11 French Secrets to Living an Irresistibly Confident Life
1. Joie de Vivre
The number one, most important thing about living joyously, is living more simply.
I’m not saying you should become a monk or never buy a beautiful new pair of heels again! Pas du tout! What I am saying is that in today’s modern, fast-paced society, it is so essential for us to take a step back and away from the busyness of it all. You know what I mean: 10 tabs open on your computer screen, checking your email and Facebook more than 5 times a day, buying a year’s worth of toilet paper at the big chain store, having to throw away moldy food in your refrigerator because you forgot it was in there, etc. The French don’t shop the way Americans do…you don’t see many stores such as Target or Walmart and everything is closed on Sunday (you better buy your milk on Saturday)! Grocery stores close at 9pm and bless you if you need a car mechanic during lunchtime. They shut it down. So you deal with it. If you don’t have milk, you make do without it. You don’t find racks filled with affordable dresses marked BOGO…there are a few but they aren’t a great selection. So the people save their money and buy a few, select quality items that last them for years.
Action: How could you pair down areas in your life? Let’s start with closets and drawers…really go through your clothes and throw out anything old, ragged or you just never wear. And if it is new and fits well but just looks horrible on you, get rid of it too. If it doesn’t add beauty or pleasure, it’s worth nothing. Go through your kitchen drawers, medicine cabinets, etc and repeat this process. Then translate it into other areas of your life. Where could you cut back on in terms of spending, time and energy?
2. The DaVinci Spirit
I know what you’re thinking here, DaVinci was Italian! Yes, he was, but he was courted throughout his life by French aristocratic patrons who so valued his philosophies, art and intellect that they threw parties for him, gave him chateaus and heaped gold at his feet. Take King Francois I, for example. During DaVinci’s last years, Francois invited the old artisan to stay with him, and gave him his own chateau called Clos du Luce in Amboise (my personal favorite castle in all of France). Francois had a secret tunnel from his castle to DaVinci’s chateau and he would visit the artist every single day. He was even with DaVinci when the latter passed away.
This is the King of France, mind you! If he could spend 1-2 hours every day reading, writing, painting and conversing with one of the highest thinkers in Europe at the time, I bet you could find 15-30 minutes a day at least (you may have to substitute the high thinker). Even today, a study in France came out with the fact that the French so highly regard cultivating their creative and intellectual sides that 1 out of every 2 people has a second profession as an artist of some sort.
Action Step: What is your favorite artistic medium? Is it writing, reading, drawing, painting, gardening, acting, singing or playing an instrument? Plan an afternoon to visit your local museum, theater, attend a concert, etc and then determine your plan of action to develop this “second profession.”
Attention! Do not belittle your talents! Who cares if you can’t draw a straight line, if your spelling is terrible or you wobble in your voice? If you end up selling your work and can pay the light bill, that’s great, but the more important thing here is that you are expressing yourself through your art. Allow art to help you unleash any bottled emotions you have within. Allow yourself to develop more fully as a well-balanced individual by dabbling in art (both your own and others’) a little every day. Cultivate friends who can speak the same artistic language to help you in this pursuit.
3. Detox the Botox
Along with living more simply, where could you get rid of all the “fake” things in your life? I’m talking: Faux Food, Faux Friends, and Faux Joy. Like inorganic chemicals, these faux-pas’ eat away at your body, mind and spirit.
Faux Food: Anything overly processed and/or has too many chemicals. These include fat-free and sugar-free, unhealthy fats and Monsanto-manufactured corn, etc.
Faux Friends: These are the “friends” on social media whom you’ve never met and don’t have a good connection with (I say this with a caveat because I’ve “met” wonderful online bosom-buddies that I’ve never seen face-to-face), the friends whose status’ always drive you nuts, the ones who are always competing, complaining or chatting about themselves and never ask about you.
