Happiness in the USA–Just Walk in the Forest

Mountains-2

(Trail to Columbine Lake, Continental Divide, Grand County, Colorado)

My efforts to simulate the things in Costa Rica that make them the happiest people on Earth according to the Happy Planet Index failed miserably in the U.S., specifically in Colorado.  Sunsets go down behind jagged purple foothills long before they’ve had a chance to change colors and create optical illusions of huge orbs sinking into perfectly horizontal planes.  And our families here are just different.  The nuclear family is the norm, not the extended family that includes aunts and uncles and even best friends.  Our relatives live in different states.  We cannot get together to celebrate birthdays and graduations very easily much less have huge family meals and outings together.

But Colorado does have other things that are actually proven to make people happy.  Even though the US is 27th on the Happy Planet Index, maybe Colorado judged alone would be higher.  I say this because, with the exception of Hawaii, Colorado is the only other state to rank in the top 10 healthiest states for eight years in a row since the 2015 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index began measuring well-being.  Coloradans have a high sense of well-being according to the index.  And it’s no wonder.  Most of us are outside walking, biking, hiking and just taking advantage of our beautiful state.

As it turns out, some of the things we do here in Colorado are proven to make people happy.  I was resting with my Italian Greyhound in a hammock at 8,800 feet in my backyard, surrounded by about 200 lodgepole pine trees, some wildflowers, and listening to lots of black squirrels scurrying around in the trees, and hummingbirds whizzing by while a slice of sun cut across half my body, warming me.  I remember thinking, “This is heaven.”  It was not about the hammock. The air just smelled different–earthy, alive.  It turns out the air is different.  And it does make you happy.

The July 25, 2016, edition of Time magazine reported on a Japanese study begun in the 1980’s of “forest-bathing” or shinrin yoku to reduce stress.  One of the studies showed that people who walked in a forest for 40 minutes had greatly reduced cortisol compared to those who walked for 40 minutes in a lab. And cortisol is that substance we do not want building up because it increases our blood pressure and stress.

But the best part of the study found that the forests are magical just like in the faery tales!  Okay not really but almost.  The trees and plants emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides.  When people breath them, they become healthier.  They provide protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure.  Best of all, they relieve depression and make people feel happy!  The trees are drugging us!

I googled “shinrin yoku” and found a whole U.S. website dedicated to providing guided tours through the woods of less than a mile.  I presume these tours are for those who are unable to appreciate the forests on their own or need some guide to say, “Behold, a beautiful tree.  Touch it.  Smell it.”  Bless capitalism.

Alas, I live in the city, not in the mountains.  While I can go on hikes on the weekends, I’d like to stay happy all week.  My husband suggested walking figure eights around all the trees in the park across the street every day.  It sounds silly, but don’t they emit phytoncides, too?  I could pretend I’m training my dog while I’m actually being drugged by trees.  I understand cannabis sounds easier and it is legal here but I’m looking for more natural highs, like in that corny John Denver song.

Interestingly, my tai chi chen pan ling teacher always teaches in the trees.  And he knows a lot of ancient Chinese stuff.  I think there is something to this forest bathing. Something that increases our sense of well-being.  A lot of Coloradans have found it and they probably do not know why.  I think the Happy Planet Index people should separate us from the other states.  Then they should compare us to Costa Rica!  I bet Colorado would at least make the top 10.  Think of all the trees we have.

 

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.

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

Living With The Jungle, Not In It

Costa Ricans have built their homes to accommodate the jungle, not keep it out. The kitchens are built outside with gas stoves and ovens around a patio, usually with a brick wall surrounding the area. A tin roof is above the cooking area in case it rains. There is a bar area for eating and also a table and chairs. The bedrooms are inside along with the bathrooms which use a septic tank. Apparently, most of the electricity is from renewable energy sources.

