The French Art of Living Well: 10 Tips from Cathy Yandell’s new book
Sunday August 13, 2023

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“For me, French culture is not necessarily the height of civilization (depending on how that is defined); nor does it represent ‘the best of all possible worlds’, as Candide ironically intones. But the infusion of other people into this already culturally rich society has made it richer, and better equipped to think differently. Whether it’s over coq au vin or couscous, to the backbeat of Bizet or African drums, through the eyes of an aging farmer from Auvergne or a young Parisian professional—the French are still inventing new ways of living well.” —Cathy Yandell, author of The French Art of Living Well: Finding Joie de Vivre in the Everyday World

When I began reading professor of French Renaissance literature and culture, as well as contemporary cultural and political issues in France and the French language Cathy Yandell’s new book released this past May, I immediately discovered a book that is far less common compared to the sea of French-inspired living books, and it is her different approach that kept me intrigued and most appreciative of all that she shared.

Sharing through her academic lens of experience, an American expat living and teaching in France, her first experience visiting France was traveling abroad as a young girl and being immediately engrossed and curious about this ‘new world’ she could not have imagined, but that immediately intrigued and ultimately inspired her to return and eventually live in France.

As we kick of TSLL’s 8th Annual French Week, I felt this book would be a lovely apéritif so to speak to give a taste of the French culture as we dive in throughly the next coming days.

The French Art of Living Well is part memoir as we read anecdotes of Yandell’s experiences in France that further her discoveries about the French culture, and part academic, literary and historical exploration of what makes France what it is today.

I have pulled ten tips from the book and expanded upon them below, but rest assured, there are many more, so I encourage you to pick up the book and dive right in. I do think you will enjoy.

1.Embrace the French phrase for which there is no English equivalent: Joie de Vivre

Translated into English to mean ‘joy of living’, the French phrase joie de vivre coined by the French in the 17th century is found alongside a few other French phrases involving joie (joy) – joye de papillon, defined as “momentary gladness”; fille de joye, defined in the French-English dictionary to mean pleasant sinner even though the literal translation is daughter of joy. Yandell goes on to teach readers that the phrase actually didn’t catch on to become a catchphrase until Émile Zola’s ironically titled novel La Joie de Vivre was published in 1883 (in other words, don’t read this book for an uplifting jolt of inspiration). However, at the core of this now well-known phrase whether one knows the French language or not, it is a reminder to savor moments of joy throughout our daily lives.

Something often written about here on TSLL and shared on The Simple Sophisticate podcast with the Petit Plaisirs, when we savor the beauty, savor what is going well, drink in all that captures and delights our eye, and thus our senses, the quality of our lives deepen, and that is how we embrace and welcome into our lives the phrase that is joie de vivre.


2. Let the meal be the message and let the message be ‘Enjoy!’

To lose track of time, to not need to look at the clock or our phones for the time being, whenever we sit down for a meal, especially one with others, but we must not forget to do so when we are our in own company as well, let the pleasure of the food, the drink, the company, the ambiance, the conversation be prioritized over time.

I so delight in a meal when I do not look at the clock and only upon heading home when I do glance at the time do I realize that time flew by due to the choice to just savor and be and engage.

Such a moment happened over a week ago at a new restaurant where we tried three different entrée items, chatted with the waitstaff and had a wonderful conversation with each other. Sipping cocktails and wine, before we knew it, we were one of the last two people in the restaurant and heading home three hours after having arrived. A divine time.


3. Embrace and engage with passion to create a priceless magic

Yandell shares a comment from one of the boulangers who won the Le Grand Prix de la Baguette, Mahmoud M’seddi. When asked what the key to a perfect baguette is, he said, “Passion . . . You could have exactly the same recipe, and if one person is more passionate than the other they’ll have a better result. Even if you’ve done exactly the same thing, it won’t be the same. It’s like magic.”

In other words, take pride and care in what you do. Your love will speak through the food, or whatever it is you are creating, upon its completion. Of course, it may take some time to become well versed in what you love, but once you do, it is that fuel, that passion, for what you are doing that will enable you to continue to learn, to improve and to stick with it until the gems you have to offer are just that, much like a treasure to be savored.

I often think about this when it comes to business. There are many brands that build their business hoping to one day be sold or purchased by another brand. But when a company stays true to its founding principles, continues to offer with integrity and quality what they began doing many years ago, competition may come and go, but it is the quality that remains and people return decade after decade, and over that long duration, when there is passion, there is a skill that is being utilized that cannot be purchased anywhere else due to the experienced gain through the energy created by doing what you are passionate about.


