How to live the Italian way
Over the years I have fallen in love with the Italian way of life. Through my face-to-face interactions with Italians, photographing authentic Italian cafes and restaurants, exploring parts of Italy, watching films and reading books set in the beautiful country — I’ve noticed a thing or two about how they go about life. It’s a way of life that feels simple, beautiful, and passionate.
There are two things that I believe are at the core of the Italian way of life -
- Appreciating beauty
- Celebrating daily life
It’s appreciating the beauty of something as simple as a juicy seasonal peach and celebrating it by enjoying it slowly as you sit in the warmth of the summer sun. It’s bringing beauty and sensuous experiences into your daily life, and savouring them. That is the Italian way.
An Italian man will wear his best linen suit on an ordinary day — simply because he loves the suit and feels good in it. Likewise, an Italian woman will wear her favourite dress — because well, why not? Every day is a reason to celebrate and feel good within ourselves.
There are many similarities with the French way of life. To embrace le Joie de Vivre is to express a cheerful enjoyment of life. It’s appreciating simple pleasures.
Italians (and the French) have a way of connecting to beauty. And I think it comes back to the philosophy of aesthetics which I’ve written about before. It’s connecting with beauty on a very intimate and personal level.
There are other elements of this way of life that we can all learn from:
Take things slow
Life is so fast and many of us run to keep up with daily demands. We think to live well we need to add in more — more material items, more activity, more noise, more entertainment… and so on. But in turn, we feel stressed and tired.
The Italians understand the importance of slowing down. Traditionally work would stop so that lunch could be enjoyed with family and friends at a slow pace. They would rather take a passeggiata and walk up flights of stairs more often than spend an hour in a gym. You will often find them congregating at a coffee bar to enjoy their morning coffee with others. And on weekends it’s not unusual to take a daytime nap.
When we slow down we are more attentive and mindful of an experience. And it can help our racing thoughts calm down for a little while.
Favour simplicity and quality
At the heart of authentic Italian cooking are simplicity and quality. Italians favour quality ingredients bought from a fresh market rather than those wrapped in plastic from a large supermarket.
They will spend a little more on a beautiful Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and grate it atop a very simple pasta. Or buy a quality loaf of bread and enjoy it with a ripe tomato and drizzle of olive oil. There is no list of ingredients in what they buy or needed to make a meal delicious. Authentic Italian is simple, wholesome and nourishing.
The same goes for physical appearance. Italians love quality attire made with beautiful fabrics. And many will always step outside looking their best — in an effortless way. They wear pieces that flatter their body, and they wear the pieces — the pieces don’t wear them. When you take pride in your appearance, you feel good too. You feel confident within yourself.
Don’t deprive, but understand moderation
Step into an authentic Italian restaurant and you will see Italians enjoying their bread and pasta, sipping on wine and enjoying a dessert. Yet so many of us deprive ourselves. We give up gluten for fear it’s what is making us fat or sick. We berate ourselves after eating a sweet and look at it as evil.
Italians won’t deprive themselves. They favour quality food and wine, and they enjoy it. They also know when to stop. When we stop depriving ourselves, we often naturally refrain from binging. Nothing is off-limits and so we are less likely to overdo it and punish ourselves, swearing to never eat it again. Which only leads to craving it more.
Let go of labelling things as “good” or “bad.” Enjoy the sweet things in life, and know that you can stop when you have had enough.
Savour a moment
What the Italians seem to do well is savour life. Savouring is akin to being mindful, or as mentioned above — this connection we feel between ourselves and something beautiful.
It’s feeling joy from something as simple as sipping an espresso slowly after lunch, or appreciating a sunlit morning, noticing birds flying above in the sky. It’s enjoying the company of loved ones around a dinner table, or savouring a glass of wine and noticing the subtle notes. Essentially, it’s slowing down long enough to appreciate the beauty right before us.
Enjoy work and enjoy not working
Many Italians I have encountered seem passionate about their work. I met an Italian barrister that was really passionate about creating the perfect coffee and would greet his guests with enthusiasm. And a pasta maker who lit up when talking about a sauce that would compliment his pasta well.
Many of us drag ourselves into work, dreading another day. But what if we changed our attitude about it and brought a little passion into whatever it is that we do? We might feel a little better going home at the end of the day if we smile wholeheartedly to our co-workers throughout the day. Or recognise even the smallest of achievements of what we did well during the day.
Italians seem to understand work-life balance. I noticed it when I lived in Montréal too. Work was important to the French locals I befriended, but so was living. And taking time away from the desk to enjoy a meal. Times are changing a little, sadly, with longer hours being worked and more of us taking our lunch break still looking at a computer. But this separation from our work is so important for our wellbeing.
We can start the day in the fresh air by taking a walk at sunrise. We can step away from the desk to enjoy our lunch in a park close to the office. We can take up an interest in the evening rather than take work home with us, or practise taming our thoughts about work.
Work is important, but it’s not all there is.
Insieme translates to togetherness. Italians understand the importance of togetherness. They gather around a table together with the extended family of different generations to enjoy delicious food. They take a passeggiata together as the sun is setting. They make time to talk with their local grocer.
This coming together is something many of us are losing sight of. We “see” each other on social media, and chatting via text is so quick and easy, that we aren’t necessarily prioritising gathering in person.
But this face-to-face interaction is so important for our happiness. We are social beings and need others in our life in order to thrive. And I’m sure this isolation many of us feel is in part due to this disconnection.
So gather — often. Make a weekly ritual to gather in a park with another family. Turn the TV off and sit around a table together. Ask about each other’s day, and really listen to one another.
Many of us are so troubled with insecurities and opinions of ourselves that we are in a constant battle within. We deprive ourselves of food, punish ourselves when we eat “bad food” or miss a day at the gym. We feel like a failure for not achieving what our friends have. And we often look at ourselves in the mirror feeling unworthy and sad.
The Italian way teaches you to love yourself. To make friends with yourself and let go of negative thoughts. No matter what size we are, how we look, or where we are in our career or stage of life, we can all learn to love ourselves — for who we are. We can do our best with what we have — right now.
When I’m having an off day internally, I look to my children and ask how I would be if one of them came to me with the thoughts I’m having about myself. I would react with compassion and love. And help them see how beautiful and worthy they really are. We all need to respond to ourselves in this way — with love.
To live the Italian way, or rather, to live well, is to go about life with zest and passion. It’s seeing and appreciating the beauty in everything, making everyday experiences feel special. It’s engaging our senses.
So order your coffee to stay rather than go and sip it slowly, take a walk outside and notice the air against your skin, invite a friend over for dinner and talk for a while, order a beautiful pasta and really enjoy it.
Life is for living. See the beauty — even in the chaos — and celebrate it.