Life in Europe is often romanticized in American movies and TV shows, with Paris being filled with lovers and romance. And Rome being the place to go to meet an endless amount of beautiful and charming Italian men. Having lived in Europe for most of my life, I can say with full confidence that these Hollywood-fueled fantasies are overly embellished versions of reality.
Unfortunately, Paris is not all love, and you’re more likely to get scoffed at for your terrible American accent when attempting to speak French than to meet the love of your life. This may come as a shock to many, but Italian men are not all charming Sex Gods; just like American men, some of them are real dirtbags.
So, now that we’ve established that life in Europe is not the fairytale that many movies would have you believe, I will say that there are some key aspects of the European lifestyle that we could learn a thing or two from. Americans could learn from Europeans when it comes to maintaining a happy, healthy lifestyle; considering that the country with the happiest residents, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report, was Finland, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Notice any similarities? Yep, all five countries with the happiest residents are in Europe.
Here are five key aspects of the European lifestyle that we can learn from as a country to increase our overall well-being. Take these lessons to heart.
1. Vacation, and more often.
The average European worker gets about 30 days off a year. Meanwhile, most employers in the U.S. offer an average of 15 vacation days (if you’re lucky). Taking time off from work is essential to recharge and re-discover yourself and your passions. If we do not take enough time off we risk experiencing burnout; this is of special concern to American millennials, who were found to be the most stressed-out generation according to a 2015 survey.
Not only do Europeans have more time on their hands to vacation, but I have also observed that they tend to vacation better. Whereas many of us have a hard time detaching from work on vacay, constantly failing to keep our promise of sending “one last email,” Europeans are able to leave work at work. I think this is in part because success, as it is defined in American culture, is more centered around success at work, a phenomenon that tends to turn people into workaholics. Whereas in Europe, although having a successful career is important, enjoying life and maintaining meaningful relationships is equally, if not more, important.
2. Have longer mealtimes for a chance to connect with others.
In Europe, mealtime is considered a social endeavor. It is not uncommon for Europeans to take a long lunch break for a leisurely meal with friends. Even dinnertime is considered more of an event, instead of a quick bite enjoyed in front of Netflix — which is totally necessary sometimes!
Growing up in Switzerland, my family used to make a sit-down three-course dinner mandatory for all members, no matter how much homework or work there was left to do.
Although I will admit that sometimes eating a pizza in front of the TV may have sounded more appealing to my teenage ears, I am glad that my family set this mandatory ritual. The family dinners offered a time for us to talk about our days and discuss any problems we were facing. Instead of zoning out and ignoring our daily stresses, we would get a chance to share them with the rest of the family and discuss solutions. It was a great way to de-stress at the end of the day.
3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle without the dieting craze.
Walk into any grocery store in the U.S. and you will immediately see the words “light,” “non-fat,” and “diet” on a countless number of items. Trying to lose weight in America too often means restricting oneself to the extreme (looking at you, Kato diet) and then binging on “diet” cookies once the body can no longer take this restriction. Since more than 30 percent of American adults are considered obese, this typical American weight loss method isn’t proving very effective.
Europeans, on the other hand, tend to be more effective at keeping off excess weight; only 17 percent of the population in the average European country is considered obese. Their secret? Smaller portions and LOTS of walking. If you’ve ever traveled abroad to Europe, you know what I’m talking about. Yout delicious food every day but you actually lose weight because you’re walking so much more than you are used to (unless you live in NYC, in which case the amount of walking is probably equal). When I go back to Switzerland to visit family, I am actually shocked at how small the portions are compared to the U.S. and it can take some time to get used to this new reality. “Excuse me? I think I ordered off the kids menu by mistake…”
4. Be authentic. Europeans aren’t “best friends” immediately upon meeting, and that’s ok.
One big culture shock that I experienced when moving to the U.S. for college at seventeen was how easily many people seemed to become “best friends” only a few minutes after meeting. During the first couple weeks of school, I would observe people meeting for the first time and, after a minute or two of conversation, one of them would exclaim: “Omg, I LOVE you!” This made me confused; I had trouble saying those three words to some of my relatives and here was this person who’d just said it to someone with whom they’d barely exchanged a full sentence.
I realize that I am generalizing here, but I have noticed that it takes a lot longer for friendships to be forged in Europe, and, as a result, many tend to be deeper. When it comes to friendships, Europeans seem to prioritize quality over quantity, and having quality friends that you can truly trust and be yourself with is extremely important for your well-being, especially as you get older and people get busier. You may be one of those lucky individuals who has found dozens of friends who fit this description, but it is likely that most of us end up with only a few close friends that we can truly count on.
5. Enjoy a drink without binging.
A classic and never-ending debate, but seriously how does it make sense that at 18 the government allows U.S. citizens in some states to buy a gun or join the army, but it does not allow us to buy alcohol until three years later? There are many sides to this debate and information that I may not be aware of, so this is strictly my opinion. From what I have observed, if you restrict a kid from drinking alcohol until he/she turns 21, once that kid starts college or moves away from home and has easy access to booze for the first time, things are likely to get out of control. Since laws on serving alcohol to minors are a little more lax in Europe, many European families (including mine) educate their children about alcohol at a young age, allowing them a taste of wine at family meals here and there. As humans, we tend to want what we can’t have, so if alcohol has never been completely off limits to us, I have noticed that we have a lower tendency of abusing it once we can easily access it.
No place on Earth is perfect (unless you know of one that is, in which case you need to tell me ASAP so I can move there), but the general population of some places tends to be better at certain aspects of life than others. I believe that European culture makes it easier for the typical citizen to lead a healthy lifestyle. Europeans, on the other hand, could learn a thing or two from Americans when it comes to making movies, music, and caring for personal hygiene (I kid, I kid).