Slow Is Beautiful: Why Learning How to Slow Down Is the Key to Simple Living

Life in the slow lane is better for you, the planet and our society as a whole — but getting there isn’t always easy.

| May 19, 2010

Less is More Cover

This essay collection points out that simple living involves more than rethinking how much we have. It’s also important to consider how fast we go.


The following excerpt by Jay Walljasper is from the collection Less is More (New Society Publishers, 2009). This compilation of essays comes from some of the most respected voices to grace the simple living movement over the past few decades. 

The alarm rings and you hop out of bed. Another day is off and running. A quick shower. Wake the kids and rush them through breakfast so they won’t miss the bus. Down a cup of coffee. Shovel a bowl of cornflakes. Hurry out to the car, not forgetting a swift kiss on your partner’s cheek. Hightail it to the freeway, making a mental note to grab some takeout Thai on the way home. (The kids’ soccer practice starts at 6:15 sharp.) Weave back and forth looking for the fastest lane while the radio deejay barks out the minutes — 8:33, 8:41, quarter to. Reaching work, you sprint into the building and leap up the stairs three at a time, arriving at your desk with seconds to spare. You take a couple of deep breaths, then remember that the project you didn’t finish last night must be faxed to New York by 10:00. Meanwhile, you’ve got five voice-mail messages and seven more e-mail messages, two of them marked urgent.

The Speed Trap

More and more it feels like our lives have turned into a grueling race toward a finish line we never reach. No matter how fast we go, no matter how many comforts we forgo in order to quicken our pace, there never seems to be enough time.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. As a kid in the 1960s, I remember hearing that one of the biggest challenges of the future would be what to do with all our time. Amazing inventions were going to free up great stretches of our days for what really matters: friends, family, fun. But just the opposite has happened. We’ve witnessed a proliferation of dazzling time-saving innovations — jet travel, personal computers, Fed Ex, cellphones, microwaves, drive-through restaurants, home shopping networks, the World Wide Web — yet the pace of life has been cranked to a level that would have been unimaginable three decades ago.

Curiously, there has been scant public discussion about this dramatic speed-up of society. People may complain about how busy they are, how overloaded modern life has become, but speed is still viewed as generally positive — something that will help us all enrich our lives. Journalists, business leaders, politicians and professors feed our imaginations with visions of the new world of instantaneous communications and high-speed travel. Even many activists who are skeptical of the wonders of modern progress, the folks who patiently remind us that small is beautiful and less is more, look on speed as an undeniable asset in achieving a better society. Four-hundred-mile-an-hour trains, they assure us, will curtail pollution, and modem links across the planet will promote human rights.

Revving up the speed, in fact, is often heralded as the answer to problems caused by our overly busy lives. Swamped by the accelerating pace of work? Get a computer that’s faster. Feel like your life is spinning out of control? Increase your efficiency by learning to read and write faster. No time to enjoy life? Purchase any number of products advertised on television that promise to help you make meals faster, exercise faster and finish all your time-consuming errands faster.

2/23/2013 9:37:03 PM

Great read! For a long time now, but especially the last couple of years, my husband and I keep talking about moving to a small town in the mountains. If I wasn't afraid of taking the leap, I'd quit the job I recently found (which is not fun and VERY stressful) and move in order to have a slower pace life. Our dogs would love it for sure. But unlike Janet Gardner_4 mentioned in her archived comment, I'm very scared. My hope is that this year, we'll be able to purchase a motor home and go away at least once a month - go to the mountains to check out the areas and figure out where we want to move to, and start making that dream a reality, but one that happens in a year or two at the most. I hate the fast paced life, one cannot enjoy it because everything is rushed. I hope that all those who want to slow down, truly take the steps to do so. I know we will all be happier.

megan hirt
4/18/2012 10:18:03 PM


megan hirt
4/18/2012 10:16:28 PM

Great perspective.

