Five Healthy European Habits
If my travels through Europe have taught me anything, it's that every culture has something to teach us. Here’s five healthy habits of Europeans you may want to adopt.
1) Set work/life boundaries like the French
In 2017, France instituted a nationwide “right to disconnect” law that gives workers the right to unplug from their jobs while they’re not in the office. You can read about the specifics here. The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to negotiate a new protocol to ensure that work does not spill into days off or after-work hours. The French have always enjoyed a good work/life balance and their government believed this law was necessary to create a healthier and happier population.
With more people working on laptops and cellphones, it’s too easy to let work invade our lives 24/7. Now that more of us are working from home, it’s more important than ever to create our own healthy work/life balance. Set your own boundaries between your personal life and your professional life. You may need to negotiate with your boss on the hours you will respond to emails. Set a time for the end of your workday when you can turn off your cellphone and laptop and enjoy the other part of your life.
2) Take a fika break like the Swedish
When I traveled to Stockholm in the summer, every café was filled with friends chatting away. It’s what the Swedish call fika, a break from work to socialize with friends and colleagues and share a cup of coffee (or tea) and a little something to eat (usually cake). Fika is a daily ritual and an important part of Swedish culture.
There’s a reason why the café culture is so popular throughout the European continent. Taking a break from work and spending time with friends is important. It strengthens our relationships, and healthy relationships and supportive friends are key ingredients for positive mental health. It also gives your brain a break from work, which in the long run can make us more productive.
Try adding a fika to your daily routine. Instead of having another lunch at your desk, have lunch with a co-worker at a nearby park. If you work from home, you’re probably missing the interaction with coworkers. Meet a friend for a coffee break or after work. If you can’t get together in person, set a time to call or zoom with a friend while you relax and enjoy your coffee or tea. It’s sure to lift both your spirits.
3) Take a Spanish siesta
Taking a siesta, a short nap in the early afternoon, is a tradition in Spain and other southern European countries. In Spain, lunch is their largest meal of the day and it’s often the hottest time of the day. So closing the shutters and taking a short snooze after a big meal makes sense.
We could all benefit from a power nap. I believe every office should have a napping room. But if you work from home, it’s easy to shut off the computer and cell phone for 20 minutes and take a siesta. Refreshed and recharged, you’ll have a more productive afternoon.
4) Linger over a meal like the Italians
Forget about fast food in front of the TV and savor the pleasure of leisurely dining with friends and family. A traditional Italian meal lasts an hour or two and possibly longer. They are passionate about their food and spending quality time with the people they love is important. Dining for Italians is another opportunity to take things slow.
At least once a week, prepare a meal of whole foods (not processed) and gather your friends and/or family around the dining table. Savor the relaxing experience and see if eating slowly and mindfully improves your digestion.
5) Walk like the British
The British are ramblers, quite literally, as that’s the name of the popular British charitable organization, The Ramblers, that celebrates the pleasures of walking and protecting the places people love to walk. The word ramble means to wander around in a leisurely, aimless manner — my favorite way to travel. The Brits are walkers too. A little less than 50 percent of Londoners don’t own a car. Pretty much all European cities have good public transportation, so using a car on a daily basic is not always necessary.
Whether you live in the city or the country, ditch the car whenever you can. Try doing some of your errands by foot. I’m lucky to be able to walk to the grocery store, the post office, the library, restaurants and shops. If you don’t live in a neighborhood near businesses, drive to an area, park the car and do all your errands in one continous walkabout. I don’t always do my errands by foot, but I walk 30 to 60 minutes five to six days a week. Walking around the neighborhood helps me feel more connected to the people and the community. Plus walking burns calories and is one of the best forms of aerobic exercise. Take a walk, a hike or a ramble. Your heart will thank you.
Good habits can improve our physical and mental wellbeing and improve our lives. I hope you incorporate some of these life-enriching habits into your own lifestyle. I know I have.