During a recent trip to Italy’s Amalfi coast, the Italian way of living, often called, “la dolce vita” (the sweet life), warmed my heart and soul. Based on a culture that revolves around food, beauty, love and a passion for life’s simplest pleasures, the Italians truly know how to live life to its fullest. If you’ve ever romanticized about living in Italy, here are a few ways you can have la dolce vita wherever you are:
1. Have cake for breakfast
This may seem like odd advice coming from a health expert like me, but hear me out. You can’t live the sweet life without any sweets! A little sugar (not every day) in the morning with a hot cappuccino kick-starts your engines, from your brain to your body. Italian cakes are not overly sweet and not processed. As a first-generation Italian-American, eating cake for breakfast is not a new concept to me. The best cake I love having for breakfast is a cheese cake made from ricotta cheese, eggs, citrus fruit and sugar. It’s delicious, filling, not too sweet, and a good source of protein and calcium.
2. Unscheduled time
We all need time to unwind from the daily grind to refresh our minds and bodies. In Italy, long breaks after lunch are the norm, but that may not work in the typical U.S. work day. The best way I’ve found to take a break is to have at least one day a week that’s unscheduled. See what comes up, and be okay with doing nothing. On a recent unscheduled weekend, I got to spend two leisurely hours on the phone with a friend whom I haven’t spoken to in years. I also binged-watched a new TV series – something I never have time to do. When the weekend was over, I felt relaxed and ready for work on Monday.
3. Walk, don’t run
There’s a lovely Italian phrase called, “Fare una passeggiata”. It means “To take a walk”, and after having a meal in Italy, it’s common to do so. Not a speed walk; not a walk to go anywhere in particular. Just a slow stroll that helps you digest, converse with people and enjoy the scenery. In the Amalfi region of Italy, walking is part of everyday life since narrow, winding streets and ancient stone stairs are your only way to get around. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do. It’s weight-bearing and can also be aerobic if you’re climbing hills or stairs. During our time in Italy, we ate pasta and gelato every day, yet didn’t gain a pound. I attribute that to all the walking we did.
4. Love your body
If you go to any Italian beach, you’ll see lots of people who seem to be quite comfortable with their bodies, no matter how tall or short, skinny or heavy, old or young. You’ll see elderly women wearing bikinis and big bellied men in Speedos. To think I was concerned about how I’d look in my bathing suit after eating a big pasta lunch was absurd! Eat the food. Walk on the beach. Swim in the ocean. Enjoy yourself wherever you are and stop comparing your body to an airbrushed model in an ad. If you fully own and love your body, you’ll be able to strut confidently on any beach.
5. Eat slow
In Italy, a waiter will never bring you the check unless you ask for it. Why? Because it’s considered rude to rush someone through a meal. It’s not uncommon to sit for two hours over a multi-course lunch starting with an antipasto dish and ending with a chilled Limoncello, a liqueur made from lemon rinds. A longer meal time allows for conversation, people watching and the ultimate savoring and appreciation of each and every ingredient you eat. You might not be able to have a lingering lunch during your normal work day, but you can eat any meal more slowly which aids digestion and causes you to eat less. And, you can make family meals a time for eating and conversing, not texting or watching TV.
6. Go small
Italians drive tiny cars and scooters and live in small apartments. Lots of money, luxury cars and big houses - all measures of success here in America - don’t seem to have the same appeal in Italy. Italians know that bigger doesn’t make you happier; it just makes you busier. And the riches in life don’t come from material things but rather from everyday experiences and interactions with others. Whether it’s a car, a house or a job, going smaller will simplify your life so you can spend more time enjoying it.
7. Treat people like family
On a group tour of Pompeii, our guide referred to us as her “family” for the day. It immediately made me feel connected and protected, even though we were only with her for eight hours. Similarly, when we decided to visit a jewelry store in Sorrento that was owned by one of our American friend’s cousins, we were treated like family. They didn’t know we were coming, nor had met before, but they still dropped what they were doing and sat down and talked with us for over an hour. Of course, they offered us food, coffee and wine! They might have had something more important to do at the time, but we’ll never know because they were totally present with us - two complete strangers who walked in from the street!
8. Unleash your passion
Whether eating, talking, loving fighting or creating, Italians do it with “passione”. Even everyday conversation is filled with passion by exuberant speech and hand gestures. This open expression of emotions is a healthy way to live and relieve stress. One day when we were waiting for a bus in the small fishing village of Praiano, we saw a car collide into a scooter going around a turn. The drivers got out of their vehicles and started yelling at each other. Hands were waving all around while the drivers accused each other of causing the accident. When the driver of the car noticed the scooter driver’s knee was bleeding, he stopped yelling for a moment and compassionately touched the scooter driver’s knee, asking if he was okay. After the scooter driver said he was fine, they both went back to yelling at each other! It was quite entertaining.
9. Stop and smell the wine
After a two-and-a-half-hour hike on the “Path of the Gods” overlooking the Amalfi coast, we got off the end of the trail and walked down into a small farming village. All we wanted was a cold drink and a bathroom before heading back on the trail. The town looked deserted except for a small café with an empty patio and a sign that said “Crazy Burger”. We figured it was American, but to our surprise, the owner was a local Italian serving traditional Italian food made from organic ingredients he grew in his own garden. He looked at us (all sweaty, tired and dusty) and offered to make us a “light” lunch. Three hours later, we had eaten a feast - homemade pasta with fresh tomatoes and herbs, salad greens that were picked five minutes prior to eating, country bread topped with local goat cheese and olive oil, and his family’s home-made wine. And just when we thought we were done, he brought us a delicious liqueur made from a Sicilian cocoa bean. When we finally got up to leave, he handed us a full bottle of his wine with two plastic cups for the trek back! Now that’s what I call la dolce vita!
Inspiring personal growth, professional success and positive change. Author of The Goddess of Happiness, Vita’s Will and Note to Self: Love (Book & Screenplay). Lover of food, fashion, fitness, funky music, dogs, dancing, cooking, laughter and anything Italian.