There I was walking barefoot along the beautiful coast of Bolonia, enjoying an empty beach with views of Africa in the distance, and all I could think about was the fact that I hadn’t gone on my run for the day. When I expressed this regret to my Spanish boyfriend, he reminded me, once again, that the purpose of a vacation is not to be productive, and to be present is essential.
Coming from the non-stop even when you drop city of New York, moving to Spain was a shocking and drastic change. We run on adrenaline and (over)productivity in this city and in this country. Did you know that 41% of Americans don’t take their paid time off? Aside from not taking vacation, even when you look at something as simple as every day events, like scheduling dinner with a friend, it’s not something to be done the day of, but at least several days in advance. Is it any surprise that when I got to Spain and people strolled instead of hustled, I was at a loss?
But two years in, strolling along the beach while beating myself up for not going on my run, it finally clicked. I finally learned how the Spaniards do it and I took the lessons to heart. Here are some key points to slowing down.
Enjoy for the sake of enjoying
Productivity does not define happiness.
Though Spain’s economy is floundering, and it can take forever and a day to get certain things done, they’ve got something going for them in that they know how to enjoy for the sake of enjoying. Being over productive does not mean I am more likely to be happy. I can enjoy a healthy balance of completing tasks with enjoying my life and free time.
Don’t plan every minute of your life
Things happen as they happen. Even when Spaniards go out for walks they aren’t sure where they will end up. For them, life comes as it will. While this may sound somewhat passive, I think the lesson to be learned from this mindset is that it’s OK not to have every single aspect of your day/week/life planned out. The Spanish have an uncanny ability to be present that is hard to develop, let alone maintain, in the unending pace of the Big Apple.
Put that phone away
In New York even when friends are out together you see cell phones on the table, ready to grab as soon as it buzzes. However, in Spain, it rarely happens. Part of it has to do with data plans and the expense of phone calls, but it also speaks to the Spanish culture of being fully present. When they are speaking to you, their focus is on you. Perhaps this is why personal space is nonexistent in Spain – proximity helps them to concentrate! Seriously, though, the Spanish are sincerely interested in connecting with the people in front of them.
Tomar algo in the middle of the week
How does going out on a Tuesday night help you to slow down? Often, the hesitancy in going out in the middle of the week, even for just one drink, is that you will be too exhausted for work the following day. But what I’ve learned is that a balance between work and your personal life is crucial to slowing down, and that means not living for the weekends. When I meet a friend for a coffee in the middle of the week, I am reminding myself to not get caught up in the intensity of the work week and to enjoy myself outside of that environment.
Beyond their reputation for fiestas and siestas, I respect Spaniards and their ability to fully relish the present moment. And I’m proud to say that I have grown slightly more española, and am more than happy to sit down for a two hour dinner with a delicious bottle of rioja, with the only thing on my mind being the present moment.
Has living in Spain changed your perspective on anything?
Nina Lee is a Brooklyn native flying across the world as often as is possible. She wears her heart on her sleeve and carries her pen and passport in her ink-stained hand, sharing her travel stories and personal journeys in the hopes of inspiring and connecting to others. Currently based in New York City, she’s excited to be heading back to Spain indefinitely this coming summer. Find more of her travel stories at worldintowords.com.