Living Happily In Costa Rica. A U.S. psychiatrist living in Atenas gives us his opinion about making the right choices.

My wife and I moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Atenas, Costa Rica in 2011, after my retirement from a medical career and after much on-line investigation (including AARP’s recommendation as Atenas being a ten best retirement destination) followed by a Caravan Travel 11 day tour of the northern half of Costa Rica. 

Two weeks later, and six, fifty pound suitcases heavier, we landed at Juan Santamaria International Airport on our way to the little agricultural town of Atenas, 15 or so miles west of the airport.

Looking back on our three and a half years here, it has been an adventure, to say the least. We have seen several “gringo” friends, pull up stakes and head back to the US or Canada. 

For some, the reasons were medical, for others it was business opportunity, for yet others, it was the inability to be passive in accepting the slower pace, lack of time reliability of Costa Ricans in general (an appointment usually means some time the same day — maybe), minor theft, which some Costa Ricans regard as merely “borrowing” something that you are, obviously, not using at the moment, terrible road conditions, and myriad other excuses.

I say excuses because, as a psychiatrist of over thirty years, it is my experience that we always find (or justify) what we want. 

If we can agree that most problems have at least several possible solutions, then finding Costa Rica “unacceptable” is merely a choice, not an indictment. 

The fabulous weather, slow pace of life, large ex-pat community of risk-takers (few North Americans ever move out of their native country) fresh air and natural beauty and relatively less expensive cost-of-living are the off sets to any decisions to leave this or any other similar country. 

A college professor colleague once told me that we always get what we are willing to tolerate — seldom what we want. I agree. 

In psychiatry, we counsel our patients to evaluate the challenges in life according to whether or not we can change things. 

Often, our ability to control things external is only an illusion. What we can all do, however, is control our attitude toward these challenges. 

Living abroad is a condition that, for many, requires this approach to such challenges. We do not always have to act. Sometimes, the best response is to just “march in place”, do nothing, and let emotion (for me it’s frustration) dissipate. 

If a Tico or Tica is late, I ask myself whether it is critical that they be on time or is it just my North American values and expectations talking? 

If a local grocery store doesn’t have my favorite “gringo” brand name product, I ask myself if there are acceptable local substitutes? 

This sort of rational, self-talk goes a long way toward making life here, or, I suspect, anywhere more palatable. It’s all about allowing emotion to subside. The difference between facts and emotions is that facts never change, and emotions always do. 

We must always ask the rational question: what value, for whom, and at what cost? And then act upon the rational answer to that question. 

My wife and I have learned, during this odyssey, that we need less, need to appreciate what we have more, and look within to find peace and contentment. 

Important Questions To Ask Yourselves

  • Do we have our NEEDS satisfied?
  • Are we irrationally chasing after WANTS (that always lead to more wants)?
  • Are we defining happiness for ourselves, then pursuing that goal?

These fundamental questions, if answered can allow one to find their true and proper place in the world, whether in Costa Rica or anywhere else. Happiness can only be found by looking within. (But a beautiful country helps). 

Written by Dr. Paul Weirather who retired from a long and successful career as a psychiatrist and moved to Costa Rica with his wife in 2011 from Arizona. USA.

Living Happily In Costa Rica. A U.S. psychiatrist living in Atenas gives us his opinion about making the right choices.

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The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) ranks Atenas as one of “The Best Places to Retire Abroad.”

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