Welcome to my first full month in Costa Rica. Or should I say: Bienvenido a mi primer mes completo en Costa Rica? I was working full time, total madness, crazy weeks again, just like I had before in Kuwait. But was I feeling just as miserable again? Hell no! The end of the previous month saw me adjusting my routine to the things that I knew made me happy. I developed a sacred exercise routine and prioritised my amount of sleep. I was literally kicking ass in Costa Rica! What was the effect on my happiness? Let’s find out!
By the way, I totally just Google-translated that first sentence in the intro. My Spanish is nowhere near that good. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, let’s get started. Below table shows the average happiness ratings in June, 2015.
Despite working about 80 hours a week in challenging conditions, my happiness remained high throughout the entire month. My routines were protecting me from a complete burn-out, as I had previously experienced during a similar period abroad.
The chart below shows my happiness ratings during June, 2015:
So after the intial excitement of working on a new project, work was definitely starting to drag in June. As a trainee engineer, I was doing mostly repetative stuff throughout the days. These kind of tasks were obviously not going to stay exciting and thrilling. I won’t share any detailed info on my activities, but let’s just say that work did not have a positive influence on my happiness here.
Despite my dragging work, my happiness remained pretty high during the month. I only really lost it once, on the 11th of June. Of course, these bad days always sucked, but I knew things were going much better when compared to my time in Kuwait.
I tried to add tiny bits of context in the graph, to comment on the different peaks and dips. There’s one in particular that I would like to detail in this post, and that’s the break in that happened on the 7th of June. More on that later!
The table below shows all the happiness ratings for June, 2015, including the factors that influenced it.
Life in Limón
I have discussed in the previous monthly update: I lived and worked in the city of Limón. This city is a relatively bad place in Costa Rica: it tops the list of crime- and homocide rates of the country. With a population of about 55.000, all sorts of crime happened just about every day. Homocides were quite frequent, unfortunately. Most of these crimes were organised and drug- and gang related, though.
I still felt relatively safe during the days, and made sure to not endanger myself in any way. This meant that I was definitely not running outside on my own. It also meant that certain parts of the city were strict no-go zones. In addition, my employee provided me with pretty detailed guidelines, covering the topics of how not to place myself in a risky situation. These guidelines limited my day-to-day activities, but we were at least as safe as possible.
Despite these efforts, I still experienced something really bad though. We had a break-in! Someone broke into the house me and my colleagues were living in on the night of the 7th of June. The thief (or multiple, I don’t know) stole my laptop, wallet and phone from my bedroom in the middle of the nigh.
The worst part about this was that I was sleeping in the very same room, just a feet away from my belongings. The thief broke into my room while I was sound asleep. Quite creepy, right…?
“The thief broke into my room while I was sound asleep”
The thief entered our house through a window, by cutting straight through the mosquito netting screen. I therefore knew that the thief was armed with at least a knife. It was extremely disturbing to me that this person had entered my bedroom with a knife to take my personal belongings, while I was sleeping just a feet away. I really didn’t want to think about what could have happened had I woken up that night. My colleagues assured me that the criminals in this area are not likely to shy away from a single guy when committing a crime. Therefore, I tend to think I would not be alive if I had woken up that night. Really scary stuff…
My employer was very quick to take action in assuring the safety of the project staff. This was not only an attack on my safety, but on the entire company as well. It could not happen again. As a result, we had a dual layer of barbed wire installed on top of the the walls of the compound, and a security company was hired to guard the site 24/7. This event was taken very, very serious, which reassured me that this was not going to happen again.
Despite the extra measures, this event really shocked me. But I couldn’t sit still. I had to continue working for the project and wanted to keep focussing on my happiness during this period. I was not going to let this event keep me from being happy in general.
Day to day life
The rest of my life really consisted of work. Lots of work. This took quite a toll on me in June, even though I focussed on nothing else but my own happiness. A healthy rythm and a sacred exercise routine luckily did the trick for me. I made sure to get enough sleep, while I exercised almost every single day. This routine really helped me cope with the daily challenges.
“I focussed on nothing else but my own happiness”
In addition, the Sundays remained quite relaxing. I only had to be in the office for a couple of hours in the morning, which meant the rest of the day was entirely free! Me and my colleagues frequently drove down to a beautiful beach south of Limón, near the small town of Puerto Viejo. I quickly found out that this town had a small surfing community, and I was thrilled to catch some waves again! It had been more than a year since I last surfed in New Zealand. These Sundays were absolutely great, and had a very positive effect on my happiness!
Positive happiness factors
Let’s have a look at the factors that positively influenced my happiness in the chart below.
