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Defining Happiness through a Panino

Defining Happiness through a Panino

Venturing into the city center on a random Tuesday afternoon for pranzo (lunch in Italian) is a rarity in the typical university education system. However, for an Italian project, my professor asked us to go to one of her favorite restaurants around the city and order in Italian.

My group, consisting of three people total, chose Panino Romanesco as our destination, a quaint little paninoteca near Piazza Navona in Rome. The owner, Simona, is a good friend of my Italian teacher, and she welcomed us with a huge smile and hug as soon as we told her “Siamo studenti di Daniela!” (We are Daniela’s students” in Italian).

Simona homemakes every item in her café, from the bread to the delicious pollo (chicken). Simona happily serves all her customers, most of whom are very Italian and regular customers. Aside from the life-changing panino of grilled chicken and peppers I ate on this beautiful, 65 degree Tuesday afternoon in February, Simona and Panino Romanesco has been on my mind ever since.

The happiness and passion that Simona exudes when a new customer walks into her shop is heartwarming – each customer is welcome, appreciated, and special. Although numerous cultural differences during my time in Italy have allowed me to reflect on how I live my day-to-day life back in the United States, Simona made me reconsider the idea of “happiness” that Americans seem to hold on such a high pedestal.

The difference, however, is that so often we Americans have a dangerous form of myopia – we believe that the only way to achieve happiness or self-worth is through material goods, whether it be the latest iPhone model or the new Lilly Pulitzer dress that rings up to well-over $200. We constantly are wanting, which, arguably, is the basis of why so many Americans are unhappy. We dwell on comparison and our shortcomings, but not on the basis of character or moral goodness, but on materialism and the fatal idealism of the American Dream.

Meanwhile, in Rome, a woman brings light to so many others simply by serving homemade sandwiches every day. Her happiness comes from the ability to nurture customers’ hunger, and, more importantly, ability to bring joy to others through this special talent she possesses.

Perhaps we should all try to be more like Simona, and remember that the important things in life are right in front of us. The best things in life are not things. Cliché? Perhaps. However, I am grateful for this kind Italian woman’s kind soul that allowed me to learn something about myself and the way I live my life.

For those that happen to find themselves wandering around Rome, Panino Romanesco is located at Via di Parione 34.

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