The Mediterranean way of living is slower and more attuned to the seasons. We live such fast-paced lives in the U.S. that we don’t take time to enjoy actually living.
I know when I was working as a managing editor, I had little time for a private life. I worked constantly. I worked long hours. I could have stayed at my job 24 hours a day and never ran out of things to do. I rarely used all of my vacation time, and instead allowed the company to buy back my time. When I did take time, it was a long weekend or a day here and there. This all put a strain on my relationships and my health. So how do Europeans take all that time off and still have successful careers?
The short answer is they water their horses, metaphorically speaking.
Did you ever see the movie, The Searchers, where John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter are rushing home to their families who are under attack. John Wayne stops to rest his horse, while the other guy can’t believe he is wasting time and goes ahead full steam. His horse conks out, of course, while John Wayne eventually catches up to him and passes him.
Europeans take an afternoon break, a real one. In Italy they call it la pausa pranzo, in Spain it is siesta. They rest in the afternoon so they can refresh themselves for the rest of the work day. They also take several weeks vacation time during the year. This helps prevent burnout.
If you are constantly running on the hamster wheel of life and your career, you are inevitably going to burn out. Take it from someone who knows. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen the light. It takes a lot longer to recover from burnout than it does to take breaks in between.
Take a lunch break, a real one. Don’t just cram in a sandwich at your desk. Take a real vacation, not a long weekend every now and then. Put everything out of your mind and refresh and rejuvenate yourself.
According to Fortune magazine, U.S. workers work nearly 25 percent more hours than Europeans. According to the Washington Post, 55 percent of Americans did not use all of their paid vacation time, using only 9 days to travel. More than half didn’t take more than four nights over the year.
In the U.S. there is no federally mandated vacation time, although many U.S. full-time workers receive two or three weeks of paid vacation. Many lower-wage workers don’t receive any paid vacation at all. When Americans do get paid vacation, they don’t necessarily use it. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 55 percent of U.S. workers said they did not use all of their allotted time off.
This is in contrast to the European Union who are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with some countries mandating 25 or even 30 or more days. Italy gets 20. Sweden gets 25. England gets 28. France and Spain get 30.
In the hit Netflix show, Emily in Paris, Emily’s French coworkers often remind her that it is illegal to send work emails on the weekends, and that they are not allowed to work on Sundays in France. In 2017, France implemented a “right to disconnect” mandate, which legally entitles employees to not respond to business emails after working hours. By law the standard work week in France is 35 hours per week, with a minimum of five weeks paid leave each year.
In the U.S. the standard work week is 40 hours, and paid vacation time is up to the company. No wonder so many Americans are suffering from anxiety and obesity. They have no time to rest, rejuvenate, and have fun.
Besides taking time off to actually live your life, you can also enjoy a Mediterranean-inspired lifestyle through your food choices.
Eat real food, not frozen dinners, diet meals, or all the processed convenience and fast foods we have available to us. The first bite may be satisfying but the end result is weight gain and poor nutrition.
Learn to cook vegetables. They are life savers, literally.
Add more whole grains to your meals. Eat more nuts and seeds. Sprinkle them on salads and soups. Balance your meals with complex carbs, healthy fats, whole grains, and plenty of vegetables.
Have a glass of wine, not 2 or 3 or a whole bottle of wine.
Eat more fruit instead of cake and ice cream.
Get creative with salads. Salads don’t need to be a bowl of lettuce with ranch dressing. Create a well-rounded salad with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and add some vegetables like carrots, radishes, and beets. Add a scoop of whole grains, throw in some nuts and seeds, or add a protein like tuna, mackerel, or salmon. This colorful feast is much healthier than a Chicken Caesar salad that is covered in cheese (which seems to be America’s default salad).
The moral of this story is slow down and take some time for yourself. Treat yourself like a VIP. Take time to eat healthy meals. This is your life story, not someone else’s. Take inspiration from the Mediterranean way of living. You’ll still have successes and accomplishments without burning yourself out. If you want to live a long healthy life, you need to “rest your horses” from time to time.