There’s something wonderful about the Spanish custom of siestas. And it’s not just the massive meal and nap in the middle of the workday, it’s much more. I see it as a way to slow down, catch a breath and reprioritize. I can’t think of anything that contrasts more with life in the United States than a three- to four-hour lunch break in the middle of the day. Most American workers are lucky to get an hour, and if they’re executives, maybe they can even leave their desk.

The Spanish have different values. I’ve learned that taking time for yourself is far more important than we believe it to be back home. It’s selfish in a way, but not the selfish we think of when we see a toddler refuse to share his toy. It’s a different kind of selfish; one I can’t help but think is healthier for a society.

Siestas are not the only thing that belie the relaxed lifestyle here in Spain. The sidewalks and even some streets are crowded with people sitting at tables, talking and simply enjoying life. The street I live on is lined with cafés and bars that are open from 7 a.m. to well after midnight. Valencians have no problem spending two hours at the dinner table and letting the world go by, enjoying the moment, accenting it with tapas and fine wine.

I refer to this lifestyle as relaxed and laid-back, but in no way do I say that with a negative connotation. If anything, it’s out of a sense of wonder. How can this attitude contrast so sharply with that of the United States yet come from a society that on the whole is no less developed or advanced than we are? In fact, in some ways they’re leaps and bounds ahead of us; their buses run on time, they have four  different recycling containers on every street corner, and their infrastructure is better maintained and cleaned than any city’s in the U.S.

While comparing countries and cultures too closely worries me, it helps drive my point home. Although  Spain’s economy is struggling, I don’t think it is because of siestas and long dinners. In fact, I think it’s those very things that keep the Spanish population sane and motivated.