When people daydream about Paris, they often imagine the Eiffel Tower, long walks along charming cobblestone streets, and of course, beautifully elegant French people basking in the glory of their joie de vivre! Of course, the French inhabitants roaming through our imaginations are always smiling with pearly white teeth through expertly painted red lips, with soft and tousled tresses, gliding through the streets with the elegance of ballet dancers, reveling in their effortlessly chic outfits.
Though some aspects of French culture may be romanticized by the rest of the world, it is for good reason!
Generally speaking, the French adopt a lifestyle balanced by moderation, an active existence, a wholesome approach to diet and nutrition, and an understanding of the importance of maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. Though there are obviously exceptions to these generalizations, French culture focuses on the whole existence, and treating all aspects of one’s existence as being inter-related.
Culturally, the French lifestyle has been revered for decades, especially amongst French women, who are often portrayed in popular media as being elegant, healthy, and sophisticated in an unpretentious manner. Though they make it all look so easy within film, there are certainly very mindful and intentional choices made by French women to maintain their holistic lifestyle, attitude, and French-girl cool.
Throughout the past decade or so, international best-selling author Mireille Guiliano has shared her tips for mimicking this holistic French approach throughout several novels, including the uber-popular “French Girls Don’t Get Fat:The Secret Of Eating For Pleasure“. Dubbed by USA Today as the “High Priestess Of French Lady Wisdom”, she has followed up her initial novel with several other best-selling French lifestyle novels, and currently runs a website dedicated to spreading the knowledge of the French method to wholesome happiness.
According to Guiliano, and other experts in the art of joie de vivre, moderation is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The typical French diet consists of wine, fresh cheeses, bakery made hearth breads, and many other foods that millions of dieting Americans would consider “bad”. Within the wholesome French approach, however, these foods are to be enjoyed, just in moderation! The French method instructs one to truly savor food, to enjoy the quality of these items, and to indulge in them within moderation, recognizing fullness, and implementing portion control.
According to the French, bloating and fullness is equally as unpleasant as being hungry, and starving oneself. Both feelings yield negative physical and mental reactions, and go against the French belief of maintaining moderation when it comes to food and drink.
Though it may seem counterintuitive for many yo-yo dieters and fans of skipping meals, the concept of not allowing oneself to be truly hungry does yield more stable long-term results, and hence, gives credence to the French belief of moderation as being instrumental to overall happiness.
Another way to achieve gastronomic happiness, according to the French, is to enjoy produce and food items in season, enjoying the process of inventing new dishes, and trying new ingredients prepared in several different manners, in an effort to reduce food boredom.
After attending local artisan shops to procure high-quality food ingredients, the French often take great pride in preparing dinner, making it an experience for all senses, and allowing meal time to be sacred, special, and full of pride. One doesn’t have to be a culinary mastermind in order to participate within this mindset.
Simply, the consideration of mealtime as being exciting is enough to entice one to prepare new dishes, and focus on cooking all, or most, meals within the home.
With so much care and attention put into dishes, it is only natural to sit down comfortably, and enjoy meals with great intent. The same reigns true for most other French activities. They are all done with purpose and intent, reveling in each activity, from eating, to shopping, and even working!
When treating the body and mind, the French medical system also adopts the notion of wholesome wellbeing, and places great significance on the concept of preventative care.
Dr. Nancy Salzman, a sought-after American General Practitioner with her own practice in Paris is a firm believer in utilizing this French approach to treat her patients.
With many years of medical experience globally, she hung her own shingle in Paris in 1995, and specializes in travel medicine, often treating expats residing in France, who are unaware of the cultural differences within the medical sphere. Dr. Salzman engulfs these patients into the wholesome French medical experience, and even provides counseling to patients in order to achieve moderation within their lifestyles.
According to her mission statement, Dr. Salzman, along with many French doctors, “believes in treating the whole patient, and takes a comprehensive approach to preventive care by emphasizing maintaining good health through regular examination, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and appropriate screening tests”.
By placing such great importance on maintaining healthy habits, Dr. Salzman teaches patients to value their physical and mental wellbeing, and to treat their bodies with kindness, importance, and great care.
Thus, she also takes great effort to maintain a central role in a patient’s overall wellness, making herself available to answer all patient questions, and to offer guidance. Through this established relationship between patient and medical provider, the French healthcare system boasts the importance of self-care, and making medical care an important portion of a well balanced lifestyle.
Though not every French person adores traditional sports, the French adopt an active lifestyle, choosing to walk when available instead of driving, or enjoying physical activity through walking, playing, or otherwise staying in motion. Many French women utilize the power of meditation to reign in both physical and emotional benefits, and flock to yoga in order to further their quest for total mind-body connectivity.
In true French form, walks are touted as not only being wonderful for the waistline, but also game changers for mental health, and clearing one’s head. Thus, through mindful utilization of one’s body, the French are constantly bodies in motion, recognizing the notion that small changes amount to a sizeable change in the grand scheme of things.
