The first time I traveled to France, I was a student. The trip opened my eyes to a refreshing perspective on life.
But it wasn’t until I moved to Paris from New York in 2011 that I noticed the driving force behind the way the French live. This is called la joie de vivre, and it means “joie de vivre”. Parisians find joy in what they eat, where they go, the conversations they have and how they spend their time.
As a Nigerian raised in Austin, Texas, I always believed that the best things in life were for the ultra-rich. But anyone can access joy.
Here is what the French do differently from Americans to cultivate joie de vivre:
1. They find pleasure in simply being.
Unknowingly, my first visit to Paris, a single day of aimless wandering by myself, allowed me to practice the fine French art of flnerie (“walking around”).
The work culture in France helps me find free time. French workers benefit from five weeks of paid leave, in addition to 11 public holidays. In 2017, a law allowing employees to disconnect from work emails outside of working hours came into force.
Make your own “right to disconnect” by turning off your devices when you’re not at work. Explore your city or sit in a park or cafe and just be. Plan your break in advance so you have something to look forward to.
2. They bond through food.
In France, where you buy your food matters as much as the food itself. I love asking the local cheese maker for recommendations. He will help me choose from a variety of cheeses, letting me taste a few.
If we approach food shopping as a social activity, we will not only build our sense of community and mental well-being, but we will also learn how to create healthy and delicious meals from the people we meet.
I can visit several stores and markets in one day to buy food for my family.
Photograph copyright 2023 by Jessica Antola.
Don’t let the need for efficiency rob you of connection or the ability to learn more about the food you eat. Visit a local farmer’s market and support your town’s specialty stores. Meet your connoisseurs.
3. They bring people together.
The importance of picking was instilled in me very early on as a Nigerian. Still, I grew up eating in front of the TV more times than I can remember.
But the French meet regularly and often dine with family and friends around the table. Weekend meals are notoriously long. In 2010, UNESCO recognized the French meal as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
Invite the people you love to your home. Sit down with them. Let yourself be lulled by the clink of glasses and plates. You will truly feel like you are living the good life.
4. They celebrate and protect the arts.
France has an artist status known as the intermittent du spectacle, which protects the tastes of musicians, moviegoers, writers, painters and others.
These professionals work a certain number of hours per year, and the government pays them a salary for the rest, so they have time to create.
Parisians get together with each other regularly, and happy hours and meals extend well into the night.
Photograph copyright 2023 by Jessica Antola.
The search for beauty is also encouraged by other designations “Most Charming Village”, “Most Remarkable Garden” celebrating everything from architecture to green spaces.
So if you want to find joy like the French, engaging in the arts is a good place to start. Research indicates that engaging in cultural activities (visiting a museum, attending a music concert, going to the theater) has profound effects on your health and happiness.
5. They feel good about themselves.
I moved to Paris with green contact lenses and a $700 weave. Until then, I had coveted Naomi Campbell’s long, lean body.
Fast forward to living among the French, and I shaved my head, replaced my obsession with designer dress with a passion for antique plates, and changed my mind about going under the knife to alter my nose.
Fortunately I am a work in progress. I gradually adopted a new attitude of personal care inspired by French culture, in which style, beauty and general mental well-being are derived from pleasure, preservation and feeling good in my skin (“bien dans his skin”) .
6. They don’t use the term “guilty pleasure”.
Pleasure (“pleasure”) is a word I hear or use every day.
The French follow an unspoken pleasure principle that we can all benefit from learning: if they don’t like something, they won’t do it.
And if something brings them pleasure, they certainly won’t feel guilty for doing it.
You don’t need to compartmentalize your pleasure to certain times or times. To embrace that French mindset, don’t be so extreme or hard on yourself. Embrace joy wherever you find it.
Ajiri Aki is the author of “Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life” and co-author of the New York Times bestseller “Where’s Karl?: A Fashion-Forward Parody.” She has worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York. After moving to Paris, Ajiri launched her lifestyle brand, Madame de la Maison. She lives in Paris with her husband and two children. Follow her on Instagram @ajiriaki.
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*This is an adapted excerpt from “Joy”, by Ajiri Aki, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House. Copyright 2023 by Ajiri Aki.
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