Slow Living: 5 Lessons From Italy To Live A Happier Life

Shift your mindset to savor life more slowly with these tips.
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When I was younger, I didn’t fully understand the beauty of the Italian tradition of pranzo della domenica, or Sunday lunch. All I knew was this core tenant of “slow living” was one of my favorite rituals of the week.

We would wake up early with my Nonna and head to the farmer’s market to buy fresh produce. Each vendor would yell over the others, insisting he had the fresher produce. When we made our walk back home with very full carts, we would stop by the bar for a cornetto: our treat for a job well done. It made the whole experience even more enjoyable.

Childhood Sundays

Once in the kitchen, my sister and I became the students. We tied our grembiuli (aprons) and would gaze at my Nonna in total fascination as she introduced the menu del giorno — the menu she had planned for our day. She showed us how to make everything from gnocchi and involtini to calamari fritti. And, even our favorite, the aptly named “crema della Nonna.” Then we’d sit down for a long lunch filled with deep conversations and laughing so hard our cheeks hurt.

Three hours later, we would take a passeggiata around the park, stopping and saying hi to all of our friends. We would sit on a bench in the park and watch people walk by. By then, my Nonno was already in an intense game of Scopa with his friends. This tradition has continued and has been passed down from my Nonna to my Mamma and Zia.

When I think back to my childhood Sundays, I realize how much that slow life has shaped my view of the world. My mornings in Italy have always consisted of a lot of walks with friends, meandering through neighborhoods while getting lost in conversation. Sitting in parks and piazzas to people-watch, and picking up fresh, local ingredients at the farmers market. Not to mention popping into vintage shops and flea markets to look for rare treasures.

The slow-living mentality is one of immersing yourself in the present. It’s about getting away from the screens and enjoying il dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing.

@Instagram/mirellesphotography

I’ve thought about the duality of my own life, split between living in Los Angeles, New York City, and Rome, and it has always been easier to live slowly in Italy. But why is that? And how can we incorporate the slow living philosophy into our lives, no matter where we are?

Slow Life: What Is It?

Slow living is a type of lifestyle that encourages doing everyday things at a more leisurely pace, allowing a person to truly sink into the present moment. When I think back to memories of my Nonna and Nonno walking home with carts full of groceries, what I remember most is them walking hand in hand. Enjoying the presence of each other while doing a simple task together.

Nowadays, we are rushing through one thing to get to the next. We rarely stop to appreciate the moment we are in, whether it is special or mundane. When we say slow we don’t mean at a slow-motion pace: we mean being intentional with your time and immersing yourself in the present moment. Living with purpose.

The next time you are with your loved ones, try to be mindful and enjoy their presence at that moment, even if you only have an hour together.

5 Ways To Incorporate The Italian Lifestyle Into Your Own Life

1. Savor Food Slowly

In Italy, we take the time to deeply savor food in the company of friends and family. Eating and cooking together is a way of life. Lunch and dinner traditions are the best way to see what savoring meals are like in Italy. A typical Italian menu has an antipasto, primo piatto, and secondo, and finishes off with a dolce. Each dish is proportionate, meaning you don’t need to eat a greater amount, but simply enjoy the course of the meal by savoring bites from different parts of the menu. 

It’s no surprise that the Slow Food movement was started by journalist and activist Carlo Petrini in the 1980s. Petrini, along with other activists, were protesting the opening of McDonald’s at Piazza di Spagna in Rome, which signaled the arrival of fast food in Italy. His concept was to live at a slower pace by buying local and organic foods, celebrating regional cuisines, and enjoying food together.

Rather than holding up signs in protest, Petrini and the activists handed out plates of pasta to remind people about the importance of their local traditions and slow food.

One of the easiest ways to take part in the Slow Food movement is to source your produce from local farmer’s markets and cook at home. As you shop for ingredients, focus on the quality of your food, not the quantity. And while you’re preparing a recipe from your favorite Italian cookbook, try to be present at that moment and think about what you’re doing. It’s an everyday task but it’s also something that can be truly enjoyable. Try turning on some music while you are preparing your favorite meal and it will become one of your favorite things to do!

2. Spend Time With Family & Friends

In Italy, tradition is ingrained in our DNA. I try to avoid cultural stereotypes as much as possible, but there is no denying that relationships are really important to Italians. La famiglia is at the core of what we do and who we are. My first stop when I’m home in Rome is my Zia’s house for lunch or dinner and catching up with my relatives. The bond between families is something we hold dearly and we keep our connections alive as much as we can. 

Social gatherings with friends and family are extremely important to us. Part of this is investing in relationships and spending time with people who make you feel good. Practicing the art of saying no to things or people that don’t make you feel happy frees up space for you to spend time with the people you truly love and cherish.

3. Be Conscientious When You Shop

The Italian philosophy of “less is more” is not only applicable to quality food, but fashion as well. Rather than buying a new clothing item every time, there’s a new trend or throwing something out that needs to be adjusted, think about salvaging your pieces and treating them with care. Investing in quality clothing does not necessarily mean paying a higher price tag. When you shop for vintage items, you often pay a fraction of the cost and the life span of that item tends to be a lot longer than that of newer ones you may buy.

One of my favorite Sunday activities is going to the local flea market with my friends. I have found some gems by scouring through baskets of clothing. You can find great staple vintage pieces, furniture items, shoes, and so much more.

Italy is also a land with rich artisanship, and artisans become masters of their trade throughout generations upon generations. My local sarta (seamstress) comes from a long line of tailors who have perfected their craft throughout the generations. You can find artisans like this sprinkled all over Italy, they perfect and fine-tune their craft and create beautiful pieces. The idea is to consume less and enhance the beauty of what you already have.

Choosing quality items means opting for sustainability and encouraging the recycling of clothing. It encourages you to be selective in what you wear and be unique in your own style. Even if you choose not to go the vintage route, investing in quality will ultimately help you in the long run in choosing pieces that will last you a long time.

A woman sitting on an outdoor terrace holding a yellow book up to her face, overlooking the ocean

4. Limit Your Screen Time To Enjoy The Present

The slow living movement is not anti-technology, but it does encourage people to live a life less attached to screens. Through technology, we have become accustomed to life moving quickly, and we are constantly distracted.

In Italy, it’s very common to become friendly with the people around you, whether that be your neighbors, the waiter at your favorite restaurant, or the clerk at the store. You’re forming human connections and sometimes that screen in front of you is preventing you from making those. One of the best ways to fully enjoy your life and savor the present moment is to enjoy it without the interruption of a notification.

@Instagram/marieta_faka

5. Embrace Il Dolce Far Niente

Il dolce far niente means the sweetness of doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. It is deceptively hard to actually “do nothing” but the benefits of practicing mindfulness can be life-changing. When you are able to slow down and self-reflect, you can think about what you really want in life, rather than rushing from one commitment to the next.

Taking a break gives you time to recharge and re-energize. It allows you to put passion into your projects without over-exhausting yourself, and it’s easier to generate ideas and have the space to bring them to life. 

The best example of il dolce far niente is watching the elderly men and women in cities and towns all over Italy, even the smallest of villages, grab their chairs and sit in piazzas together to watch the world go by. Nothing particularly special is happening, but they are together living in the present moment.

We’ve been taught that routines are boring, so we want to fast-forward the everyday moments of our life, but the key is finding joy and gratitude in being alive. Italy teaches us that slowing down can not only enhance your life but change it for the better. At its core, slow living is about finding the beauty in everyday life, rather than rushing through it. What could be more important than that?

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