Portugal: On Being Deliberate


I recently read this essay, and in it the author, Jess Whittlestone, highlights how being present vs. planning for the future, or being mentally elsewhere, effects your productivity and subsequently, your happiness. Along with the rest of the internet, Jess Whittlestone kindly suggests that you're doing it wrongbut she does make an excellent suggestion: the balance is in being deliberate. With your time, your energy, your money, your thoughts. She asserts that in doing this, you can spend your tangible and intangible resources wisely, and transitively, increase your short and longterm rewards.


adjective - dəˈlib(ə)rət/ 1. done consciously and intentionally.

synonyms: intentional, calculated, conscious, intended, planned, studied, knowing, willful,purposeful, purposive, premeditated, preplanned;

I constantly fight the battle between being in the moment, being truly present and enjoying myself and the people and world around me, and planning and improving myself and my life for tomorrow, for the future. And even focusing too much on what has already happened. This has never been more apparent to me than in my recent experience with Portuguese culture, where I saw evidence that living deliberately could seriously benefit my life.

Last month, I spent a week driving all over the gorgeous country, spending time in old, but vibrant cities, visiting castles and palaces, and enjoying the gorgeous views and incredible wines of the Douro. At the same time, I ebbed and flowed between being tense and anxious about plans for where to go, where to park, when to hit the ATM, what to wear, and what to eat, what to take pictures of - all while trying to enjoy myself.

Throughout all this, I observed the life of those around me. I made mental notes of all the things I felt were just a bit different from my normal life in New York. Something stuck out, but at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Eventually I realized that there's simply a palpable genuineness that comes with the way the Portuguese live and it promotes a culture of deliberateness.

Let me explain. Being conscious of how you spend your time, what you put in your body, what you purchase, who you speak with and spend time with, how you choose your words - this deliberateness appeared in every facet of life that I could observe in Portugal. Now, it's easy to romanticize other cultures when you travel, but it was so obvious to me that it must be at least partially true.

I've heard something similar to this vaguely attributed to basically everyone but the US: other cultures seem to truly value quality and time, and quality time. This is present in their produce and cooking, in their homes, with friends, with family, and with their espressos. To-go cups seem to be unheard of, as are 60hr work weeks. But these are not the only differences. Conscious choices are made in everything, everywhere. 

I found that even when speaking with a bartender about the neighborhood or a waiter about the specials of the evening, they were purposeful in their descriptions. They finished their sentences and didn't trail on with "like" and "um" and "ya know" even when English wasn't easy for them.

The Portuguese hotels and apartments we stayed in were carefully decorated, with each piece of art or furniture either having a beautiful and intriguing or functional purpose. There wasn't 24hr service at the hotel, because after all, these people need to get home to their families. There were bidets, which, when you think about it, is a deliberate act to clean yourself rather than just wiping with some paper, washing your hands for a few seconds and dashing out the door.  But, the toilet paper wasn't on a roll. No, it was in individual sheets, which made you conscious of exactly how many you use as you pull each one of them out. 

Servers seemed to care about what you ordered, and genuinely wanted you to have a good experience. Tipping isn't expected, and yet they treated you as a true guest, not just a paying customer. The food we enjoyed was thoughtfully paired and perfectly seasoned. It is not a given that you receive water and bread at your table. No, you must order and pay for glass-bottled water, bread, and olives at every meal. To an American, this might seem ridiculous. However, it's not unaffordable and it does force you to be more mindful of food waste and of what you're really consuming.

No waste, but no lack of attention, interest, or quality. Anywhere.

It seems as if everyone I encountered never saw speaking with others or informing a tourist of something as a waste of time. This sometimes created "slow" or inefficient service, which is painful only for an American waiting in line to pay for her ticket or to ask for her check, really.

But who cares if it's slower?

At first this confused me a bit. If you are truly being deliberate with your time, then why waste it chatting with strangers when you could be more productive and clear tables quicker or sell more tickets or get home to your dog faster. I realized that just isn't the priority. It may be partially due to restaurant servers not being very dependent on tips, for example, and rather, are paid livable pages. Their priority is to do their jobs well and make their guests comfortable, well-fed, and happy. 

Priority is the operative word. If your priorities are family, friends, your pets, your health, and you are deliberate in taking care of these things, then it seems the rest can fall into place. Having priorities of this kind leads to inherent long-term benefits in the end, so focusing in each moment on those priorities seems to take care of your future planning anyway. Laura Vanderkam agrees. In her Ted Talk, she says that time is elastic when it comes to what is most important to us. (Have a listen – it’s worth it.)

Being in Portugal (and admittedly, just being on vacation) provided a comforting and centering atmosphere in which I recognized I needed to slow down, adjust my priorities, and live deliberately. So, I’m going to challenge myself to be more conscious about my time, my money, my thoughts. And I’m interested in what you think, too! Comment below!