6 European Habits to Embrace to Slow Down and Savor Summer

published Jun 25, 2023
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Young stylish woman in red beret having a french breakfast with coffee and croissant sitting oudoors at the cafe terrace
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Usually, around this time of year, I used to experience what I call the summertime slump. I’d find myself on the verge of midyear burnout, desperate for a vacation or some kind of seasonal slowdown, which felt out of reach without using up a chunk of my PTO. But then I thought of my time traveling and studying abroad (specifically in Northern Europe, where several countries in the region rank among the top of the World Happiness Index) and observing my European coworkers. Through them, I’ve come to realize there are other paths to the possibility of slower, more intentional living — particularly in the summer, when I’m most craving that midyear change of pace. 

There are the Dutch, whose casual cycling culture promotes an efficient method of transport, leisure, and means of exercise in the great outdoors. The Danes, whose convivial work culture and legalized 37-hour workweek allow space for afternoon outings with colleagues and friends. The Swedes, whose practice of Fika encourages connection and conversation over a midday coffee.

I’ve also observed cultural nuances across other European regions that point to a similar love of leisure, from the French joie de vivre (the joy in everyday life), and the Italian dolce far niente (the sweetness in doing nothing), to the Spanish sobremesa (post-lunch table talk) and famed siesta (an afternoon nap). All promote pleasure and presence in the ordinary.

Of course, the European commitment to paid time off (many log off for the entire month of August) goes a long way in making this slower way of life possible. But even for U.S. employees, their philosophy can offer some inspiration for simple ways to savor summer. Driven by my admiration for European living, I’m on a mission to reclaim the magic and spontaneity of summertime. Here are some ways to normalize this departure from the pace of everyday life through shifts in routine and mindset — no luxury vacations required.

Flex where you can.

Working for a global company, I’ve envied my European colleagues who unabashedly disappear for the entire month of August. Europeans’ love of leisure has its roots in early 20th-century ideology, when the concept of vacation became a unifying force across social class lines. Many European countries have since developed policies entitling employees to at least five weeks of paid time off. 

While you might not be able to make such a request at your job, see what options may be available in terms of temporary, flexible working arrangements. Many employers offer “Flex Fridays” in which Fridays wrap up at noon. Or, if you have additional PTO to burn through, consider taking the occasional half-day or staggering DIY three-day weekends. If you’re a manager or team leader, ask your employees what they need, or adopt flexible work practices from other teams. If more flexibility isn’t possible, use summer as an opportunity to set firmer boundaries around working hours.

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Do a digital detox.

Stroll past any European cafe, and you’ll find swaths of people sitting in solitude, slowly sipping their cappuccinos. Others will enjoy casual conversations and pastries with friends. The commonality: Almost no one has their phone out. European cafe culture emphasizes presence and human connection. Some cafes even have “no laptop” policies, which challenges the grab-and-go, hyperconnected coffee shop ethos of the U.S. This summer, nurture your own digital detox by creating technology-free zones and setting boundaries during meals. Engage in mindful eating, eliminating distractions and savoring the flavors, sights, and sounds of the moment. If you’re the type to keep active, put down the phone and pick up something with your hands. Cooking, crafting, and gardening are all ways to stimulate creativity and cultivate relaxation.

Plan a staycation.

While it’s much easier to hop from country to country across the pond, you don’t have to venture far to infuse a little adventure into the everyday. Consider the staycation, an eco-friendly and economical alternative. Check out festivals, concerts, state parks, or cultural events taking place in your area. Try that new restaurant you’ve been eyeing, or pick up a sport or activity you normally wouldn’t do. Approaching anything with a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm can create a sense of novelty. 

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Eat seasonally.

Europeans embrace seasonality by indulging in locally grown and seasonal produce. Many countries have specific regional dishes that celebrate the local harvest. In Italy, there’s a tradition of using ripe tomatoes and basil to make summer caprese salads. The French enjoy salads highlighting grilled leafy vegetables, herbs, and seafood. Other Mediterranean countries feature refreshing, fruit-based desserts. This summer, visit your nearby farmers market or U-Pick farm for locally sourced and fresh ingredients. Even better — enjoy your meals as the Europeans would, and plan a leisurely picnic. And don’t forget the summertime staples: Let ice cream, s’mores, and lemonade have their moment, too.

Get outdoors.

The Swedish concept of Lagom teaches people to appreciate the beauty of nature and to find harmony in the small moments that summer brings. This summer, seek solace in moments of meditation, stargazing, or curling up in a hammock beneath a tree. Organize patio gatherings with friends while enjoying good food and wine. Plan a camping adventure or morning beach walk to appreciate the beauty of sunsets. Just don’t forget the bug spray or SPF.

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Cultivate connection.

The Danish concept of Hygge, which describes an overall coziness, contentment, and well-being, can be achieved through togetherness. While summer often means packed social agendas with crowds and chaos, consider ways to create a more laid-back, nurturing ambience for company. This may mean sprucing up your patio decor to host a casual dinner potluck, chat around the backyard firepit, or play board games with friends. 

Summertime offers a chance to reset and reevaluate, creating space to trade in your normal pace of life for a more mindful, carefree, and inspired existence. By incorporating elements of the European lifestyle, you can more fully embrace the vibrant traditions and pleasures that the season brings.