Italians are undisputed masters in so many arts. The art of La Dolce Vita, the art of adapting and finding a way out, the art of living in the moment and enjoying it. So for those of us who are stressed out and balancing the demands of the daily life while experiencing the deficiency of joy, why not learn a few lessons from the Italians?
When you travel to Italy you may notice that Italians approach many things in life differently than Americans do. They linger in cafes and restaurants, they don’t rush to work with paper cups in their hands, they take temporary obstacles in stride and rarely complaint. To illustrate my point let me tell you an anecdote from my life in Italy.
Once I took a city tram in the center of Milan during the evening rush hour. It was a very nice autumn day and the tram was full of people heading home or going to meet friends for a nice dinner al fresco. All of a sudden the tram stopped in between two stops. After a short commotion and confusion the reason for the unexpected stop became clear: a car was parked right on the tram tracks and its driver was nowhere to be found. I mentally prepared myself for a long unpleasant wait in the crowd of angry people and started thinking about an alternative way to get home.
What happened next was both surprising and amazing. Without much discussion, a few men who did not previously know each other got out, surrounded the car, lifted it off the ground, and voila… moved it off the tacks. They then got back into the tram as if nothing unusual just happened, the people in the tram started clapping and screaming “bravi” to the men, the conductor restarted the tram, and everything went back to normal just like that.
This short story opens a window into Italian values and attitudes and shows how camaraderie, can-do attitude, decisiveness, and upbeat approach to life help Italians turn temporary difficulties into adventures.
While not everything that Italians mastered can be easily adapted outside of Italy, their attitude to everyday life is something we can all learn to bring our own lives closer to the famous if idealistic “la dolce vita”. Here are 5 things Italians do that you can implement quickly to start upping your level of enjoyment and lowering stress every day.
1. Enjoy your food. In Italy a meal is a pleasure and a chance to relax.
As paradoxical as it sounds, Italians live according to the schedule. The schedule tells them exactly what and when they should be eating. Coffee and sweets in the morning, lunch with co-workers or at home with family in early afternoon (yes, many working Italians go home for lunch), aperitivo (or drinks with small snacks) with colleagues or friends between 5 and 7:30pm, and dinner around 8-9pm, either at home or in a restaurant. Eating on the go or running somewhere with a paper cup of coffee are almost anathema to most Italians, something they will do only in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
Even if an Italian only has 30 minutes for lunch, that lunch will be a dish of savory freshly made pasta in a corner café with colleagues or friends versus gulping lunch while looking at the monitor. Italians prefer meals made of fresh local ingredients, freshly cooked, and immediately eaten. But most importantly in the eyes of an Italian a meal is a joy that should be shared with someone, because when savoring a good meal is combined with a good conversation it is truly one of the most wonderful yet easily accessible and inexpensive pleasures of life.
2. Meet friends. Connect. Share. Communication is the engine of social life.
In Italy networking is not something you learn in your business career or at a course about enhancing your communications skills and getting things done more effectively. Everyone in Italy has been perfecting the art of networking since childhood. That is why so many tourists visiting Italy are surprised at how easily they get involved in conversations everywhere: at the local pizzeria, at the shoe store, on the beach, or even on the street asking for directions.
Themes discussed do not just span the ordinary weather and sports, they range from comparison of wines from different regions to relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra to spirited discussions about arts and latest exhibitions, and of course always popular soccer and politics. Far from needlessly claiming too much of our free time, these conversations in Italy lead to finding new friends, to gaining new knowledge, to broadening one’s horizons.
3. Live in the moment. Life is not a chase – It happens here and now.
Sometimes you just need to stop, exhale, and notice life that is happening right around you. Unlike Americans that are always in a hurry, Italians realize that opportunities are everywhere, and if you run too fast you will most likely miss them. They live with a sense that there will be time for everything. And this decreases the level of stress.
Somehow even with their long siesta and with often being late Italians are not in a rush, and as a result they are much less stressed and happier than people in many other cultures. Italian culture places value on giving yourself enough time for everything: a meal, a nice walk, a non-rushed conversation, because this is what helps us balance all the demands that life places on us. Paradoxically, slowing down is a road to better quality of life and to faster progress in many spheres of life.
4. Make time for the joys of life. Quality of life is a priority number one.
Italians know: for your life to become better you don’t need more money. In fact, trying to make more money and satisfy your ambitions, you will actually lower or even completely lose your quality of life. Italian way of life is to leave enough space for the important things, like enjoyment and pleasure.
The schedule we mentioned earlier helps with that, by having all those pleasurable things already built in. There is time for morning coffee and a newspaper, time to spend time with family during the day, to pick up your kids from school or take a nap, meet friends for aperitivo (after work drinks) and so on. In other words, it’s not about living to work, it is about working to live. And live well.
5. Stay close to your Family. It comes before everything else.
Italian families are a well-known subject of books, films, conversations, and even jokes. Close-knit, sometimes noisy, and very caring, an Italian family takes a bit of getting used to for non-Italians marrying into one. But those who can see past that end up with incredible benefits: a close circle of people who truly care about each other and provide support just when you need it most. Despite the stereotypical features of Italian families that Americans may have been exposed to in popular media, Italians are stronger, happier, and more emotionally anchored thanks to their families.
In Italy families are more than a bunch of people you see around the holidays, and more than just your parents, kids, and siblings. It is a community, which includes your close and more distant relatives (and in some cases entire villages) willing to jump in and help whenever you need them. A family in Italy is a whole support system, which is there for you no matter your age, status, of financial situation. They are the ones to land a hand during life’s difficulties and also the ones to join you for joyful events and celebrations. While Italians may complaint that their families are in their business too much, they certainly would not have it any other way.