Slow Living: Another Way to Achieve Happiness
How many times have you wished that you could just put life on hold for a minute and enjoy the moment? While that might not be possible, there is one lifestyle that's centered around the idea of living in the present. Welcome to the world of slow living.
How many times have you found yourself caught up in the whirlwind of modern life? Probably far more often than you’d like. Living life at the speed of light means that you often miss many of the little moments, nuances, sensations, and details that make life worth living.
The slow living movement first emerged back in the 1980s. Since then, more and more people have chosen to follow this way of life. So, what’s this movement all about and what benefits can it bring? Read on to learn more about it.
In today’s world, the word “slow” often has negative connotations, and is closely associated with terms such as lazy or idle. Now’s the time to change all that. Slow living doesn’t mean living badly or living irresponsibly. It means focusing your attention on the present and enjoying every moment.
Nowadays, life moves at an unbelievable pace, without us even realizing it. It’s no coincidence that approximately 18% of the US population suffers from chronic anxiety. In addition, the majority of those who suffer from stress later go on to develop emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression. This is because, by the time we realize how bad things have gotten, it’s often too late.
“There’s no order in the world around us. We must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.”
As we grow, we learn the meaning of haste and accept it as the norm. As children, we learn to run so that we arrive at school on time and hurry in from the schoolyard so that we’re not late back to class. We rush outside to take part in after school activities, and race home even faster to start on our homework. Life never slows down. A quick shower, an even quicker dinner, and then off to bed. And tomorrow, we do the same thing all over again.
The same happens when we head off to college, and when we get our first jobs. We prepare ourselves for a life spent in front of our desks. We rush into work in the mornings and rush out again at the end of the day, heading straight home, where the next task is inevitably waiting for us, whether it be family members to tend to, reports to be finished, or chores to be done.
The boiling frog syndrome
Have you ever heard of the boiling frog syndrome? This fable can be used to explain why we think it’s normal to live such stressful lives.
If you put a frog in a pan of boiling water, the frog would instantly try to jump out and escape. However, if you put the frog in tepid water, and gradually increased the temperature, it would simply adapt its body temperature to match that of the water. It would be so busy trying to keep up with the changing temperature, that it wouldn’t even notice that it was being boiled alive.
While this might sound harsh, something similar happens to us. From a young age, we’re immersed in a world and a society in which everything moves at an “unnaturally” fast pace. Like the frog, we adapt and, over the years, we come to accept that our way of life is normal.
The most worrying thing is that many of us even believe that being stressed out is something positive, that without stress, we’d get bored. Sound familiar? By the time we realize just how big an impact this lifestyle is having our well-being, it’s often too late. The damage has already been done.
“Life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans”.
The slow living movement can be applied to almost every aspect of life, from food (i.e. slow food, the origin of the movement as a whole), sex, and education, to things such as exercise, leisure, travel, fashion, and, of course, work.
It invites us to eat natural products by practicing “mindful eating”, to use technology in a rational and practical way, to support small local businesses, to break the unhealthy cycle of throw-away culture and, thus, counteract all the damage it does in other countries.
This way of life promotes a more relaxed approach, allowing us to enjoy the little things, and give them the attention they deserve. What would you value more? Something quick and run-of-the-mill or something you’d spent time and effort on?
Sounds easy on paper, right? That’s why the slow living movement provides a series of recommendations on how to start living life at an easy pace. The first rule is: be patient. The habits of a lifetime can’t be changed overnight.
1. The slow living morning routine
Get up a few minutes earlier in the morning. It’ll be worth it, trust me! Take a shower and enjoy a good breakfast, without getting distracted by your work or studies. If you can, go for a walk, and pay attention to the world around you. If not, try putting your cell phone away while you’re traveling on public transport.
2. Live with less
Reject consumerism, and buy only what you need. If you stop for a moment and look around, you’ll soon realize that you need less, not more. Try putting the seven-day rule into practice. This means that when you decide you need something, you have to wait a week before you buy it. If you still need it at the end of those seven days, then you can get it. This time will also give you the opportunity to weigh up your other options, and compare prices elsewhere.
3. Live well and enjoy the present
Our lives are often haunted by a past we can’t change, and fears of a future that may be nothing like we imagine. All we have is the present, so we need to do everything in our power to hold onto it. This way of life invites us to practice meditation, yoga, and other disciplines that encourage us to reconnect with our bodies and our minds and to live in the here and now.
4. Try to do one good deed every day
Contrary to what you might think, this can actually have more benefits for you than it does for the person you help. Little by little, you’ll start to come out of autopilot.
5. Be part of a group or community
This could be anything, from volunteering and team sports to travel. Humans are social creatures and, as Tajfel said, belonging to certain groups helps to shape our social identity. In addition, our self-concept is conditioned by the emotional significance and value we place on being part of a group.
6. Write a gratitude journal.
Spend a little time each day writing down three positive things that happened to you. These could be actions, thoughts, feelings, or events. At first, you may be surprised to find that you struggle to come up with three examples. But, little by little, you’ll learn to appreciate the little things and create these positive moments for yourself.
Even if it seems trivial, write it down. Many of our thoughts end up being drowned out by things we consider more important. Writing them down is a great way to keep them at the forefront of our minds. You can even consult these lists later, perhaps on days when you’re feeling down and need a little mental pick-me-up. This technique works well in patients suffering from symptoms of depression and can be a great way to change your mindset. Give it a try!
7. Switch off
This is probably the most difficult part of slow living. Put your cell phone on silent, go out without it, or turn it off completely if you can. You can’t imagine how good it feels to stop being a slave to technology, even for a few hours.
“Happiness, not in another place, but this place not for another hour, but for this hour.”
As you can see, these guidelines are fairly easy to follow, wherever you are. But it doesn’t have to stop there. As incredible as it may seem, there are actually slow cities (cittaslow) all over the globe.
These are cities where people can enjoy going out for walks and having leisurely chats with friends. In the USA, there are three member towns and cities, all of which are in the state of California: Fairfax, Sebastopol, and Sonoma.
This movement stemmed in Italy in 1986. It was promoted by Carlo Petrini, who came up with the idea after he was shocked to find a McDonald’s restaurant on the Piazza de Spagna in Rome.
He led the movement in an effort to fight the rise of fast food, creating the slow food philosophy to help protect local culinary traditions, products, and gastronomic pleasure in general. The rest of the movement grew around the idea of slow food, until it became a complete life philosophy.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the major cities in Southeast Asia. One of the first things that caught my attention was their relaxed attitude to life. Almost everywhere you look, you’ll find someone taking a quick nap in broad daylight. Whether it be on their motorbike, on a public staircase, in a park, or even on the back of a cow.
Life starts early. Most people live humbly and are always ready to offer a friendly smile or a helping hand. In addition, especially in predominantly Buddhist regions, practicing meditation is commonplace. They’re true experts in the art of slow living.