Spending six years in France taught me a lot, particularly about living intentionally. The bread and boulangeries are incredible (and something of a religion), the scenery is unforgettable, and the people love their culture – and are proud of it! As many former expats can attest to, life is never the same after living there.
Perhaps the most significant thing I learned was that the French live with an incredible amount of joie de vivre, or the unapologetic enjoyment of life.
After much reflection, the power of this mentality comes down to one major thing. The French make it their number one mission to enjoy life’s most simple pleasures.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re closing their eyes in happiness while biting slowly into a warm, buttery croissant every day. This drive to live the good life comes down to a deep appreciation of the core elements that every human needs – food, drink, and relationships.
From these core elements I have extracted two lessons. These lessons don’t only serve the French: they are small practices that we can all use to infuse a bit of joie de vivre in our own lives.
Lesson 1: Give Significance to Your Rituals
Think about your daily rituals. For many of us, it involves a morning coffee – taking it to-go in most cases.
The concept of the to-go coffee does not exist in France. Why?
It’s because coffee isn’t consumed for a purely practical purpose, like a caffeine boost. Instead, it is treated as a deliberate event of the day – a special ritual giving them a chance to reconnect with themselves and their surroundings.
The coffee is nursed and sipped slowly to savor it, while sitting for a few minutes inside a café, watching the world go by – and maybe chatting with their friends or other regulars.
This mindset doesn’t apply strictly to coffee, either. There is a cultural push to be present in your environment, from sitting in the sun with a book, to taking a stroll through the market, or even taking off your makeup at the end of the day. It’s a little piece of luxury that many of us forget we even needed.
Next time, instead of going through the Starbucks drive-thru, go inside. Take a seat. Sip your coffee, don’t drink it. Notice the people around you, the sounds, the smells. Do the same thing at the farmer’s market, the bookstore, or even taking a walk around the office on your lunch break.
A little bit of mindful pause every day, especially with the little things, paves the way to a happier life.
Lesson 2: Take Your Time
The French give importance to the basics by giving them time. Not simply by adding more time into a schedule, but by allowing yourself to enjoy important moments with no guilt and no pressure.
When it comes to meals, they never rush, whether they prepare the meal themselves or go out to eat with family and friends. Eating on-the-go in the street is a no-no and attempting to have a meal in under an hour is near-impossible – but this is a good thing!
Meals in France are about the quality of the food, the drink, and the social interaction, all working in tandem. The objective is not eating to survive, but cultivating an environment of joy.
We do this in America too, but many people only do so on significant holidays like Thanksgiving. Instead of concentrating efforts into a few choice days a year, the French strive to achieve this environment at every meal. Of course, the scope of the meal is not quite as grand as a Thanksgiving Day dinner, but the underlying core element of good food, family, friends and conversation is prevalent every time.
Try one time this week to take your time with something, guilt-free, and reap the rewards. Don’t force a happy moment – notice when it is happening, and savor it for as long as possible.