4. Prioritize knowledge and never cease to learn

Stimulating the mind, growing your knowledge of the world, cultures, languages, anything that you are most curious about, to choose to prioritize knowledge is to feed your curiosity and that will always be a savvy life decision. Keep reading, sign up for that class, go listen to that lecture, and instead of viewing learning as a chore, embrace the benefits of knowledge. Now you have the keys to have a lively conversation with people, to playfully banter, to debate critically and with sound reasoning, all the while seeing it as a conversation not a personal attack. “Knowledge is power” as Francis Bacon famously said, but it also elevates the enjoying of living.


5. Read and explore the essays of Montaigne

Yandell devotes a full section of her chapter titled ‘Sparking the Mind’ encouraging readers to explore the French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne who lived and wrote during the 16th century, during the time of the French Renaissance. In one essay he writes about focusing on one thing at a time, otherwise understood in our current culture to being more mindful of our daily living. Encouraging through his choice to savor time, to cling to it, “to find it both pleasant and valuable”, we are reminded that the present moment is all we have, and to appreciate it and see it and be wholly a part of it.

~purchase a book containing all of his essays here (English edition)


6. Walk amongst nature and let your troubles subside

Discussing Swiss writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings, a writer and philosopher who spent much time amongst nature along the border between Switzerland and France, Yandell reminds us that Rousseau discovered the joy of solitary walking. Writing “He feels ravissements and extases (raptures and ecstasies), a perfect and fulfilling contentment, as he drifts into reveries during his walks or while lying in a rocking boat or sitting on the banks of the lake watching waves.”

When we step into Mother Nature’s domain, we step away from the tugs and pulls and yanks of the bustle and busy in our modern world. This frees our mind, this deepens our breathing and thus deepens our appreciation and yep, our joy of living.


7. It is okay for something to just be beautiful and hold no proper function

Citing the example of Le Tour d’Eiffel, which now solely stands as a monument with no function (even though, admittedly, it was a radio tower for a time), Yandell goes on to remind that something beautiful can be just that, to bring enjoyment and that alone is its function, and that is more than enough.

When talking about this French truth to embrace, she writes about art, both paintings and sculpture, music, film and may other mediums that to gaze upon them objectively would be to note there is little if no function, but we would be mistaken. To gaze upon something of awe, of beauty, of a uniquely hand-crafted piece of art, the medium speaks to us, teaches us, reminds us, guides us – Art is powerful if we choose to let it be so.

So when is that new exhibit opening in your home town? Why not go check it out. 😌


8. Invest in your neighborhood

Speaking of village life in the book, Yandell writes about how “the village remains a fundamental element of French identity” even though they have experienced a steady decline in population since the early 1990s. Yet, “inhabitants of small towns in France also report increasing satisfaction with their quality of life”.

Belonging to a neighborhood, knowing your neighbors and living your lives next to each other, conversing and expressing compassion, supporting your local businesses, this is a French way of life in the villages that continue to thrive today. It’s not about going in and grabbing and going about your day. You stop, have a chat with the vendor, and as these conversations unfold over the years, you are seen, they are seen and this deepens the sense of community. The conversations may not be deep, but they acknowledge each other, extending appreciation, exchanging a thoughtful smile of joy to been seen and to see.


9. Teaching and practicing critical thinking as a way of life

At an early age, “French children are taught to defend themselves, even against parents.” Non, I am not talking about physically defending themselves, but in conversation, debate, banter, but in a civilized manner. In other words, to use the art of critical thinking. For example, “You like that movie? Why? I didn’t think it was very interesting? Why? [followed by specifics based on what was actually presented].”

In other cultures, there is a fear of disagreement. Part of the reason it is shied away from in the states is because we haven’t been taught how to be critical thinkers, and thus we talk and conversely engage from a personal standpoint. In other words, we don’t discuss from a place of open-minded curiosity, but also with no specific supports of evidence. Yes, we can have an opinion, but if you don’t know soundly why you have an opinion, you haven’t critically examined your thoughts (a practice of mindfulness), then is your opinion one to hold, especially if it is bringing you stress and strife?

France values nimble thinkers. This is beneficial not only in living well but in enjoying life as well, as to have a healthy debate can deepen our understanding as well as be “exhilarating”.