janet gardner_4
5/26/2010 3:17:13 PM

Slowing down is not a new idea, but a great one - one that my husband and I decided to try 20 years ago. Back then we both had high stress corporate jobs, three teenagers and a life out of control. One night we decided enough was enough. We quit our jobs, sold our big house in the suburbs with all its contents and moved to the beach to take jobs as a waiter and waitress for a year. We figured after that year we would re-evaluate. Everyone thought we were crazy including our kids. I can't say it was always easy, but we never did go back. Today we live in a small paid-for house, grow a lot of our own food and sell homemade jewelry at a local craft market. I've had time for volunteer activities including starting our town's first community garden. Even though we do not have a lot of money, we feel rich. Life has been fun, relaxed, interesting and rewarding. Our kids, too have benefited from the knowledge that in life you do have choices. Janet

5/25/2010 12:27:32 AM

Enjoyed this article, very timely for me. I'm now 60 and feeling that the speed forced upon me everyday at work,along with 'multi-tasking' (who's idea was that??--Lee Iaccoca??)has changed me to a aching, tired, mentally exhausted individual. I work at a job for a fortune 500 company that only allows me to spend 440 seconds per customer as a customer service rep helping customers. I had the audacity to be sick, not drive in a snowstorm and go to the hospital when my husband almost died, this had earned me a written warning. The fact that most of my customers comment in our recorded calls that they very much appreciate the time I've spent to get their equipment working again after 3 or 4 others have rushed them off the phone, falls on deaf ears, because speed and multi-tasking are the only valued attributes my employer understands. The need to pay our bills and have medical insurance to supplement medicare (my husband is disabled), has made me a slave to my employer. This hectic pace often saddens me, I too realize the beauty of watching the sun set or just sitting outside hearing the breeze, birds and watching the clouds overhead. I need that peaceful enjoyment..I plan to find a way to slow down and enjoy the rest of my life, I just haven't figured out how to do it yet. I shall though..

5/24/2010 3:52:12 PM

Wow! Love this article. I was employed as an independent contractor working as an insurance field adjuster. In 2006, my day started at 6:00 a.m. but did not end for me until 2:00 a.m. on most days. My husband drove me around while I worked on the computer handling claims for three separate offices - all the while thinking we were finally getting ahead! By the end of 2006, I had what I believe was a nervous breakdown when I realized that all the road time and "sit" time caused my weight to exceed 200 pounds! (I am only 5' 3" - so that was extremely obese for me!) I reduced my territory and walked daily. I also lost quite a bit of income. During the following year, after losing 20 pounds, I took a part-time job to boost the lost revenue and increase my activities to reduce more weight. I did lose another 20 pounds, but injured myself pretty badly after one year. It has been almost two years now since I have been able to work. Needless to say, we were forced to give up most of life's little speed traps and mindless activities. Some day, maybe I can work again. But thanks to Mother Earth News and the information in the pages over the past decade, we have been ok so far. No tv means more time for togetherness. It is only now that we have again become spread too thin. This time, it's financially rather than physically, but we will make it after all! Slowing down was definitely the right decisio

5/24/2010 3:21:29 PM

In 1995 I suffered from a traumatic brain injury from an automobile accident (rushing to work in a storm). In the ensuing years of my recovery, one day I was practicing walking and stopped to see where The rain had washed away part of the road. I made the observation: "Rock is hard...but water is patient!!!" Nothing can withstand a persistent, often slow but steady flow of water. I made it the focus of my recovery, a later my life, to be more like the "water". My story can be found at this link: I endeavor to be patient...I often fail, but I have found peace not being in a hurry and living in the NOW.

jacqueline jakle
5/24/2010 9:46:22 AM

I related so well to this article, and some years ago made the decision to make serious changes in my life. My health was affected by too long work schedules, too many responsibilities, not enough sleep or relaxation, etc. A fast paced life wasn't working for me, especially at work where we secretaries were expected to keep up with computers and other machines designed to out-perform us. Technology is wonderful but trying to keep up with machines that go faster than humans often slowed our production. So many people I know feel the same way, and are dealing with frustration, illness, depression, and fatigue. They are not enjoying their lives, families, friends, hobbies or jobs. Slowing down our pace - even a little, cutting back on commitments, and learning how not to feel guilty about it is imperative. Creating new priorities and some time for leisure and living life at a more sensible pace seems so obvious. I still find it challenging to slow down, but realize I must because I don't want life to fly by any faster than it already is.

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