Faux Joy: False joy is the joy you get when you go shopping when you’re angry or depressed, when you believe that a new tech gadget will reinvent your happiness, etc. When I bought my first iPhone, I was obsessed with it… I stayed up for hours at night for a few weeks downloading awesome apps and it felt like this cool little device was changing my life. But then familiarity set in. It was no longer new, so no longer as interesting. I wanted the next one that came out, then the next, and the next, even though each update wasn’t that drastically different. I love my iPhone, but I realize that it is “faux joy.”
Action: Pick one of the “faux-pas” and set a few goals to clean it out. You don’t need botox to look beautiful, and sometimes it actually does the opposite (hello, botched surgery)! So what’s your “botox” and is it really adding beauty, pleasure or bliss to your life?
4. Le Dessert? Mais Oui!
While the French do embark on their little regimes (diets) every once in a while, they are few and far between and almost always still include little pleasures such as chocolate, dessert, wine and cheese. In fact, I was reading a few of Dr Pierre Dukan’s books (of the Dukan Diet) that are available in Paris (where he’s from) but not yet published in the States, and he almost always includes one of these treats in his meal plans. So, the infamous question stands: How do the French indulge in real butter, sugar, fats and bread and yet stay slimmer than their international brethren?
The secret: They never deprive themselves!
Action: Think about it. When you deprive yourself of something you love, you end up craving it more, and 9 times out of 10, you end up binging. Or you just stress out and obsess over it. What kind of life is that? Listen, we all end up with the same kind of body, if you know what I mean. Why live your life punishing yourself? Now, if you want to indulge in a treat, do so! This is not to say you should binge. No! When you allow yourself a little treat every day, you don’t feel the need to binge.
Caveat: The French tend to move and walk more, since the towns are just made for walking. Parisians take the metro and bus everywhere (many don’t own cars) but just getting from one station to another involves a lot of walking. On the weekends, they are always active, from strolling the beautiful Gardens of Luxembourg to art galleries and swimming in the local village pool. So indulge in your pleasure, but make sure you are also indulging in a pleasurable form of activity.
5. Sashay! Shante!
We are a nation obsessed with working out…oftentimes to our detriment. I, for one, used to be so obsessed with working out and counting calories that I’d often do workouts that I really didn’t enjoy. Then I’d get into a rut where I’d workout a ton but never see any significant change in my body. My body shut down, it had enough. Choose an exercise that makes you blissful! One that speaks to your soul. Along with tip #6 below “Stop Competing,” stop believing that if you don’t do the exercise du jour, or the one all your skinny friends keep bragging about on Facebook, you won’t fit in. Believe me, darling, you won’t fit in if you are trying to do a workout you hate!
Action: If you prefer to walk, walk your little heart out (or rather, your tush off)! Make it pleasurable: take your dog and make him happy too, listen to that bestselling nonfiction novel on audiobook, or sway those hips to music that makes you dance to da beat! Experiment with different activities and find one that complements your spirit. If you’ve never done a group workout, you may just love it–give it a chance! And don’t forget, sex is a wonderful workout! So maybe you and your partner need to plan more workouts together…nudge, nudge, wink, wink
6. Unless it’s a Baguette Contest, Stop Competing
The French love their bread, and so does most of the world. So they’re always having baguette contests, such as which bakery produces the most fragrant or the crunchiest. They also have contests for cheeses, truffles, chocolates and wines.
But when it comes to interpersonal competitions, the French don’t indulge.
That isn’t to say they don’t compete in marathons, intellectional games, etc…but they don’t compete one-on-one for best car, best body, best house, etc. They tend to be (generally speaking) more comfortable with who they are and what they have.
The rest of us (also generally speaking) tend to look at our friends, neighbors and people we don’t even know, and compare ourselves to them. Social media makes this habit worse! Studies have shown that we see our friends’ pictures on Facebook, our primary reactions are jealousy, sadness and depression because their lives seem so much more glamorous (hint: people tend to brag a little more via social media, so they’re obviously NOT going to post unflattering shots!)
