the sun set one day two weeks ago.  It was thigh high in the middle, with signs all around warning of crocodiles.  But many Ticos cross it every day.  The next thing I know a Tico, about 32, has grabbed my camera bag and is holding it over his had and holding my hand across the slippery rocks.  We got to the other side and he didn’t try to French kiss me or anything.  I just said thank you and moved on.

I also noticed at dinner the waiter rubbed my neck while I was reading my book–I mean it took 10 seconds but he rubbed my neck.

Personal space is different here between men and women and not just when asking directions.

And another thing.  I stopped at the Tourist Information Center at Monteverde.  It seemed I had a lot in common with the 21 year old who worked there regarding nature, what it does for your soul and sense of well-being, how the air is fresher, you know, that kind of hippy talk.  As I was leaving to begin my hike, he hugged me and told me he loved me.  Now, that must mean something different here.  Or, in the US we’re too uptight to use it often when we connect with someone.  He wasn’t saying let’s go on a date.  It was not sexual.  He just loved the connection.

My massage therapist Wendy told me she loved me, too after the second massage (and there were no happy endings).  I’ve observed Latinos have a different way of expressing their happiness about a new friend, and a lot of it involves touching.

Come to think about it, I walked into the small Sámara grocery store the other day and the two male clerks had their arms around each other, singing a song that was on the radio.  You’d never see that among two straight guys in the US.

I just googled “Latinos and hugging” and it turns out there is a lot written about this cultural difference between Latinos and other countries.  But maybe they’ve got it right.

I know I always felt loved growing up in New York by the constant kissing and hugging from my friends’ Italian families.  It turns out there is science to support giving lots of hugs.

A U.S. News Report dated February 3, 2016 reports that hugging reduces stress, increases the happy hormone serotonin, boosts your immune system, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and overall, increases your sense of well-being.  So we’re back to the phenomenon of Costa Ricans being the happiest people in the world, with four times less the gross domestic product of the US, and 20% of its citizens living below the poverty level.

I’ve had my share of hair petting, arm stroking, hand holding and neck rubs for today, but I’m going to be sure to work in as many hugs as possible when I return to Colorado.

Hug someone today and see what they do.  Then hug a Latino or Latina and see if there is a difference.  I like the tradition.Monteverde-43

The cloud forest at Monteverde Costa Rica

Sunshine, Mental Health and Choosing Not To Be A Forest Ranger

Long beach

(This is Playa Sámara on a typical Tuesday.)

I have been in Sámara for 16 days.  It has been brilliantly sunny every single day.  There are several very real psychiatric problems that respond positively to sunlight.  Take depression for example.  Many of the meds doctors dole out are designed to keep seratonin in your body by preventing its re-uptake (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRI’s such as Prozac and Paxil).  Among many scientific studies, Jeffrey Rossman writes in his book Mind Body Mood Solution that exposure to sunlight produces seratonin in your body.  Seratonin increases your feelings of well-being.  It lifts depression.  In an article the author wrote for Women’s Health, Rossman notes that exposure to sunlight lifts depression in just a week compared to antidepressants that take up to four to six weeks to become effective.

We are part of nature.  We are meant to be outside.  Costa Ricans seem to understand this.  Their homes are built with the central living area, the kitchen, outside.  They sleep with the windows open and screen to protect them from insects (and often bars to protect them from intruders).  The restaurants are open-air with fans above.  Even the grocery stores are wide open until night time when iron gates close off the front.  The overall effect is anyone who lives here is in tune with the sunlight.  Breakfast is prepared a little bit after sunrise and dinner is enjoyed 12 hours later around sunset, all outside.

Getting the right amount of sunshine at the right time is not a problem here.  Since Costa Rica is so close to the equator, the days are roughly as long as the nights.

But in places like Denver where the days are short in the winter and often too cold to go outside, many shrinks recommend light boxes.  These boxes are popular in Canada where they are made.  They provide full spectrum light.  You sit in front of the light while working or reading for about an hour.  The light boxes take the place of being outside in the sunlight.  The full spectrum light enters your retina and your brain produces serotonin.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the overall effect of being outside when the sun rises and sets impacts your circadian rhythm so that your body knows when to wake up and when to go to sleep.  For depressed people, sleep problems are common.  So getting outside would not only increase serotonin and one’s sense of well-being, but it would help regulate the sleep cycle.  Depression is awful and it can make people stay awake all night where they end up looking at the light from a computer screen  further  disrupting the sleep cycle with the unnatural light, causing the person to be exhausted the next day and more depressed.

In the US, most people spend most of their time indoors.  Working inside an office building, especially where there is no window, is literally depressing!

While I was writing this, I remembered that when I was little, I wanted to be a forest ranger.  I held on to this dream up until college.  And then someone said to me, “Being a forest ranger is just law enforcement.”  Well that killed my dream.  I did not want to be in law enforcement.  (Some of you who know me are chuckling right now.)  I was picturing a policeman walking through the forest writing tickets for fishing without a license.  I had something more in mind that involved communing with nature and spotting endangered wildlife.

Looking back, I gave up that dream of being a forest ranger too quickly.  So what if part of it involved law enforcement?  I would have spent my entire working day outside, walking, or maybe riding a horse as my acquaintance does, through wilderness areas in Colorado, where State publications claim we have 300 days of sunshine a year.  The sun would certainly stave off the blues and be good for my sleep cycle.  Also, as I mentioned in two previous posts, a study has proved that finding beauty in nature increases your sense of well-being.  As a forest ranger, imagine getting to see the wildflowers all the time and the hummingbirds feeding from flowers not red plastic containers from the hardware store.   That’s a big dose of well-being!

The physical surroundings of my job have always been important to me.  I have opted for a small office with a view of the mountains over a large office with nicer furnishings.  I arranged my office furniture at my first job so I could see a small slice of the mountains even though it made the office look ridiculous.  So writing this post I’m just thinking, wow, a forest ranger would have the best physical  surroundings ever, and now there’s evidence that it would have improved my health.

I cannot go back and be a forest ranger.  But I can make it a point to get lots of sun and pay attention when I’m outside–find the natural beauty that is all around.  As a bonus, I will keep the blues at bay, increase my sense of well-being and sleep well.  I knew when we came as a family at Christmas time to Costa Rica that I loved it, I just did not understand why.  I think the answer is beginning to come to me.  The physical surroundings are making me happy.