The French expression “joie de vivre” has become part of our vocabulary, but while we frequently invoke the concept, its true meaning is often overlooked. Its direct translation is “joy in life” or “zest for life.” Translated into practical terms, it means that adding a little extra effort can make even everyday activities or moments a bit more special, thereby bringing that much more joy to our lives and to the lives of others.
Nobody teaches this better than the French. As a young student living with a French family in the Loire Valley, I gained an appreciation for this joie de vivre, as they daily expended that little bit of extra effort that so bettered the quality of our daily lives. I remember that my French mother and father, Jacques and Mimi, both of whom were “en retraite” (retired), would prepare their cafe au lait on a silver tray, with croissants, butter and jam, and the daily newspaper, and return to their bed to begin the day with a few moments of calm and reflection — and since they were French, who knows what else? Not all of us have this luxury of lazy mornings, but every once in a while, why not? Although I was rushing off to class without the time to linger over my own cafe au lait, that memory has stayed with me after all those years. There is something so sweet about this quiet, shared start to each new day.
Another memory was a picnic my family took during a visit to Normandy. My French mother (seemingly effortlessly) spent some time in the kitchen the morning of our departure and off we went in the car. Upon our arrival and after finding the perfect spot for dejeuner, Madame proceeded to pull out her linen tablecloth and napkins, silverware, and china. And then came delicious salads, bread, fromage, wine (of course!) and fruit tarts. No peanut butter sandwiches and chips for this crowd! And how much more pleasant it was to eat delicious food prepared at home on real plates with lovely linen napkins. With a bit more effort, a simple, family outing became a memorable and most enjoyable event–one that I will not forget. I see this same refusal to accept lower standards when I visit the Paris markets. When it is time for the mid-day meal, the merchants and their families bring out table linens, silverware, beautiful multi-course meals accompanied by wine, and thoroughly enjoy themselves. Entirely the opposite of an American lunch hour!
We can all find ways to have a bit more joie de vivre. My daughter and I like to make cranberry spritzers (cranberry juice and seltzer water). I suggested that we make them a bit more festive, by serving them in a pretty wine glass with a sprig of fresh mint. And voila! A simple weeknight drink becomes that much more elegant and enjoyable.
And it is simply unquestionable that a cup of tea tastes so much better in a porcelain cup. Why save our good things for special occasions? Make a daily cup of tea a special occasion! I love to collect vintage porcelain cups, so I have a lot to choose from. But all it takes is one pretty cup (or two, as it is nicer to share these moments with someone) to have your own version of “high tea.”
We all have such busy lives, and often dinner is on the go or is a take out Chinese or pizza night. Well, how about serving the Chinese takeout on your pretty china with cloth napkins.? For some reason it just tastes better that way and it is much more enjoyable.
Finally, we are all attached to our phones, computers, iPads, etc., and it is probably the last thing we look at before bed and the first thing we look at in the morning. One ritual I have developed for myself is to try to take a few minutes (usually over a cup of coffee) and just reflect on the day to come. (I haven’t yet gotten to the point of using a silver tray with a croissant and butter, but I am working on it!) Once we look at emails, Facebook, Instagram, it’s off to the races. I think we owe it to ourselves to have a moment of peace without the digital clutter. Easier said than done, but worth a try!