Action: When people post updates or tell you their great news, focus on your primary reaction. Are you comparing your own situation to theirs? The next time you start feeling competitive, calm your breath and feel happiness for them. Sometimes this is hard to do, but tell yourself that their good fortune has no reflection on yourself, and where you are today. It’s a funny thing, but when you focus on your own happiness rather than on what you don’t have, your happiness will start increasing in size.
7. Dim the Lights
Back in Tip #1 (Joie de Vivre), I mentioned that everything in France shuts down on Sunday, and usually around the lunch and after lunch hours as well. This is the time people take to enjoy their meal (they never eat and run) and then take a little nap afterwards (because a glass of wine or two does that to you). It’s not that they are lazy, the French just put a lot of emphasis on relaxation just as much as they do on work.
Did you know that most Europeans do not have tvs in the bedroom? The bedroom is considered a very sacred spot, one for sleep and good ol’ canoodling with your lover. They don’t bring their smartphones and tablets to bed either, it’s just not in their cultural makeup to do so. A good book, yes, some flowers, oui, but electronic devices that introduce a fluorescent unnatural light, never!
I’m sure you know very well that sleep affects all areas of your life. If you aren’t getting any or if what you are getting is insufficient or bad, your exercise, work, creativity and relationships suffer.
Action: How comfortable is your bedroom? Is your bed soft yet supportive? Are your sheets luxurious and comforting or are they raggedy and stained? How often do you clean your sheets? I invite you to invest in good, quality sheets (many are created to accommodate various body temperatures) and a new mattress. On the less expensive side, add a beautiful picture and fresh flowers (or fake if you’re allergic). Get rid of clutter, including unnecessary furniture. Burn some soothing lavender oil at night and play ambient sounds to help you fall asleep. If you have a TV, experiment without it for a while. Before bed, read a book or talk with your partner. See how that affects your sleep and love life.
8. Beach, Mountain, City, Your Home!
It’s a well known fact that when August rolls around, the only people in Paris are tourists. Parisians, along with most everyone else in France, are on vacation. Many city dwellers also have little trailers that they keep permanently rooted in the countryside that they go to every Friday afternoon for the weekend. Like I mentioned above, the French take their relaxation very seriously! They plan the next vacation as soon as one ends, and it doesn’t matter if it’s local or in another country–a vacation will happen!
Americans value their vacation time as well, but on another level. It’s almost like we dredge through the whole year in anticipation for 2 glorious weeks off. Sadly, I know many people who end up never even doing anything fun during their vacation time, nevertheless going someplace!
Here’s the thing: you don’t need to spend lots of money to enjoy time off! Vacations don’t just happen in St Tropez or Hawaii, they can happen in your own backyard.
Action: Do you plan fun things to do on the weekend or do you just trudge through them, doing all the chores that you didn’t get through during the week? Create an action plan to do a little chore every day during the week, and maybe part of Saturday morning, but then stop. Go the library and pick up a book you’d enjoy reading that has nothing to do with work. Go the movies or rent a bunch to watch at home. Make a date for the beach, local pool, hiking, etc. Most importantly: TURN OFF THE SOCIAL MEDIA, EMAIL, PHONE and INTERNET! I know these may sound trivial, but be honest here: when was the last time you scheduled a bit of time off for yourself?
9. Ma Folie!
“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.” Coco Chanel
How passionate are you about your work? Just as I advocate being passionate about taking time off, you must absolutely find a work that sings to your soul.
Here’s the thing: I get that most of us don’t have the luxury to just quit our jobs and join the Peace Corps or bake cakes all day long. We have families, rent, mortgages, college loans and dammit, the light bill needs to be paid. But I ask you: are you doing anything at all that you love to do, even if you aren’t getting paid for it? What if you did get paid for it–would that feel like winning the lottery?
Action: What do you love to do that you see a business or job opportunity for? If it’s a career, start polishing your resume! If it’s something you don’t have much experience with, now’s the time to schedule some volunteer time after work or the weekend. I know a girl who went to business school and started her accounting job, but fell in love with event planning. She quit her accounting job, became a low-paid intern at a local wedding planning firm, worked part-time in retail to pay off the rest of her bills, and today owns her own fabulous wedding planning events firm. She loves what she does and is thrilled she made the sacrifices to get where she is.