10. Savor the moment

I realize I am ending on an idea that is similar to the one I began with, but it bears repeated and further explored. The only way for us to savor anything is fully being present. “Being there” as Yandell writes is what “expands time”. And once we realize this paradox that is often disbelieved in the states (we tend to always hustle to get more done or gain more, etc., etc.) to be true – that it is by slowing down and being fully in the moment that gives us more, our lives deepen in their quality. However, the only way to know this French truth to be true is to experience it, to try it and change our ways from busy to being present, doing one thing at a time balanced with just being. In other words, we don’t have to be ‘doing’ all of the time. And in so being, we begin to savor far more and much more often.

May you welcome more Joie de Vivre into your everydays and may your everydays become a way of living that deepens your appreciation for living. Bonne journée. 😌

Explore all of the Posts Shared during TSLL’s 8th Annual French Week Here

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35 thoughts on “The French Art of Living Well: 10 Tips from Cathy Yandell’s new book

  1. Bonjour! I’m so excited about French week. Looking forward to all the posts. We are headed to Paris this fall.

  2. I couldn’t help but smile at the point, “it’s ok for something to just be beautiful.” I feel like our current world focuses so much on minimalism/utilitarian lifestyles that we miss this point in our everyday lives. Make your life beautiful my Francophile friends and then savor it…maybe with a delicious meal or glass of wine.

    1. I too found this point stopped me in my reading tracks as I began to ponder. This way of living, for me, is the essence of what “joie de vivre” embodies! I am intrigued to begin reading this work – thank you Shannon for sharing.:) Also, on a side note, there is just something about the photo of french breakfast radishes, dish of salt, torn piece of baguette, and bottle of rose that enchants me each time you share it on a post – a “je ne sais quoi” moment!

      1. Meg,

        Isn’t that true! French radishes transport me back to the markets of Provence and I smile each time spontaneously. So delicieux, so frais! ☺️ And the baguette, the sip of rosé, a bit of flaky sel. My mouth is now watering. ☺️

      2. Yep, Meg”je ne saus quoi” is the motto. We always serve radishes with good butter and never at b’fast. Although in the countryside it has been known that some farmers do take a drop of rosé or red or maybe even something stronger in the morning😀. Kameela

    2. I also loved that point! It’s often too easy to prioritize function and “purpose” over beauty, be it a thing or a moment. I know I get just as much satisfaction from looking at (or doing) something beautiful as I do from using or doing something useful. These items or times seem to have their own deeper sense of purpose, one we can’t always explain or put our finger on but critical to life, nonetheless.

      I also loved the Yandell quote “Being there expands time”. That perfectly sums up the benefit of savoring moments to their fullest. If we are able to do this we can actually “have” more time, more meaning in it.

      Thank you, Shannon, for bringing us this week of all things French (and everything throughout the year!) that gives us a chance to focus and realign our joie de vivre!

    3. I was thinking that too! I enjoy having things of beauty around me. I tell my husband, who would be a minimalist if it weren’t for me!, I need this…fill in the blank.. for my eye palette. Nothing too extravagant, a small picture or vase with a single flower. He secretly enjoys it as well. Excited about another French Week!

  3. French genes must be in my DNA because all of the ideas resonate within me. Thank you for introducing so many beautiful messages always.

  4. I loved reading this post.
    How many times we go go and forget to stop for just a moment to breath, slow down and simply BE…..
    I love this French week as much as the English week however, French week always reminds me to live life a little bit more and be present more often.
    Vivre comme si personne ne regardait!!! 💕

  5. I am listening to this book now on Audible, and you’re right, it’s not your typical book about the French lifestyle and mindset.

  6. Shannon, merci for your extrapolations on this book, and the comment above to listen to on Audible!
    As always, I am excited for your French week. Your selections and musings are always the best!

  7. I picked this book while browsing at a bookstore just yesterday—things French always catch my eye! Thank you for sharing some of the highlights!

  8. This book has been waiting patiently for my attention et voila! French Week is the perfect time to dive in! Yandell’s approach is refreshing and lively, with a depth and scholarship that is very approachable. Lovely post, thank you for your insights, Shannon, always much appreciated. And Montaigne’s book is in the cart.(It’s been a while since I visited the French Renaissance, but I remember how entranced I was when first introduced to all those brilliant words and thoughts–my own Enlightenment, as it were😊.)
    xbisesx

  9. Great post, Shannon. As I get older, I value more and more time to just “be” and not always needing to “do”. I also love the part about keeping your mind active and engaged in learning and pursuing things you are curious about. Can’t wait to read this book.

    1. I think you will enjoy it. The mingling of a memoir with regards to the detailed and lengthy anecdotes allows the reader to slip away to France if only for the time that they read, and this displays indeed how the French live as they do. Thank you for stopping by.

