La Dolce Vita: A Defense of the Sweet Life

With productivity not as its main focus, life in Italy has many health and political benefits. Courtesy of Flickr

With productivity not as its main focus, life in Italy has many health and political benefits. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Pasquale Gianni 

Award winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, in his newly released project, Where to Invade Next, investigated social standards in other advanced industrialized nations to see how we can emulate them to build a better society in the United States.

Other than the obvious Scandinavian countries, Moore travels to Italy to see just what it is about “La Dolce Vita” that leaves Italians in constant good spirits.

As opposed to Americans, who champion their country as the greatest in the world because “it just is,” Italians actually have facts to back up their claims. A number of daily habits, customs and institutions are contributing factors to the country’s high standard of living.

Bear in mind that despite its problems, Italy has the world’s eighth largest economy, which is also third largest in the Eurozone. It can and should be considered a ‘rich’ country.

According to the latest World Health Organization Statistics, life expectancy in Italy is 80.3 years for males and 85.2 years for females, and total life expectancy is 82.9 years, which lists Italy as fourth in World Life Expectancy ranking. Italians are also very healthy. “Viva l’Italia e gli Italiani,” which means “long live Italy and the Italians,” is true now more than ever.

Additionally, Italy beats the United States in virtually every major health category, including life expectancy and infant mortality. It has, along with every other civilized nation except the United States, a system of universal health care coverage that invariably improves living standards across the board.

Not only is basic access to superb Italian doctors affordable to all, but cost control and subsidy measures are in place for extras including necessary medications, prescriptions and surgeries. So, in short, Italians will not go broke if they fall sick and will not carry a heavy financial burden in order to stay healthy.

Differences in Italian and American health care systems are obvious but they come from decisions usually made by politicians. Italian values and American values have similarities on an individual level.

In the end, Italians want to enjoy life to the fullest, a desire American culture seems to devalue at the expense of productivity.

The average workweek for Italians is slightly shorter, and they have far more vacation time, as well as mandated employer-paid family and maternity leave.
Some philosophize that leisure is the basis of advancement, innovation and arguably happiness. It also can lead to less stress and a lower risk of heart attack and heart disease, among other ailments.

Furthermore, the Italian “pissolino” or “siesta” as they call it in Spain (a short, mid-afternoon nap) has proven to have short and long-term health benefits for its devotees.

In short, Italians have an increased alertness and productivity, which leads to a reduction in the number of mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. In the long-term, it can help combat memory loss, prevent caffeine dependency and foster creativity, although this is less conclusive.

Undeniably, Italians have a tremendous passion for wine-ing and dining well. “Life is too short for average meals,” they say. Studies have proven the wonders of a Mediterranean diet’s for one’s health and longevity. This includes, but is not limited to, lower risk of stroke, developing certain types of cancers, heart disease, type two diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

GMO’s in Italy? They do not exist. Fast food? It is few and far between. Fast food resturants are very often concentrated in tourist areas because Italians, on the whole, view the concept as contrary to what dining is supposed to be all about: the time of day when you unwind with good company or loved ones, and celebrate life and the fruit of your labors. Food is a religion in these parts, and it is for the better.

Am I saying Americans ought to abandon all of our customs and traditions and turn into Italy? Of course not. But we stand a lot to gain from incorporating what they seem to have gotten right as a necessary complement to what makes America an exceptional nation.
Just as we have greatly benefited from the Italians through their pioneering architecture, design, cooking, fashion, romance and sport, it has come time to follow suit in bringing a little more “dolce” to the American apple pie.


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