Despite the demanding work conditions, there were stillcouple of factors positively influencing my happiness. One of my colleagues actually brought his guitar to Costa Rica, and allowed me to play on it as well. I was extremely happy with that! My employer also hosted weekly soccer matches with the rest of the staff, which was also a great distraction! Even my relationship positively influenced my happiness, despite the long distance and challenging communication we faced! But there was a clear winner during June, 2015…
Did I already mention my sacred exercise routine? 🙂
My sacred exercise routine
I had learned from my previous experience with challenging work that I absolutely needed something to untangle my mind. I needed to blow off steam at the end of every long, demanding work day. That’s why I started doing exercises almost every day at the end of last month. I noticed that it had a great effect on my happiness. I was not only able to get rid of some work-related stress. As a bonus, I also got the additional sense of accomplishment after each challenging work out session.
“I challenged myself every day to beat the score”
My exercise routine consisted of full body exercises, that I could do from within the safety of my (air conditioned) room! I did multiple high intensity exercises for short bursts, with small breaks in between. I challenged myself every day to beat the score – aka the number of reps – I set the previous day. In the meantime, I always enjoyed watching part of a movie or serie on my laptop* during these exercises.
* My personal laptop was stolen during the break-in, but I luckily still had my business laptop!
I managed to exercise on 21 days during the month, and it positively influenced my happiness on each and every one of them! There were of course some days where I didn’t feel like doing these exhausting exercises again, but I tried to push myself nonetheless. I knew damn well that I was investing in my long term happiness by doing so. Exercising kept me sane, and helped me cope with the daily stress at work.
I also got to enjoy some surfing again. I nearly forgot what it was like to catch a wave, since it had been over a year since my time in New Zealand. The waves in Puerto Viejo were a bit more challenging then I was used to at the time, though. The first time I drove down to the beaches, I rented a board that was too small for me. I was therefore not able to catch a single wave at all.
The next 2 sundays luckily were a lot better! I rented a huge, foam board, which made it a lot easier to catch these waves. The first successful wave had me laughing like a small kid. It made me extremely happy.
The last sunday of the month was especially great. The waves were absolutely perfect, and I couldn’t keep track of the number of waves I was able to catch. It felt great to surf again, and it made my experience in Costa Rica that much better. I still remember it to be one of the best days of the entire period for me. This day was actually so perfect, that I have dedicated an entire ‘Good Day’ post to it!
Negative happiness factors
Just like any other month in this series, there were some factors negatively influencing my happiness in June. These factors are visualised in the next chart.
The number of negative factors was pretty low in June. Mind you, this number was not as low as the month before, but it was definitely a lot lower than I expected it to be with the challenging living conditions!
My work at the project
After the initial excitement of working on a new project, the joy of my daily tasks was fading quickly. My activities were starting to repeat, day after day, which caused me to even be a little bored during workhours. In addition, the project was hampered by a handful of external factors.
A small community in Limón actually opposed to the project, and made sure to prevent the progress in any way possible. They resorted to mostly legal strikes and protests, but also found some other creative (and illegal) ways to hinder the progress of the project. I cannot share all the details, but will do my best to give you an accurate image of this situation.
We used a construction road to supply the project with materials. This construction road crossed an old bridge. After one particular night, it was discovered that some of the crossbeams of this vital bridge were cut and removed. As a result, this bridge was completely unsafe to high loads. I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about it. The local schoolbuses were also using this bridge, which made it even more shocking to me. Who would actually resort to these kind of actions? I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it.
“The local schoolbuses were also using this bridge”
The project was also challenged by the weather conditions. Some big tropical storms and ocean swells really messed up the schedule. As you can imagine, this didn’t have a positive influence on the project team. Deadlines were looming every week, and the pressure only increased because of it.
As a result, my work didn’t have a positive influence on my happiness in June. But it luckily didn’t really stop me from being happy in general. My sacred routine allowed me to decompress after every long day at work!
In addition to the break-in, our housing situation was further challenged by the lack of internet for a big part of the month. My after-work routine was pretty standardised. It consisted of exercising, relaxing, watching an episode of a show or just surfing the web. I’m quite introverted, so I’m able to really enjoy these times alone. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time on my own, just relaxing and surfing the internet.
I know, I know, it’s a super exciting life! 🙂
However, after the break-in, our internet provider decided to cut us off and turn on its ‘ignore mode’. We really experienced the definition of the phase ‘Mañana mañana’ during this period. As a result, we were without internet for about 2 weeks, which caused me to actually be bored during the evenings on some occasions… Without any form of entertainment, things can become boring quite fast…
I’ll have to stop here, before I bore you to death with this happiness update 😉
This period in Costa Rica was going much better than I had expected. Even though my life was definitely challenging, my happiness didn’t suffer a lot from it. The time actually flew by! I was already looking forward to the next month, where I would return to the Netherlands and go on a holiday to Croatia with my girlfriend!
More on that later!
If you have any questions about anything, please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer you!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 6 years.