As a born and bred American, I’ve always believed in hard work, independence, productivity and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. I loved the rat race.
Then I moved to Italy—and culture shock set in. Everything was different—and it all moved so slowly! Yet, somehow, everyone seemed much happier.
So I got curious. I decided to find out what was generating so much happiness, so effortlessly. Fortunately, my new Italian friends were happy to share (it’s not much of a secret after all). Here are the top five happiness principles, right from the heart of Italian culture:
1. Embrace Art
The famed poet Lord Byron called Italy the “garden of the world, the home of all Art yields.” He was right. Everything in Italy is beautiful, from the ornate cathedrals and pristine marble fountains to the most dilapidated stone alleys bursting with flowers and greenery.
Italy’s beauty is not an accident. Birthplace of the Renaissance, Italians know the power of art and culture. For centuries they’ve invested in artists and artisans to surround themselves with breathtaking architecture, intricate frescos, and gorgeous statues, not to mention divine music, theater and opera. They also embrace the art of clothing. From high-fashion Milan to the littlest hamlet, Italians love to look good. This is called “la bella figura,” the art of creating a good impression. Even Italian food is exquisite, composed of colorful herbs, fruits and vegetables arranged with the most artistic flare. Each plate is a work of art.
It’s hard not to be happy when you’re surrounded by (and creating) so much beauty.
*Takeaway: Invite art and beauty into every aspect of your life and spend time in gorgeous places.
2. Walk All the Time, Climb All the Stairs
Here in Tuscany, most towns are perched atop steep hills or nested in tiny valleys, with narrow streets and steep climbs. Cars can’t navigate them well and are often not allowed. So, people walk. Everywhere.
This gets them outside in nature, breathing the fresh air, interacting with neighbors, and using their bodies. According to blue zones research, continuous movement like this (rather than just stopping by the gym a few times a week) is key to happiness, longevity and overall life satisfaction.
*Takeaway: Walk everywhere you possibly can, and stop to chat with people along the way. Make continuous movement your way of life.
3. Eat Little, But Well
My Italian friends say, “Mangia poco, ma bene.” This means “Eat little, but well.” Italians are culinary experts but unlike Americans, they don’t eat much. Instead, they savor small portion sizes, with an emphasis on vegetables and hearty servings of antioxidant-rich olive oil.
They also follow breakfast and lunch (and often dinner) with a tiny teacup of caffé. It’s not much, usually just a single shot, but this practice stimulates digestion and allows everyone to linger together longer, savoring the atmosphere and company, which is key to the Italian way of life.
*Takeaway: Eat really excellent, healthy food but not very much of it, and always share your meals with friends and family.
4. Take Your Time
It’s not just meals Italians savor; they love taking their time just about everywhere (except driving). Everything moves slowly, appointments include plenty of time to chat, and it takes a long time to get things done. The work day is punctuated with lots of breaks for socializing and offices are closed frequently for holidays. In fact, many Italians take a whole month off from work each year. “Domani, domani,” is a common saying here. It means “tomorrow, tomorrow,” or “don’t worry about it, there’s always tomorrow.”
In America, we do the opposite, we move fast, push hard, and stress about everything – and to what end? At the end of the day, life is short, precious, and meant to be savored. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
*Takeaway: Take your time. Allow yourself to enjoy the company of others and savor the sweet experience of simply being alive. Don’t rush.
5. Embrace Community
For centuries, Italians have emphasized social life. The very structure of their cities was built around it, with large central piazzas for gathering and socializing. This prime real estate could have been more profitable as residential or business units, but the Italians have long known that gathering together is key to a healthy society, philosophical exploration, robust political discourse, and downright enjoyment. In Italy, community, friends and especially family are everything. They spend as much time together (and supporting one another) as possible.
*Takeaway: Build your community. Host meals with friends and family. Invite someone to go for a walk. Spend time outside chatting with neighbors. Take time to connect with others throughout the day, every single day.
These five elements blossom from the very heart of Italian culture. They are key to the Italians’ exceptional ability to generate happiness and savor life. So give them a try and enjoy “La Dolce Vita” (the sweet life) yourself.
Read more from Andrea Culletto at ExploryTales.com.