Stop the Insanity! Lessons from Italy…

“Right this way, I’ll show you where to enter for our breakfast each morning” said the bellman.

We had just arrived in Florence, Italy hot and bleary eyed from the jet lagged and blistering heat wave and the bellman at our hotel was showing us around while our room was being cleaned.

“The doors for breakfast open at 8:00am” he said.

It hit me. Wow – 8am!?  That feels so late, I thought to myself.  In America, there’s a Starbucks near every major hotel, if not in the lobby of the hotel itself, that typically has a line of people impatiently waiting for coffee before 5:30am.  

What is wrong with us?

In America, it’s not unusual to hold meetings at (or before) 7am and work until after 7 or 8pm at night, then come home, grab a bite of something to eat, open our laptops and work again until bedtime. It’s typical for us to get a maximum of 2 weeks vacation, which is only 10 work days off a year.  We have paved over so much land and still have huge amounts of unfilled commercial real estate. We clear cut beautiful mature, old trees to build subdivisions and then plant new trees where we want them to go.

We put almost zero thought into aesthetic joy and pleasure. Meals are eaten in our cars, or in line, or at our desks in front of our work, or standing over our kitchen sink while kicking the dishwasher closed and yelling at kids to get their shoes on because we’re rushing to events we’ve overcommitted to.

If we don’t have time for a meal, we grab a protein bar or shake as a sad substitute for the pleasure of enjoying real food, sitting down being present with our meal and those we are enjoying it with.

We all seem so ramped up here. Like every single thing is so crucial and urgent. If someone takes 24 hours to respond to an email, we wonder what happened? We have become so accustomed to chronic stress and joy-less, mind-less living that it becomes jarring to spend time in places that aren’t structured like that.

What was my favorite part about spending time in Italy this summer? The simplistic beauty.

The Italians have a saying – “La Dolce Vita” which means the sweet life, the good life and they know how to live it. They take such care in everything they do. There’s pride in simple, beautiful things. They stack up their apricots and peaches at the open market stalls and each one looks like a painting! They leave the blossoms on the zucchini’s – not just because that’s beautiful, but because they’re delicious stuffed with ricotta cheese and lightly fried – so why waste them?

I can’t think of a single major city in Europe that doesn’t have huge green space for people to enjoy. People. Not just kids. Because nature is important and restorative and walking or relaxing in a beautiful park with sculptures and water features, flowers and benches adds to the quality of our lives. Our sweet, good life.

There’s no such thing as a “venti” anything in Italy. The cars and the espressos are both tiny! It feels like they value goodness in moderation. It’s not excessive there. If you have a little tiny bite of super high quality chocolate, that’s enough. You feel satisfied. If you have a small glass of really unbelievably delicious red wine, that’s enough. You savor it.

And can we talk for a moment about volume and overstimulation?  The moment you land in the airports in Europe – you notice one significant difference. They’re quiet. The people are respectfully quiet. There aren’t TV’s shoving 24-hour fear based news down your throat. There are also no TV’s in normal restaurants. Now maybe you’ll find them in a European bar that broadcasts sporting events, but not in restaurants. They also have simple menus with just a few options or even just a menu of the day that the chef decides based on what’s fresh and what they know you’ll enjoy.  I found the simplicity of that so refreshing. How many times do you go to a restaurant and feel sort of overwhelmed by the pages and pages of menu options? Even the food in their airports was beautiful and delicious. Sandwiches made on real bread with real butter made from what I imagine are very happy cows.

We have a serious problem with excess here in the states. We tend to think by default that more is more and the result of that thinking creates anxiety. Having more creates choice overload or worse, choice paralysis. I remember moving home after living in Munich, Germany for 18 months and abandoning my grocery cart because it was all too much! I had lived on simple oil and vinegar for a year and a half.  Why did we have an entire aisle at the store devoted to 100’s of salad dressings!?

Stop the insanity!

When my family returned home from Italy, we looked at our home and our belongings through a totally different lens. Why do we have all this stuff?  We spent a day purging and packing up bags and bags of donation items. It felt so good to minimize and reduce clutter! Suddenly we all felt the need to streamline our lives and make things feel simple, light and easy!

I’ve always been a proponent of less is more. But this trip put it all back into perspective for me.

Thank you Italy for reminding me that life is beautiful and it’s meant to be enjoyed!  You taught me how to do that by slowing down, stopping the insanity, making time for beauty, enjoying delicious meals with friends and family, simplifying, minimizing and streamlining!

La Dolce Vita suits me just fine and I can’t wait to go back, but in the meantime, I’ll do what I can to create that life here!


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