What is Slow Living?

Photo of Linnea Harris

Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Originally published on EcoWatch.

It’s about just that: slowing down. Burnout from our culture’s perpetually fast pace is impacting our mental health, physical health, our environment, and our communities. The slow living movement is about bucking the expectations of hustle culture; instead of doing as much as possible as fast as possible, it’s about doing things more deliberately, and prioritizing what gives your life value.

Life is what’s happening right here, right now – and only by slowing down can you live it to the full,

says Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow and several other books about the Slow Movement. “If you are always rushing, you only skim the surface of things.” To slow down is to live life intentionally and experience each moment more fully.

How did the movement start?

The concept of slow living has roots in the Italian slow food movement of the 1980s and 1990s, spearheaded by journalist Carlo Petrini, who organized protests when the first McDonald’s in Italy was slated to open in Rome right by the iconic Spanish Steps. Petrini and his followers wanted to retain the traditions around preparing and enjoying food, emphasizing pleasure and community and rejecting the culture of haste inherent to fast food: hamburgers eaten while walking down the street, rather than enjoying a meal over several hours while talking with family and friends. Slow living adopts these concepts in all facets of life, not just food.

The origins of the movement are also seen in traditional Indian culture. “Dhairya (patience) and santosh (satisfaction) have been two vital elements of Indian teachings and these are the major underlying elements of slow living,” said Kumar Vishwas, writer and motivational speaker, in an interview with Financial Express on slow living. “India has seen everything from moderate slow living to extreme slow living in its thousands of years of being. It’s a term connected well to Indian roots.”

Why Is Slow Living Important?

Our culture of haste is perhaps most visible in how we work. While the majority of Americans find some meaning in their jobs, The Pew Research Center reports that 60% of adults sometimes feel too busy to enjoy life — and technology has only quickened our pace. Even before the pandemic, nearly 40% of employed Americans said that technology has made their jobs more demanding. “The modern workplace also pushes us to work faster and longer while technology encourages us to do everything faster and faster,” says Honoré. We are always reachable, always available, always pushing to be as productive as possible. “Faster is not always better. Being Slow means doing everything at the correct speed: quickly, slowly or whatever pace works best. Slow means being present, living each moment fully, putting quality before quantity.”

Slow living, in many ways, is a movement against the hustle culture that grips and molds our society. We are encouraged to monetize our time, so hours spent relaxing are often seen as hours wasted. Hustle culture, according to Joe Ryle, the Director of the 4 Day Week Campaign, is all “about work dominating your time in such an unnatural way that we have no time to live our lives.” A 2021 study by the ADP Research Institute found that 10% of employees surveyed put in an extra 20 hours of unpaid work each week. So much value within our personhood is ascribed to our careers, that overworking like this is even seen as a good thing — perhaps in your own job you’ve felt admired (or admired your coworkers) for sacrificing your personal life for work, and perhaps have even felt guilty when you don’t. In a culture that prioritizes productivity and work, we’re both explicitly and subversively encouraged to become the Gary Vaynerchuks and Elon Musks of our day, who are notorious for promoting hustle culture and working excessive hours. Musk famously tweeted that “Nobody ever changed the world in 40 hours a week.”

However, during the early days of the pandemic, we were all forced to slow down a bit. We couldn’t grind through life in the same way, moving from the office to the gym to home and back again. Grocery store shelves were emptied of flour and baking supplies as people began making their own food, and hiking trails filled up with families seeking nature. According to Google, there were four times more searches for videos with “slow living” in the title in 2020 than in 2019. Many people become more interested in slowing down than in speeding up, and prioritizing other facets of life than work.

How Is Slow Living Good for Our Health?

The grind has been glamorized. Instagram and TikTok videos of girls in matching workout sets waking up at 5am to work out and drink protein shakes before a full day of work abound — but that might not be what health looks like for everyone.

Excessive work is associated with burnout: a condition that only worsened during the pandemic as work shifted to virtual spaces and began permeating personal lives with ever-increasing reachability and nebulous work hours. In 2021, more than half of survey respondents reported feeling burnt out, which has a noticeable impact on physical health. People suffering from burnout experience insomnia, fatigue, headaches and stomach aches, to name a few. Too much work is also associated with worse sleep, and higher rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many Americans are unable and unwilling to work the way they have been. 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in December 2021 alone, a trend which is becoming known as the “great resignation.”

Slow living often means not sacrificing sleep for work, or personal health and life satisfaction for productivity. It’s also about nurturing our mental health, which can suffer just as much as our physical health when we’re living “fast.” Burnout is known to develop alongside depression and anxiety. Living slow means taking time for family and friends, and prioritizing the relationships that enrich our lives over long hours at the office.

How Is Slow Living Good for the Planet?

In many ways, slow living fights against the concepts of capitalism and consumerism that drive waste and overconsumption. Like baking bread on your own during those early pandemic days of stay-at-home boredom, the concepts of slow living might encourage us to make more of our own food rather than purchase pre-made items at the store, or even grow our own vegetables and sidestep destructive industrial farming practices.

It can also mean taking the time to fix things. For example, instead of buying a cheap IKEA bed frame that can be assembled at home and is easily discarded, upcycle a used frame with a new paint job, a few repairs, etc., or mend clothing and home goods instead of running out for a new one or picking the fastest solution to the problem.

Proponents of slow living, like Carl Honoré, also emphasize the importance of spending time in nature: listening and looking at the ecosystems around you, and feeling more connected to the world. Slowing down also allows us to become more in tune with our neighborhoods and communities; localization and strong communities are crucial elements to combating the climate crisis.

How Can You Live Slower?

Of course, slow living is not equal in its accessibility. It is wrapped up in privilege and resources, like many social and environmental causes. Low-income communities, working parents, and hourly workers don’t always have the luxury of time, and slowing down or doing less simply isn’t an option. The concept of slow living needs to be adopted by modern workplaces — like those experimenting with the four-day work week — and higher wages and more affordable homes, schools, etc. are important for accessibility.

Here are a few ways to begin living slower:

  • Limit screen time. Set timers on social media and limit your hours in front of the TV or other screens.
  • Take walks outdoors and exercise in ways that are more integrated with your daily life, like walking or biking instead of driving. Enjoy the process of getting from point A to point B rather than moving as quickly as possible.
  • Deliberately take days off from work and home tasks, either on the weekend or on vacation.
  • Grow food and cook meals, especially with family or friends, and eat together at the table.
  • Enjoy and nurture your hobbies.
  • Fix items in your home instead of replacing them, including clothes, furniture, etc.
  • Prioritize sleep.
  • Choose the activities you want to engage in. Resist saying yes to every opportunity out of a sense of obligation.
  • Reach out to your neighbors and work on building a strong community around you.