I am staying off a dirt road in a newer remodeled home about 3/4 mile from the town of Sámara. So it’s not like I’m out in the boonies. In two weeks, I’ve done battle with a relentless raccoon (they call them something different) who successfully opened the composting bin and was gorging on watermelon rinds. Another night, an animal was making such a racket, I went outside my room (I sleep with the screens closed and metal bars locked) to investigate. My flashlight discovered a huge armadillo rooting around in big pile of sticks for God knows what. What a prehistoric creature. I had never seen one before. He just waddled from pile to pile rooting around near the kitchen.  It was a hilarious sight.

Another time, I got up at sunrise and sat down at the kitchen bar area with my coffee and watched a porcupine sniff the ground for about five minutes. I wasn’t about to go near him but he was pretty cute.

And then there is the usual thunderous sound of about eight horses coming down the dirt driveway heading for an open field next to the house. Around here, horse owners just let their horses roam around free. Well there is food in the field near the kitchen  so the horses come. The owner gathers them up on the weekends  trying to get the tourists to take rides.

And of course, there are the howler monkeys. The first time I heard them I thought a horrible beast was coming to get me. They make a horrifying sound like a roaring jaguar, but they are the sweetest, most gentle of the four monkey species in Costa Rica. They come right up to the kitchen area, which is of course their eating area since it’s surrounded by trees, and make their terrifying noises at sunset as they enjoy their vegetarian meal.

There are so many opportunities to observe the beauty of nature without leaving the kitchen it is unbelievable. And I haven’t even talked about the secret beach!

As I noted in an earlier post, in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, Jei Wei Zhang concludes: “Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being.” Well-being was highest for those that connect with nature and perceive natural beauty.  For me, seeing all of these creatures in their natural habitat is stunningly beautiful.  And the Costa Ricans have gotten it right.  Instead of blocking out these sights and sounds, they put the most important part of the home, the kitchen, outside, and that is where they hang out in the evenings, along with bizarre armadillos, howler monkeys and who knows what other creatures.  Yes, I believe the way they orient their homes feeds into why they are the happiest people on Earth.

There may be downsides US folks don’t like.  For example, I live with a gecko in my room.  She’s not a problem and is quite pretty.  And there are good reasons for eating outside.  I left a cup of mango juice next to the daybed for about five minutes and it was filled with no see’ums.  An ant is crawling across my computer screen right now because the rest of the room is dark.  In fact, one can almost always see ants on the walls looking around for food. They are tiny ants that can get through screens.  But to me, it’s a small price to pay to see a howler monkey fall out of a tree (he was fine), a horse block the road so she could feed her baby, a cow walking aimlessly down the road toward the beach and an armadillo bury and unbury itself in piles of muck while I laughed out loud.  As Kurt Cobain sang, “I think I’m happy now.”  (In the end, I guess he wasn’t, but I like those lyrics.)Monkeys-5

The Right to a Peaceful Country

Costa Rica has no army.  Read that again.  Costa Rica also has the lowest homicide rate in Central America.  Now think of where Costa Rica is in relation to other countries.  Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world by far and is only a little more than 400 miles from Costa Rica.  Belize has the fourth highest homicide rate and is right next door to Honduras.  Many of the deaths are due to drug wars.  Speaking of which, Columbia, further away at 740 miles, supplies about 90% of the world’s cocaine, of which the US is the number one consumer.  However, according to President Obama, on their way to the US, the drug traffickers from South America must make at least one stop in a Central American country, and one of those countries is Costa Rica, according to the 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the US State Department.

But the Costa Rican Government does not want cocaine or other drugs here, where they are illegal.  That does not mean they do not exist here.  My gringo sources tell me that marijuana is very expensive and bad and cocaine is very cheap and good.

Since there is no army here, Costa Rica relies on its Coast Guard to attempt to stop the drug trafficking.  The Government has entered into a bilateral agreement with the US where the two countries share resources such as training and US Coast Guard boats and planes to stop the shipments.  According to the locals, it is not atypical to see US planes and boats chasing speed boats along the coast.  The Tico Times reported that a US plane spotted a drug-loaded boat en route from Columbia passing Costa Rica, alerted the Costa Rican government and the occupants began unloading kilos of cocaine into the ocean, just as the Costa Rican Coast Guard intercepted the Columbian boat, collected the cocaine and jailed the boaters.

