My wife and I just returned from an amazing adventure in the Alps. In all, we spent two weeks in five countries: France, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, and Germany (new videos on the way, so stay tuned for them).
We’ve been very fortunate. Give or take a few, Michelle and I have seen roughly two dozen countries now. We learn a lot while abroad, but often it’s not until we get home that the real lessons become clear.
The Beauty of, "Just Right"
There’s one overall concept that comes home with me every time we travel to Europe: The Swedish word, Lagom. Its meaning roughly translates to “just the right amount,” or, “just enough.”
We don't have an equivalent to Lagom in the English language, but I'll try to articulate the idea for you, and how it relates to drinking wine.
Reality (and Indigestion) Hits
I was at an outdoor café in Paris. I had three glasses of wine, an appetizer of Escargot and Steak Frites. I was stuffed, more than a little tired and maybe even cranky. Across from us sat a French couple, nursing a salad and a glass of wine for three hours. They were light, lively and engaged. That was the first time it occurred to me that maybe less was better.
Weeks later, back at home, I found myself balled up on the couch, in pain. I had just polished off a rack of BBQ ribs, some baked beans, pulled pork, half of an herb-crusted chicken and a piece of corn bread.
Why was I back in this place again? With memories of Paris still fresh in my mind, I conceded that maybe it was a cultural thing. The more I looked around me the more I realized that we Americans, by and (very) large, tend to overdo things. We don't know how to quit while we're ahead.
I decided to try to be more aware of my habits. My happiness (and my waistline) depended on it.
Somewhere in between Not Enough and Too Much is an elusive sweet spot. When you're in that zone, you'll know it because you'll be engaged, gratified and satisfied. It takes time, but with practice everyone can learn to recognize what Just Right looks and feels like.
Paying Attention: Getting More from Less
I think of Lagom every time I’m served a cup of coffee in a European café. It’s a great metaphor for understanding how to really make a little bit go a long way.
A tasse de café is slightly larger than a thimble (I’m not kidding) but it's packed with flavor. Nutty, thick and rich: It's some of the best coffee you'll ever taste. Most cafés grind their beans fresh and serve it black. Here, drinking coffee is all about the purity of the beans and the roast, so flavorings (and even cream) are not common. You may get a mini cookie and a tiny square of bitter chocolate to nosh on. I've seen people in Italy read a whole newspaper while nursing one of these. Such poise and self-control.
Admit it, we'd swallow that little cup in one gulp. We're used to 16-32 ounces of scalding Arabica served in a carafe, procured from a place that sells gasoline. Quality and flavor aren't so important; most of us just want the caffeine. Those 'Coffee Beverages,' we adore are really just dessert in a cup: Cheap beans masked with flavoring, whipped cream and sugar (I'm looking at you, Pumpkin Spice Latte).
Our cultural values become clear when we look at things side by side like this. You see the difference between simplicity and overkill. We could compare our food, entertainment, fashion, etc. and see similar trends.
Pacing Yourself: Knowing When to Quit
How many times have you found yourself at the office until 8PM? 10PM? All right, how about midnight? Did you eat your lunch while working at your desk? I've done all of the above.
Sadly, this is a picture many of us know all too well and it's become a norm. We productive Westerners do 50+ hour work marathons and then melt into the sofa like a pile of mush. In good ol' Corporate America, our personal time is less of a human right and more like a recovery period. This might be why so many of us are burned out, unproductive and uninspired with our work.
Not so, in many parts of Europe. Midi (midday) or Siesta is the daily lunch break that many towns still observe. During Midi everything shuts down for two to three hours, people go home and visit family, rest and eat lunch. The supermarkets and municipal buildings close. They even drink wine (Mon Dieu)! It's sacred personal time, a great source of happiness in people's lives and they embrace it. It leads to satisfaction and productivity, both at the office and at home.
Getting More out of Every Glass
There is a point of diminishing returns, whether it's with coffee, work, or life. Overdo anything and it loses its joy. I’m a true believer that you appreciate things more when they’re available in limited supply, just like life.
When I teach people to appreciate wine, it’s my way of saying, “Slow down. Be in the moment.” Practice mindfulness, develop a sense of appreciation for the little things: That notion has been the backbone of Wine Living. Here's how to apply it to drinking wine:
Finding the Sweet Spot with Wine
- Pour yourself a few ounces of wine and commit to make it last for a while.
- Hold the glass up to the sun/light. Admire the color, legs on the side of the glass, etc.
- Take deep whiffs; revel in the way it brings back memories and makes your imagination run wild.
- Sip slowly, taste thoughtfully. Let it roll around in your mouth, swallow, then let the flavors dance.
- Close your eyes and see where your senses go from there.
- Let the finish linger and then diminish like a sunset on the horizon (dramatic, yes).
- If you're eating food with the wine, take a bite and see how the same process intensifies or changes.
Thanks to two unknown Parisians, this American learned a Swedish word that changed his life. Using all of your senses to get more out of every moment is an art, and adopting this approach can really show you what precious and amazing gifts we already have in our cup.
In what ways are you trying to slow down and take more away from your life? I'd love to hear about it.