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

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.

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