The police guard the borders, again, often trained by the US border patrol.  But a big reason for not having a military is the obvious:  Costa Rica does not start or enter other countries’s wars.  Compare this to the US.  Enough said.  Isn’t it?

Further, Costa Rico has a very small ecological footprint of which the country is proud.  I assume from all of the bicycles, motorcycles and horses I see, this country is far less dependent on gasoline than the US.  There is not much reason to protect oil resources in the Middle East compared to the US.

Some resources, namely the Tico Times, credit the lack of armed conflict with drug cartels from neighboring countries with the country’s lack of a military itself.  There has been no civil war or unrest since 1948.  A January 14, 2015 Tico Times report states that Costa Rica is so successful combating drug trafficking due to its constant contact and cooperation with the US.

Naming Costa Rica as a major port of transit for narcotics in the 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report ensures the US, along with several other countries, will continue to pour aid into Costa Rica to combat drug trafficking.  But I find it hard to believe that some of the drugs do not find their way into Costa Rica for public consumption.  Not a single person of the dozen of asked have heard of crystal meth, or methamphetamine.  But they have heard of cocaine, marijuana and mushrooms.  Moreover, in Obama’s 2015 report, he specifically mentions that synthetic drugs are not a problem in Costa Rica.

My Spanish teacher today, a Tica, told me that drugs are a very real problem in the poorer parts of the country, especially in the capital of San Jose.  Twenty percent of Ticos’ income falls below the poverty line.  But something is amiss here.  The US is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine and drugs coming from South and Central America.  The US is also the 7th richest country in the whole world.  (Qatar and Luxembourg greatly outrank the US; the US closely follows Singapore, Norway, Brunei and Hong Kong.)

I’m not buying this poverty equals drug use business since the US is extraordinarily wealthy and its citizens are the biggest drug users.  I think it has something to do with the phenomenon of the Costa Ricans being the happiest people on Earth.  US citizens rank 16th on the happiness scale.  So clearly, money and happiness are not related since Americans make four times as much as Costa Ricans.  Do North Americans use drugs to feel happy?  What about the factors that sociologists determined may be making Costa Ricans happy?  They are greatly in touch with the beauty of nature, they leave a small ecological footprint, they are very close with their family and friends and they help others.  Perhaps if US residents did these things they would not need so many drugs to change their realities.  Perhaps a sunset would stave off the need for a line of coke.  Perhaps coffee with a friend  and strengthening relationships in the community would lessen the scourge of meth in US towns.  I do not know the answer.

But it is a riddle to me that the richest country in the world also consumes the most mind-altering drugs and is one of the least happy countries in the developed world.  And because of that we are responsible for the rise of drug cartels throughout South America and Mexico and the murders of thousands of people.  Our military fights in South and Central America and Mexico to keep drugs out of the US.  Meanwhile, the drug cartels murder each other and innocent people to keep the supply going.  The best thing that is happening in the US is the legalization of marijuana.  The cartels watched demand dwindle.  But now the cartels are turning to heroin and Mexico is the biggest maker of crystal meth.  As long as there is a demand, they will keep supplying, and people will keep fleeing from the outrageous murder rates created by the drug wars in Honduras and other Central American countries, mostly trying to get to the US.

I continue to be fascinated by a country with no military, the happiest people on earth, the lowest homicide rate in Central America and four times less the GDP than the US.  As I ponder these questions, and the many ironies they pose, I am watching surfers catching waves in the aqua green water, touched by a half-moon  sandy beach with palm tree hills on both ends of the moon tips.  I will ride my bicycle home soon to catch the puesta del sol with the other Ticos.  I cannot see the sunset from here since I am facing south towards South America.  I understand I’m sure to see cat and mouse games with US helicopters and drug runners, but I haven’t seen that yet.  I will be sad when I do.  I never really thought about how all the drugs get into the US and how many people die.  I do not use them, but I will think of illegal drugs differently.  What if the drug war was one less war we had to fight?  The problem is, of course, the demand.

