Written By Brenna Norris
Italy is often thought of as primarily a tourist destination, a place so steeped in history that it can often be difficult to remember there’s more to this country than just food, wine, and old buildings. What’s more, after over a year of being ground zero for Europe’s battle with the pandemic, it has risen incredibly from this place of ignominy to embrace what no one saw coming: a winning strategy.
If 2020 was one of Italy’s darkest years in decades, then 2021 seems to be its shining comeback. From Eurovision to the UEFA European Championship and now to the Olympics, this country has shown the world that La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) is more than just marketing used by Olive Garden to sell breadsticks.
What we Can Learn From Italy’s World Success
Italy has shown the world that a culture of balanced living is perhaps exactly what is needed right now. To us Americans, the idea of foregoing work or striving to be on top sounds almost ridiculous, even blasphemous. We are encouraged to be the best, the brightest, and the most on top of our game, no matter the costs or hours of lost sleep we must endure.
But after navigating so much loss, uncertainty, and fear during these last eighteen-ish months, Americans are more burnt-out than ever, students included. We have had to sacrifice so much to protect our fellow country-people, all while still trying to be a nation of some of the hardest working folks on earth. Even our lifespan is now back to levels not seen since WWII. We all kind of could use a break. As Jack Nicholson famously says a few times in The Shining, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Meanwhile, Italians have always focused on quality over quantity when it comes to work, balancing labor with a healthy dose of living life to its fullest. In fact, one of the world’s Blue Zones – regions where a higher number of people live much longer on average – is in Italy, suggesting that a calmer approach to life and success may be better for not just our mental health but our physical health as well. And now, while the rest of the world is managing mental fatigue, COVID-19 fatigue, and just general too-much-bad-news fatigue, Italy has shown that slow and steady can indeed sometimes win the race.
How to Embrace (Even a Little)
While it’s doubtful that we as Americans will suddenly turn around and start taking two hour breaks in the middle of every workday, perhaps we can try to stay more in tune with ourselves and allow some breathers. Educators and even universities are well aware that we may have swung too far in one direction on the work pendulum and are trying (albeit slowly) to adopt measures that acknowledge this need for equilibrium. Right now we could all stand to try giving ourselves some small breaks and feel safe in knowing that the world won’t collapse if you need to put a pause on homework for a few hours.
Yes, everything that’s important should get done, but once it’s done, you should find ways to step away from your laptop or desk and take a moment to let your mind and body relax. There will always be more work that needs to get done, but if you don’t stop to smell the flowers every once in a while, then what’s it all for?