Have the French found the recipe for happiness?

According to a survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the French spend more time eating, sleeping and shopping than any other country. I have lived in France for eight years now and I would say that yes, it’s all true – but how do they do it, how do they find all this extra time in their lives when the rest of us seem to struggle to find time to grab a sandwich or even get enough sleep?

Apparently the French sleep an average of 8.5 hours (yes average!) It makes France the longest sleepers out of all 34 of the OECD’s members. Does this mean that the French have less to fit into their days or are they just more relaxed about what does and doesn’t get done? Do they have less to worry about – or maybe they expect the state to do their worrying for them – and thus sleep easy at night (or in the afternoon!)

The French also spend the most time eating and drinking at more than two hours per day on average which is nearly twice as long as the Americans and Canadians. Looking at obesity rates though, clearly time spent consuming doesn’t necessarily mean more consumed. Of course it is this emphasis on long, lazy lunches that brought many of us here in the first place but it is very noticeable that the French do not eat or drink excessively – a meal is probably less dense than in the UK but each element makes up a separate course to be lingered over, enjoyed and never rushed. Nor do the French tend to snack in my experience. So more food and wine isn’t crossing the lips of the French – it just feels as if it is.

It turns out that the French are big shoppers too – or perhaps just slow shoppers. According to the report, the French spend 32 minutes each day shopping. However, I would guess that we are primarily talking about shopping for food here. Most of the French people I know shop for fresh ingredients every day and have no problem taking their time about it – it is all part of that pleasure of appreciating their food.

Unsurprisingly therefore, the report also shows that French people have the second-highest life expectancy in the OECD, presumably thanks to the high amount of time spent enjoying themselves. Add that to the 28% of GDP that the French state spends on healthcare and social welfare, the highest spending of any OECD country and it all starts to make perfect sense.

The rest of us can only look on enviously – or make that move to France and hope that some of the magic dust rubs off. Vive la France!

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