Sometimes life gives you opportunities you just can’t turn down, and recently, I found myself in that situation.

I had the opportunity to travel with my school to Costa Rica and learn all about the Pura Vida, or “Pure Life,” as they say there. From bustling cities to a vibrant carbon negative eco-lodge to zooming through a stunning vista on a zip line, it is an experience I will never forget.

According to the World Happiness Report, Costa Rica was ranked as the 12th happiest country this year, and it had much to teach me and my fellow travelers.

In that spirit, here are three things I learned from my time in Costa Rica:

Let go of the little things

Costa Rica was my first time out of the country, and I was learning every second of the trip.

Something that our group from Venture High School had to embrace quickly was that on our trip, as in life, things won’t always go smoothly. Everyone started out having flown overnight with a 5-hour-plus layover, and as you may expect, we were all exhausted in the beginning of our encounter with a new country. But throughout the week we often found that our plans had to be flexible.

Sometimes things had to be changed or rearranged and, in those kinds of situations, it’s easy to get caught up in the details and forget to see the beautiful landscape or the crashing waves. The catchphrase of “Pura Vida!” conveys the idea of living life to the fullest. Sometimes things go wrong, but you don’t have to let them stop you! Roadblocks present challenges and chances to grow in ways you never imagined. You just have to let them work for your good rather than stressing the details.

Don’t get me wrong: I know that letting go of stresses is immensely difficult. At times it feels impossible to walk away from the things that cause us anxiety. But as we train our minds to do so, over time it becomes easier and easier, and we are enabled to feel even more joy in our lives.

Make your spaces beautiful

In the early 2000s, someone found a piece of land cleared of 90 percent of its vegetation within Costa Rica. This person bought the land and began protecting the wildlife there. The owners of Rancho Margot began to produce energy, food and plants, and today, it’s teeming with life, and was the first carbon negative company in Costa Rica.

Another plot of land, a palm oil plantation, was purchased when the company failed, and the owners planted the trees that supplied food for a variety of birds. Today, it’s positively full of birds, and one of the most amazing places I’ve been.

The lesson is simple: The earth has great capacity to recover from the things we do to it, if we give it the chance. It’s certainly possible for individuals to make havens for flora and fauna. Beyond that, we can make our surroundings a beautiful thing. Be kind, and care about how you change the places where you are, and you can make everywhere a better place.

Hold on to those you care about

Even as we gain perspective on the many things of our lives that we take for granted, I consider it doubly important to look specifically at the people around us. For a moment during our trip, I was afraid I would lose one of my family members while river rafting. We were fortunate, and I thank everything that he is still with us, but it reminded me that we need to be conscious of showing our friends and family that they matter to us.

In another sense, I met many amazing people in Costa Rica, such as our tour guide and our driver, and I might not get to see those people again. It brings into perspective the idea that we live our lives to the fullest with the people that are most important to us. Friends leave, we grow up, we graduate high school. Though we move on, the friendships stay in our hearts, and if we live right, we never treat those relationships as unimportant.

I will miss the people I met in Costa Rica, but they remind me still to say, “I love you” to my family. As our tour guide and best friend in Costa Rica told us, love is the answer to lasting happiness in life. We all meet hard times, but when we show those around us that we care, then those hard times can never tear us down.

In the end, Costa Rica was an experience that I will never forget. It was wonderful, crazy, weird, and most of all, fun. I will carry the lessons I’ve learned, and hopefully, I will be a better person for it.

Sierra Clark is a senior at Venture High School. She plays piano and flute and is an avid reader, but most of all she enjoys learning all about new things. Email her at s.siclark@venturelearning.org.

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