Il dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing


The last few weeks of term turned my life upside down. I wasted time wishing myself into September, insistent that my arrival in Italy for my year abroad would precipitate an instantaneous change in my happiness and wellbeing. This, of course, was not true. However, in time, I found myself slowly opening up to life again, but this time a life in Italy and with it, a life of slow, intentional moments. I was integrating myself into the Italian phenomenon of la vita lenta.

A life of slow, intentional moments

TikTok has been rampant with videos dedicated to il dolce far niente, a lifestyle centred around cherishing the moment by indulging in the peace of doing nothing. Naturally, this does not always extend to reality: people work, people stress, and people do not have idealised lives. However, here in Italy, people take the time to enjoy it all. They sit in the stress of a day, take the best parts of work away with them, and they live, slowly and with intention. Italians have embraced a way of life focused on living for joy rather than pulling further away from it. They call it, la vita lenta.

Interestingly, your pizza doesn’t come sliced here – you slice it yourself. You take the time to savour a meal, whether surrounded or alone. You take the time to look after and nurture yourself in the way a younger you would have turned to a parental figure to do. Patience is rewarded and time is thereby cherished. Life is hectic, but there is beauty in slowing it down. A large facet of that beauty is found in intentional interaction with the world around you. Whether raising your glass to a graduated student walking through the piazza, sitting on a step touched by the warmth of others rather than the cooling of a setting sun or immersing yourself in the excitement of a wedding party across the water, joy is also found in the routine and the mundane.

Patience is rewarded and time is thereby cherished

The first moment of peace I had felt in months was standing in an archway in Lucca, surrounded by strangers.

Lucca, although surrounded by mountains and a medieval wall, is by no means ‘closed’. The small Tuscan city hums with history, but at its heart, the “City of 100 Churches” offers even more in the life it encases within its winding streets.

In that archway sat a cellist surrounded by a curve of 25 people. The faces around me expressed appreciation at his talent, but also at the part of fate in having brought them there. Perhaps unknowingly, the cellist sat within the walls of the old amphitheatre, the city’s historic place of gathering. Serendipitous and serene, I understood that for this short time I could stop, I could listen, and I could share in this blanket of peace.

I could stop, I could listen, and I could share in this blanket of peace

Italy as I am lucky enough to see it, is like looking into a snow globe. People are present, captured in small pockets of time, ignoring the stresses and worries outside that particular moment. I’ve seen people stand around a square for two hours with a sun closer to rising than setting, ignoring all but the joy of talking with friends. I’ve seen people dancing at midnight on an empty street. I’ve travelled to the beach to spend twenty minutes by the sea between lectures, purely because I can. I’ve embraced that life is not about being young and seizing life, it is about continuing to seize it with the same determination and joy a younger you would have. Deadlines, stress, and life naturally get in the way, but they should not stop you from living. La vita lenta is not a call to do nothing, but rather, to go slowly and to savour life in all its forms, particularly when surrounded by chaos. To live slowly is to live wholeheartedly.

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