While focused on an active lifestyle, French women tend to not obsess over the scale as prevalently as American women, further reiterating a positive mind-body correlation.
While many American women tend to associate their dieting success with changing numbers on a scale, French women tend to understand the natural fluctuation of weight on an almost daily basis, and look toward a more “big-picture” approach when it comes to the scale. In lieu of the daily scale checks, French women tend to focus more on the feel and fit of clothing, as well as their innate recognition of bodily changes, focusing on the connection to their bodies.
In fact, French women even have a name for this practice, touting it “le syndrome de la fermeture éclair”, or the “zipper syndrome”. By focusing more on the functions of their bodies, and less on the numbers that represent value and success, French women benefit from the mind-body connection that comes with watching one’s body change.
Not only do the French relish in movement, nourishment, and mental health, they also recognize the importance of maintaining a positive work-life balance. In a move that millions of Americans could learn from, the French recognize the importance of actually utilizing their vacation time on activities other than scheduling dental visits!
Instead, the French tend to view vacation time as much deserved, and feel entitled to take their allotted days off. In fact, many employers view vacation days as necessary to recharge the physical and mental capacities of their employees, and benefit from the increased productivity of their happy, and not overworked, employees.
Though this concept spreads throughout much of Europe, it certainly feels foreign to many American workers, who tend to work over 40 hours weekly with little to no breaks, and rarely take the opportunity to not only utilize their vacation days, but to actually relish in them without a sense of guilt!
The French love of vacation is not meant to short-change their work ethic, and pride in doing a good job within the professional sphere. Finding balance in every aspect of life, the French believe strongly in the notion of having passion within one’s chosen field of work.
Balancing those passions with talent, education, and seeking opportunity, the French yearn to be professionally active in a field of great interest, often choosing to become the masters of their domains out of sheer interest, rather than through fear of losing one’s job, or performance anxiety.
Somewhat unlike the American view that one’s career path is forged throughout one’s early twenties, the French also take a much more forgiving approach to finding one’s professional passion without a strict timeline. This lack of pressure allows the working French to delve into various careers, explore their passions, and feel confident to pursue career changes well into their professional years. Believing that professional decisions should be made out of reason, rather than fear, many French find themselves taking risks that turn out to be professionally rewarding, a notion that many Americans can certainly learn from in the fear driven professional culture.
In order to enjoy all of life’s offerings, many French practice what they call l’art de vivre, or the art of life. Through conscious recognition of the five senses within daily activities, the French take the time to enjoy and savor life’s moments, and make them truly meaningful. The old adage instructing us to “stop and smell the roses” is literally utilized by the French in an effort to ground oneself, and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of everyday existence.
By developing deeper understanding and sensory experiences, moments become richer and fuller, which is the cornerstone of the wholesome French lifestyle. Connecting seemingly simple experiences together allows one to feel more in tune with these experiences, more in control of the experience or action, and more “alive”.
In the same vein, the French generally take more effort to pamper themselves throughout life’s moments. Though Americans tend to think of pampering oneself as involving decadent measures, the French take great indulgence in small pleasures, such as delighting in a delicious espresso, or using a new richly fragrant hand cream. Through these small indulgences, the French take the opportunity to feel positive throughout the day, balancing small acts of self-love with discipline, a busy schedule, and time for self-improvement. This notion of balance reigns supreme, even with pampering, and the French recognize the benefits of not “over-doing it”, in every sense of the term.
When it comes to personal style, the French also adopt the mantra of moderation. With a “less is more” focus, and a general understanding that quality trumps quantity, that effortlessly French style is chic due to its’ focus on timeless pieces, comfort, and feeling confident in one’s skin. The devastatingly chic French women understand that personal style is a reflection of one’s thoughts, as well as the literal representation of one’s brand.
In relating one’s style in a way that is much more meaningful than the clothes on one’s back, the French take pride in their clothing and appearance, and consider style to be another one of life’s little pleasures. Though one will be hard pressed to find a French woman schlepping to the local patisserie in ratty sweatpants, French style is about streamlined clothing, comfort in fit, and quality fabrics, indulgent to the touch, and effortless in motion.
With so much sensory indulgence, and so much focus placed on enjoying every aspect of life, it may seem counterintuitive that the French enjoy moderation almost as being second nature.
After all, who wouldn’t want to indulge all of the time?
However, the French mantra recognizes that if one indulges in life’s simple pleasures throughout the day, one never feels starved, and thus, never feels the need to over-indulge. Therefore, moderation is not seen as something to be achieved, but rather, a natural state that is caused by the happiness in the small things on a level baseline. This view of existence, and one’s place in the world, leads to a wholesome full-body approach to living life, wellness, success, and happiness. It’s all trés chic.