In the Summer of 2018, I arrived in Valencia, Spain with dreams to explore Europe and live differently. From the moment I became a mother in 2016, I began to think about how I wanted my son to live.
I want him to be successful and to pursue his dream. Most of all, I want him to enjoy his life. I want him to be balanced and happy. This is what most mothers want for their children.
Enjoying your life is a concept we sometimes bypass for more tangible life goals. Yet, according to the Foundation Health Measure Report, high levels of well-being directly affect all other areas of your life. We are more productive at work and have a decreased risk of illness. Enjoying your life can lead you to contribute more to your communities and even live longer.
In the United States, I spent my whole life in what seemed like a hamster wheel of unending expectations. It seems many in the USA feel the same. According to the World Health Organization (2016), the USA is one of the most depressed countries in the world. In the USA, consumerism dominates society’s behavior. We are constantly bombarded with unnecessary noise persuading us to consume.
If there’s one thing I learned about Spaniards, it’s that they enjoy life. They also rank as the healthiest country in the world. During my 6 months living there, it was easy to see why the Spaniards have a good quality of life. They have passion for their lives and there’s much less emphasis on competition and comparison.
My goal is not to prove Spain is better than the USA. There is no such thing as a perfect country and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in Spain, there’s something intangible in the air. I felt I enjoyed life more in Spain. There was a certain buzz in the air and joie de vivre I never felt in the United States.
After 6 months of living there, I soon discovered exactly why.
They Prioritize Relationships Over Money
I would often visit my neighborhood pharmacy in my neighborhood of Russafa in Valencia. After a month or so, I became a regular with the corner pharmacy. I chatted with the pharmacists and felt they were genuinely interested in my life. It was refreshing. I was accustomed to the cold and transactional experience I got at the pharmacies in the USA.
One day, an old woman holding a man’s hand came to the pharmacy sobbing. There was a long line and the pharmacist seemed stressed. As soon as the pharmacist saw her, she left the counter and went to hug her. The elderly woman had just lost her husband. The man holding her hand was a neighbor. He had heard her crying in her apartment and took her to the pharmacist for support. The pharmacist embraced her and sat her down for a chat. I later found out she wasn’t a close friend, just a regular customer at the pharmacy.
The line was long, but nobody seemed agitated. Ok, I’ll confess. I was a bit agitated until I found out her husband passed away. Then all I felt was a deep appreciation for people like the man and the pharmacist. People who supported those in need and who valued humans as more than a transaction.
I encountered many other similar scenarios while living there. According to the OECD Better Index, 93% of Spaniards believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need.
In Spain, high quality of life is found in being there for each other. It’s their deep understanding that life is better when we embrace one another. It can also be found in their commitment to value people over money. A good quality of life means placing a higher value on our relationships and seeking refuge in each other.
How to apply this to your life
Ask yourself these questions:
- What type of relationships do I want in life?
- Am I placing a higher value on X instead of my relationships?
- Am I currently placing enough time and effort into my relationships?
These questions will help you determine if you’re placing too much emphasis on monetary goals or accomplishments. The first step is awareness.
They Take Time to Enjoy Small Moments in the Day
You may have heard of the Spanish “siesta.” It’s a prolonged 2 hour lunch period where many businesses close in the afternoon. It’s less of a nap nowadays, and more of an extended lunch.
I often took daily strolls around “siesta” time. I would often find groups chatting in a nearby café. It was common to see mothers sitting alone at a café while their baby napped. Many times, I would see them order a beer.
No judgment here.
Sometimes it’s these little moments that give us the respite we need from a day of responsibilities. The Spanish often go out for long dinners and stay out until late. They don’t take each day for granted. They take time to spend time with friends and family. They stay up until late in the morning hours talking and enjoying each other.
All it takes is a walk in a Spanish park to see Spaniards enjoying a break. It can be seen in the café full of people talking and enjoying each other’s company. They don’t save it for the weekends. They practice this every day.