  10. Bonjour Shannon, what a great post to kick off French Week! I look forward to reading Yandell’s book and the essays of Montaigne. My husband and I were in France this Spring and I was taken by all the beauty. I have a deep admiration for their lifestyle and I am trying to incorporate what I saw and learned into my lifestyle here. I appreciate the effort you put in French Week and British Week and everything in between. Merci Beaucoups!

    1. Jamie,

      It sounds like you had a wonderful trip to Paris this spring. What a lovely time to visit. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and saying bonjour! as this year’s French Week begins. Thank you as well for your kind words. xo

  11. This is my first French Week, and I am looking forward to all that you offer us this week, Shannon. For the first time, I participated in your British Week earlier this year. I enjoyed it so much that I knew I would not miss French Week this year. One of your giveaways during British Week (the Haws watering can) inspired me to go to their website to learn about their company. Then, I was inspired to order one for my pilate’s teacher. She is British and, of course, loves to garden. She knew of the company, but had never had one of their watering cans. She is having her kitchen remodeled, and I thought she deserved a “kitchen remodel” gift. I couldn’t wait until the remodel was done; I had to give it to her early. I had so much fund shopping with Haws and giving her the watering can. Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Paula,

      Thank you for sharing this with me! I am delighted that a post about the Haws watering can inspired the idea for your gift for your pilates teacher. 😌 I do hope you enjoy your inaugural French Week! I genuinely enjoy bringing it all together and sharing it with you all and hope you find something throughout the week that feeds your Francophile predilection. 🙂

  12. Thank you for the review! I had not previously heard of this book, but now I’m looking forward to picking it up. The different approaches sound uncoventional and I’m curious to read more: particularly reading lessons learned from Montaigne and critical thinking. I know I can definitely use this perspective. Looking forward to the rest of the week!

  13. Thank you, dear beautiful Shannon, for the inspiration. The list rang true for the life I am creating, and I believe all are finding a way into my life in some form or fashion. Expanding time by living in the moment, brought a smile and an ah ha! as it came together. A reminder to create beautiful foods to share with my husband that will bring him joy. The philosophers are a bonus. My love of nature would have me living outside, but I haven’t quite figured out how to turn the air conditioning on in my gardens in August. 😊I look forward to this week, it is a needed respite for this time in my life. Ordering book in a jiff!

    Side note: I found lessons on YouTube for learning French in short sentences…. we’ll see.

  14. Love these lessons, many of which we have already been taught by you! Some are harder to implement than others; for instance, “Investing in the neighborhood” seems our way of life doesn’t allow some of us time for this as we are working too hard just to make ends meet. I do love the idea though💕

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this article. I have purchased them book on audible.l The 10 lessons, your in-depth view of incorporating those, and the benefits to people’s everyday lives was very inspirational. Thank you!

  16. I am interested in learning how to think more critically as I am frustrated with opinions, and news reports, being based on emotion rather than logical, well thought out positions. I know you taught this topic and think it would be a wonderful post. Any good books on critical thinking that you would recommend?

    1. Barbara,

      Great Question! This is part of the reason I am including a lesson in my larger course about Contentment about Critically Thinking and what it entails, and how to do it – so many of us just haven’t been taught this amazingly powerful skill that is life changing for the better no matter what one’s course of study or walk of life. But until that course becomes available (look for it here on the blog in 2024), here are a few books to begin with – some are more specific and others more general. Thank you for asking:

      -The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh
      -And this was our primary textbook – The Language of Composition (3rd or 4th edition) – it breaks it all down and is a wealth of a resource – https://amzn.to/47AxbkA
      “Everything’s An Argument” (9th edition) -https://amzn.to/3OW4siV
      “The Aims of Argument” (8th editions) – https://amzn.to/3OW0aan

  17. You’re right Shannon there are many books on this subject, but if one is truly interested in French culture, then a book from an academic ‘s experience is an alternative to much better appreciation and enjoyment of this great lifestyle. Everyday we take time for le petit plaisir enjoyed with intention.We do love a good debate around the dinner table and things can get a bit loud but no one ever gets angry. I love it. Kameela😊

  18. Shannon, this book has been on my to read list since you first recommended it. Having read your post with a taster of the content, it has only made me realise I need to purchase this book ASAP.
    “ Encouraging through his choice to savor time, to cling to it, “to find it both pleasant and valuable”, we are reminded that the present moment is all we have, and to appreciate it and see it and be wholly a part of it.”
    This concept of being present, doing one thing at a time, and slowing down, is something I work on daily. It’s an ongoing practice, but one I’m always keen to read and learn more about.
    Sarah

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