A few years ago, we spent a couple of months working and living in Italy. When we were there, it dawned on me that the most significant difference between the lifestyle we knew and loved in Manhattan and the one we were temporarily living in rural Toscana was that there was no hustling.
Life was slow.
It was baked into your existence. Part of it was the ordained and hallowed afternoon lunch and midday nap. Part of it was simply the heat – and the lack of air conditioners. But as someone who previously ran on caffeine, achievement, and the false high of busyness, it was life changing.
This short period of living what the Italians call this slower-paced la dolce vita (which is what that phrase really means, by the way), stood in stark contrast to the fast-paced, multi-tasking, and stimulated lifestyle that many of us are prone to live in our technology-fueled world. But, as you’ve no doubt experienced if you’ve lived this way for any period of time, living on full-tilt is not only detrimental to your health, but also to your relationships, whether that be with food, sleep, your family, or your community.
But as our time in Toscana taught us, it doesn’t need to be that way.
Living on Tuscan Time
When we spent those couple of months living outside of Florence, the beckoning song of birds, the fragrant smells of the olive and fruit trees, and the kaleidoscope of colors all constantly invited us to take everything in.
Admittedly, there was very little about our experience that was convenient – especially compared to living in Manhattan. The internet was slow and the lights were low in the thick stone house. By sunset, the TV-less house invited us to read or enjoy a glass of wine and conversation by candlelight.
The act of having a meal or going to the market was a half-day event — at least! And many times, that half-day adventure was followed by a short-but-sweet mid-afternoon nap.
The succulence of fresh tomatoes and apricots left seemingly constant dribbles down our chins, and the tangy brightness of fresh olive oil drizzled over everything was a constant companion. And even if you were inclined to be more ambitious, the culture would conspire against you as the hours between one and four in the afternoon were a sacred time to eat, rest, and reset.
Life beckoned us to slow down. And, so, we did.
We fully drank in life. Don’t get me wrong, we worked, and did plenty of it. But we also somehow made lots of time to read books, take naps, spend time just admiring the sky, and to breathe a little deeper – even if it was thick, hot summer air.
We were living what we now know to be called the slow life. Living this so-called slow life is something that is incredibly powerful, enriching, and healthful — and doesn’t require a summer in Italy to live it.
What Does It Mean to Live a Slow Life?
While the concept of slow living, on one hand, is just what it sounds like, it is also something that is easily misunderstood.
Slow living is not about shutting down, lazing about, or doing things in slow motion. It’s not about giving up your ambitions and hopes, or somehow being “less.”
And it’s not about giving up your laptops, phones or technology. It’s not even about living minimally, although that’s not a bad way of approaching life either.
Instead, slow living is about becoming intentionally unbusy.
It’s allowing yourself to unplug from your overly-ambitious expectation of yourself. It’s about stepping away from your perceptions of what your boss or society at-large expects from you. Most importantly, it’s about gaining perspective and allowing yourself to just be present.
It’s about doing life strategically and intentionally, eliminating the superfluous, and leaning into the pauses you create as a result. It’s about allowing yourself to momentarily feel uncomfortable and, in so doing, diminish the fear of missing out.
Most importantly, it’s about overcoming the sense that you must race through life collecting meaningless trophies (pick your poison) and, instead, experience life on a deeper level.
At it’s most basic, it’s knowing when to go fast, and understanding when it’s unnecessary or even detrimental to do so.
And just to be clear, this isn’t about living life on vacation. It’s just about giving your nervous system a break and savoring all that life has to offer you so that you can immerse yourself in the most sensual, enjoyable, and meaningful parts of life.
How to Live the Slow Life
So, as we welcome the summer season, it’s a perfect opportunity to elongate your days and slow them down. I mean, who doesn’t want the sweetness of summer to last a bit longer!
Here are five simple ways you can embrace the slow life — no plane ticket required:
- Be aware of your phone time. Let’s be honest. Taking pictures and capturing the beauty of life in real-time allows us to bottle up beautiful moments that we can later savor again and again. But spending gobs of time scrolling on social media or tuning in to your favorite TV series steals opportunity. It may sometimes be fun and can help you veg out – but it limits your opportunity to build those savorable memories! Taking note of how much time you’re spending on these types of activities and using that time to, instead, immerse yourself in the moment can have a tremendous impact.
- Dine al fresco. Aside from during a thunderstorm or two, there was not a meal in Italy we didn’t eat outside. And there is no eating on the go! From restaurants situated in the middle of narrow cobblestone streets to the dining table we had in the back yard, there was nothing more sensual and slow than dining outside. Eating outside can inspire you to grill seasonal vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant, but also begs for things like stuffed zucchini flowers, bright salads, and, if you dare, charcoal-grilled steak with a squeeze of lemon (ask me about our dinners in Montelupo Fiorentino!). Not only does eating outside allow for greater connection and conversation with your dining companions, it awakens your senses and connects you more deeply to the earth!
- Make room for more pleasure. Lubing up with sunscreen, hopping on bikes in your bathing suit, skinny dipping in the warm Adriatic sea (shhh!), and stopping for a lunch of Prosecco, tomato salad, and freshly steamed mussels may feel luxurious and maybe even silly. But those little indulgences — and they don’t need to be nearly that dramatic! — will be so worth it.
- Eat locally or grow your food yourself. There is something so enjoyable about stopping into your favorite market and choosing, mindfully, which produce you will take home to create something magical! Strolling an outdoor market with vibrant colors and fragrances a plenty is one of my favorite ways to slow myself down. Alimentari Flâneur here in New York brings me back to our days in Toscana, but I’m sure there’s an open-air market somewhere near you that can help slow things down! In the summer months when plants are plentiful, you can also harvest from your own garden. Growing your own food gives you an appreciation for where your food comes from and can enhance your relationship with what you put into your body.
- Get outside. Sunshine nourishes you with vitamin D, which is great for your body, brain, hormones, and can even boost your immunity. But don’t discount how merely being outside can help you live a slow life. Remember when you were a kid and you spent dawn to dusk outside? Try to spend more time outdoors whether it’s hiking nearby trails, getting out for a picnic in the park, or taking an after-supper walk to unwind and relax. Immersing yourself in the beauty of nature will not just slow things down, but will bring you much greater sensitivity and joy.
In our always-on world, slowing down can feel more than luxurious — it can feel like you’re breaking the rules. But that’s seeing the world upside down. Slowing down and living your life a little less hectically will not only improve your mental and physical health, but it will also simply bring more joy and pleasure into every moment. And who doesn’t want a little more of that?