I called this little tip “Ma Folie!” because in France, instead of saying “he loves me, he loves me not”, romantics say, “he loves me a little, a lot, passionately, madly, not at all.” Ma folie stands for madly. How passionate or crazy are you about what you do half your life?
10. Quality, Above All
“Elegance, is refusal.” — Coco Chanel
I love Coco Chanel because she exuded refinement and elegance. Sometimes I take a look at my closet and I think to myself, did Chanel’s ever look like mine?
Okay, designer clothing aside, we can all have closets like Chanel and most French women. I mentioned in Tip #1 that France doesn’t have many big box stores where cute clothes are inexpensive. So they save up their euros to buy quality items, resulting in minimal clutter. When clothes get worn through, they are thrown out or given away, and a new item is purchased. Not a new item purchased every day (see Faux Joy).
This translates into other areas of life as well. The quality of food is essential in France, as is the quality of how they treat their farm animals (most farm animals used for meat are free-range, not just a select few). You can’t drive through the countryside without seeing flocks of sheep, geese, cows and chickens everywhere!
The French also strive for quality relationships. French women are notorious for appearing secretive and cool, but in fact, they just guard their innermost thoughts close to their heart. They don’t tell everyone how they are feeling (hello Facebook complaint status!) or become best friends with their coworkers. You must cultivate your friendship, and after a while, if it is genuine, you will have true, heart-to-heart talks.
Action: Along with getting rid of all the faux-pas in your life, counter that with adding quality to those areas.
11. La Vie En Rose
France is a country resplendently bedecked with the most beautiful colors. The South of France, in particular, is known for it’s lush lavender fields and popular Marseilles tablescloths (bright blue and yellow patterns). Around the Loire Valley, there are sunflower and cornfields aplenty and everyone, yes even the city dwellers, has their own patch of garden. The flower market in Paris is open everyday, and you’ll see people on the buses carrying their new rosebush or potted herb. And even though Parisians love to wear black, they always add a splash of color, from pink or red lipstick to magenta, coral or blue nails. The women wear beautiful camisoles of lilac, emerald or periwinkle and the men’s ties range from bright pink, orange or soft blues. Color in the home is also very important, with a few select pieces of bright furniture and paintings from local artists hanging on the wall.
Color adds flavor to everyday beauty. Different colors evoke different emotions and energies. Why live life in beige when you could be looking at rouge or violet?
Action: How could you add color to your home, appearance and office? Bring in some fresh flowers and place them in the center of your table (don’t forget to add a few stems in their own vase to your bedroom). You don’t need to spend lots of money! Find a few pillows and blankets in your favorite colors and add them to your bedroom and living room couch. Add some lavender body wash to your shower, and pick a lipstick and nailpolish in a color that makes you incredibly happy! For your office, add a bowl of fresh fruit (this serves as a triple bonus as you’ll also have healthy snacks AND they will make your office smell better).
Having grown up about 1/3 of my life in France (every 3 months every year until a few years ago), I was very fortunate to live and breathe another culture’s philosophy–especially one that regards beauty and pleasure as the most essential things in life. But I’m also, unequivocally, American. I live and breathe the American Spirit and the American Dream (for my international readers, these philosophies embrace freedom, independence, and getting anything you desire in your life as long as you work hard and honestly. Not saying that America owns these ideologies, as many other cultures embrace them too)! But, consequently with these philosophies, sometimes we Americans tend to work a bit…too much. We tend to stress out…a tad too much. And we are getting fatter…and more obsessed with our weight…which adds to the stress and the obsession with working out too much.
So, when I recently revisited France for a few weeks, it was almost like this mantle that I’d been holding tight around my shoulders fell off and I embraced my French side wholly. I ate with abandon, dived into art, strolled the beautiful gardens and laughed every day with good friends. After chatting with many friends in Paris, I discovered the 11 most important things we must include in our daily lives that will bring us more bliss and help us become more irresistible, to others and to ourselves.