How to apply this to your life
- Have a daily ritual that you look forward to.
- Savor and be present during a break in the day. Take a stroll or listen to your favorite song.
- Do these things intentionally.
They Celebrate in a Big Way
We don’t need an excuse to celebrate life lavishly. Taking time to celebrate life is one aspect of Spanish culture I admire. When a Spanish soccer team wins, the whole city vibrates in cheer and celebration. It’s something everyone should experience once in their life.
Every year the city of Valencia comes to gather in their annual festival — Las Fallas. I had never experienced anything like it. For one full month, I walked the streets of Valencia hearing fireworks at all times of the day. The intensity of the festival was too much for some residents. Many planned their month around the festival and some moved away for the month.
The festival is a celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph. Each neighborhood appoints a group to represent them. They work all year long and spend thousands of dollars creating a falla. A falla is firecracker-filled cardboard and paper-mâché artistic monument.
Parties are held every night during Fallas, sometimes until 5 AM. Families can enjoy a nightly firework display and festivals. Walking the streets of Valencia is a magical experience. At the end of the festival, the fallas are burned to the ground. It’s an exhilarating albeit dangerous activity that draws thousands of people from all over the world
In Spain, celebrating is part of the culture. It’s embedded in their social framework. To enjoy life and celebrate is not capricious or childish — it’s just a way of life.
Dr. Burns, the author of Feeling Good, discusses the importance of celebrating life. According to Dr. Burns, we should celebrate minor and major accomplishments. Attention to small wins is a tenet of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It’s a method used to lift people out of depression and promote overall wellbeing. It also prevents you from burning out.
How to apply this to your life
- Take time to celebrate your milestones or accomplishments.
- Reframe any negative emotions you feel when celebrating. Reframing a thought such as “this is silly” to “I deserve to enjoy this moment” can help build more wellbeing in your life.
- Celebrate the accomplishment of others. When you are happy for others and celebrate together, you build better relationships.
They Take Time for Their Passions
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
Have you ever been to Flamenco tablao? If there’s any activity that embodies passion — it’s a flamenco tablao. It’s mesmerizing and inspiring to see artists express themselves with so much passion and vigor. The closer you are seated to a tablao, the more you see their incredible endurance and sweat-dripping passion.
I’ve stayed in dozens of Airbnbs in Spain. I always find it fascinating to see how dedicated Spaniards are to their passions. Let it be art, music, reading, or movies — they lean into their passions.
In Barcelona, while walking at night, I stumbled upon a plaza with dozens of people. My first thought “what’s the occasion?” There was no special event. Dozens of people were gathered together singing and playing the guitar. Some were dancing and others playing music.
At this moment I understood the simplicity of life. It is in the small moments of life that we create well-being and happiness.
The Spaniards made me question what my passions were. They also made me realize I wasn’t dedicating enough time to them. The times we spent immersed in our passions give us respite from a life of responsibility. Harvard describes flow states as important moments in our quest for happiness.
How do you know you’re in a “flow” state? According to Harvard, the following indicate you have reached “flow:”
You lose awareness of time.
You aren’t thinking about yourself.
You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts.
You are active. You work effortlessly. You would like to repeat the experience.
Are you spending enough time on things your passions? Those activities that make us lose track of time are gateways into our own peace and serenity. Choose to live like the Spaniards. Make time for riveting and engrossing activities. These activities are key components to enjoying your life.
How to apply this to your life
- Take the time to reflect on what your passions are.
- Ask yourself if you’ve been spending enough time on your passions.
- Give yourself permission to spend time on them. Life isn’t just about producing and consuming.
I hate to break it to you but this life is the only one you have. Are you living for tomorrow? Are you letting life pass you by? Life can be hard and unforgiving. It can have moments of despair and difficulties. That’s life. What is important is to enjoy small moments. It’s the ability to be present and cognizant of the things that bring beauty into your everyday life. It’s celebrating minor and major achievements, and above all —life is meant to be enjoyed.
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