 

 

Watching the sunset is good for your health

Sunset-5I have been fascinated to watch how, at about 5:30 p.m. each evening, a steady stream of cars and bicyclists heads down the dirt road in front of my house to watch the sunset.  I first noticed it as I was walking down the road myself, camera in hand, not exactly sure where I was going.  To reach the sweet spot, the Ticos must wade through a swampy river thigh high and climb a small hill, before descending onto a small beach where the currents go in a multitude of directions as in riptide.  The area is a tiny cove surrounded by cliffs on one on each side, the sounds of howling monkeys occasionally heard over the strong sounds of the alternating currents.  You have to really want to see the sunset to go there.  It is not on any map I have seen.

My visits have not disappointed.  The yellow orb is often streaked with red clouds.  But the effect on the water and sky is what really captures my attention.  The blue water turns a light purple, and mirrors back the orange and yellow orb when the tide goes out.  The sky is a riot of warm colors on the color wheel, all reflected in the shallow water when it recedes.

So why do the Ticos, make sure they catch the sunset at the end of the day?  By the way, I noticed this phenomenon in Mexico, too.  Cars would pull over no matter where they were going and whole families would run out to the beach to watch the pueste de sol.  Those prepared for it, like the Ticos here, heighten the experience by swimming in the ocean as the sun sets.  The only place I notice it as a regular thing in the US is in Key West, but that’s not really part of the US, now is it.  From my experience, having a house with a deck that has a stunning view of the sunset up in the mountains, I am usually the only one watching the sunset.  As an experiment, I have walked around to the condos near my house that all have decks facing west, and I rarely see anyone watching the sunset.  Yet here in Central America, the place with the happiest people on Earth, it is not to be missed.

In The Journal of Environmental Psychology, Jei Wei Zhang concludes:  “Engagement with natural beauty moderates the positive relation between connectedness with nature and psychological well-being.”  Well-being was highest for those that connect with nature and perceive natural beauty.  Here we go again.  Tacos are clearly perceiving natural beauty from connecting with nature from the sunset and they are the happiest people on Earth.  Americans rank 16th in terms of subjective well-being, and I assume that’s with all the pharmaceuticals doled out to its citizens.  It makes me wonder if taking the time to find a nice spot to watch the sunset would improve American’s subjective well-being or at least enhance the benefits of the pharmaceuticals.

It turns out sunsets have other benefits.  The same author in the March 2014 edition of the same journal entitled:  “An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality”, found that spending time in nature led to people becoming more caring of others, more philanthropic.  My personal experience here in Costa Rica is that is true.  Their homes are oriented to be outside.  The kitchen, the center of the home, is outside in a courtyard.  The courtyards have beautiful flowers.  Moreover, I have not been to a single restaurant that was not open air.  Last night, after dinner, the family that owned the restaurant started a fire in front of the restaurant, near the beach and began cooking pork and sitting around near the fire outside in front of their home and restaurant as they closed the restaurant.  They were working and could not see the sunset, but they clearly enjoyed natural beauty through the fire near the beach, not to mention the familial bonding.  And lo and behold, the people are nice.  It is considered rude to pass someone without saying, “Hola” or “Buena dias”.  Every single camerera (waitress) has helped me with my Spanish with total patience no matter how busy the restaurant.

And if you have insomnia, try watching the sunset instead of popping an ambien.  According to the August 2014 edition of Biology Today, “we find that after exposure to only natural light, the internal circadian clock synchronizes to solar time such that the beginning of the internal biological night occurs at sunset and the end of the internal biological night occurs before wake time just after sunrise.”

The same study found Americans have ruined their circadian rhythms by looking at artificial light at night.  Reading from kindles and iPads and watching TV has removed us from nature (and sunsets).  Supposedly, the best sleep is between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.  Speaking for myself, I’m deep into a book on my kindle or the news on my iPad at 10:00 p.m.

When I get home, I’m going to look for the closest place to watch the sunset.  And my kindle is off at 10:00.  Why?  Because I have loved the early mornings here in Sámara.  They are the most productive hours of my day.  I figure out what I’m going to paint.  I edit my photos.  And I notice what I have learned during my time of unlimited freedom.

Pura vida.