I just returned from a trip to Italy…
Awestruck by a gorgeous land filled with endless rows of grape vines, acres of wispy olive trees, ancient stone houses with orange tile roofs, cypress trees shooting straight up out of the earth, medieval walled towns perched safely on hilltops, miniature cars, and insanely narrow city streets.
It is hard to find the words to describe the beauty of this country.
It is even harder to project the sense of contentment and personal well-being that seems to exist here.
The Italian lifestyle is different than ours and it shows.
The stats speak volumes:
- In 2017, Italy took first place of 217 countries as the “World’s Healthiest” nation. We didn’t make the top 25.
- Life expectancy here exceeds most other countries, coming in at sound 84.7 years. In the US, life expectancy hovers around 78 and is declining.
- The incidence of obesity in Italy is among the lowest of nations. (Although child obesity is starting to creep up.) The obesity rate in the US is among the highest in the world.
What’s their secret?
# 1 – REAL FOOD & JUST ENOUGH
If you lived in Italy the dinner plate from your favorite local restaurant wouldn’t be heaped and overflowing with food. Instead, placed in front of you would be a perfectly proportioned mound of meat, pasta, or fresh fish finished with pesto or a rich tomato sauce with so much flavor you just want to suspend time to savor it!
Your salad might be a simple plate of shaved fennel dressed with a side of olive oil and touch of balsamic vinegar.
Your pizza wouldn’t even resemble what we have come to know as pizza. It would look plain and simple and uninspiring almost devoid of cheese, but one bite would overwhelm you with flavor.
Your deli sandwich wouldn’t look like a 3-inch-deep New York pastrami. Instead, it would come layered with paper-thin slices of parmesan cheese, fresh “artisanal salami” infused with a hint of fennel, and finished with a “rocket” salad of arugula and bitter greens. And, of course, truffle cream for a touch of exotic flavor. (“No mayonnaise or catsup” is offered here, read the prominent orange sign at one local sandwich shop.)
Food at your highway service stations would resemble that of a gourmet deli with fresh salads, fruit, crunchy focaccia sandwiches, soups, prosciutto and melon plates, a “meat” bar, pastries and various delicacies.
Italians love their food. Whether it’s served at a roadside filling station or an exotic restaurant, it’s not about how much, it’s all about quality, goodness, and exquisite taste!
In Italy, less is more.
#2 – LIFE BALANCE
If you lived in Italy you wouldn’t be charging out of the office at noon to cram in a 30-minute lunch. Instead, you’d shut down work, stroll out of the office for a couple hours in the afternoon, have a leisurely lunch with friends and family, maybe take a little nap or go home to do some laundry before returning.
And when August rolls around you would shut down your business altogether and take off with your family to the beach for the month!
Italians have a tradition of “siesta”.
Work and life exist in balance.
#3 – CLEAN LIVING
If you lived in Italy your evening glass of wine might taste a little different. Smoother. Cleaner. This could have something to do with the fact that Italy is one of the countries committed to using fewer chemicals.
They have aligned with many of their European neighbors to ban glyphosate (Monsanto’s weed killer) and implement alternative pest-control methods in agriculture.
Fewer pesticides in your wine? That sounds like a win to me.
#4 – LOVE, CONNECTION, COMMUNITY
If you lived in Italy…You’d be hard pressed to find a nursing home. Families (and friends) stay together and care for each other. The emphasis is on community and connection and love.
Institutions only step in when one does not have family to care for them.
Side note: In the longest study ever done on human aging, an 80-year Harvard study, researchers found that the “quality” of our relationships is the number one determinant of a long and healthy life.
It appears our Italian neighbors already knew this.
“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants.” (Robert Waldinger, Harvard Study on Human Development)
What can we learn from our Italian neighbors?
As I touched back down in the US, I kept replaying in my mind the difference between their lives and ours.
Italians seem to have figured out how to keep work and life in a beautiful balance.
We struggle with this, often sacrificing our most basic needs for happiness and contentment for work, money, success, prestige.
It is this one-sided focus that has led us into a world of hurt.
Stress – America’s #1 health problem.
Stress is America’s latest epidemic.
It’s estimated that 75-90% of doctor visits are for stress-related ailments – and for good reason.
Stress disrupts the body, diminishes our brain power, steals our memories, throws our hormones off balance, makes us fat, keeps us awake at night, and leads to anxiety, depression, and unhappiness.
So perhaps we could take a few life lessons from our Italian neighbors who have figured much of this out…
- Care for yourself. You know what you need better than anyone else.
- Eat better, not more. Make your food real and local as much as possible which provides the most nutrition.
- Eat your meals with friends and loved ones.
- Leave work and its pressures at the office.
- Take a little time each day to rest.
- Stay close and connected to friends and family. (This may require a little forgiveness and tolerance from all of us.)
And, as always, if you get stuck and need some help, reach out and schedule an introductory session with me here. Together we can work out a plan and some simple strategies to help create a life you love.
Want to get in touch? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org