Take it slow

G Magazine

Trapped in the rat race? The slow movement is the antidote to our busy lifestyles, promoting a simpler life where quality trumps quantity.


Carrie Sze tells G why she went slow, and shares how she chooses to live today.


Kylie Kwong shares with G why she loves the slow movement, in particular, slow food.


Christin Lewis explains how her life changed when she discovered the slow movement.

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We all want to be happy. And we know that money doesn’t buy happiness. Yet the fast life is all around us – fast food, fast cars, fast talk – as we chase more time to make more money to boost our happiness. Sound familiar?

Research has found that more than 60 per cent of us believe we can’t afford to buy everything we need – and this figure includes nearly half of those in the richest 20 per cent of the population. As a result, 30 per cent of full-time workers are deferring happiness, enduring long hours in unsatisfying jobs in the belief that the sacrifice will pay off in the long term. Almost 50 per cent of workers report feeling blue or depressed at work at least twice a month.

Reasons for deferring happiness range from funding expensive lifestyles to accumulating as much wealth as possible prior to retirement and fearing the consequences of leaving a demanding job. The fallout from ‘deferred happiness syndrome’ is felt by our family and friends, our wellbeing and – just as keenly – our environment.

“Today’s world is full of fast-paced change, many options and numerous demands,” says Susan Pearse, founder of Mind Gardener. “The amount of change we experience in a year is about the equivalent of what our grandparents experienced in their lifetime. As busyness increases so too does the occurrence of stress-related illness and depression. It seems the more we have the unhappier we are.”

The solution? Slow. Down. Live in the moment and be happy now. Easier said than done, you say, but one movement is set to put you on a path to increased happiness, better health and stronger relationships with your family. Not to mention reduce your eco-footprint by changing the way you consume. Here’s how to live slow.

Introducing the slow movement

In the late 1980s a McDonald’s restaurant opened on the Spanish Steps in Rome. The locals were outraged – it contradicted the Italian way of life, promoting fast food over time-honoured culinary traditions. Hamburgers were in and homemade pasta out.

And so the slow living movement was born. Founded by Carlo Petrini, it began with slow food and soon burgeoned into a whole way of life spanning areas such as urban living, travel and financial management. Today it is a worldwide movement that promotes connection to food, families, culture and community. Quality trumps quantity, and we’re encouraged to live life well and not get caught up in the rat race for no good reason.

“Consumer culture has turned the world into a giant smorgasbord of things to do, eat, buy, experience, and the natural human response is to want to have it all – which simply leads to hurrying it all,” says Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slow. “Along the way, speed has become our universal default option, an end in itself, because there is a powerful cultural taboo against the very idea of slowness – slow is almost a dirty word in our culture.”

The slow movement embraces snail’s pace, giving you the freedom to exchange the societal pressures to earn more and to buy more for time – to cook, eat, travel, enjoy rich relationships with the ones we love. And, most importantly, be happy.

Slow food

The slow food movement has 100,000 members worldwide and over the last 25 years has evolved to support the principles of ‘eco-gastronomy’. It promotes the preservation of food traditions as well as the promotion of agricultural sustainability and biodiversity.

“The slow food movement is about the protection of food heritage, supporting food producers and making sure the right thing is done throughout the entire food chain,” says Rebecca Sullivan, a member of the Slow Food committee in South Australia.

“It’s about good, clean and fair food. Good meaning good, tasty, fantastic food. Clean meaning produced with respect to the environment. Fair meaning that everyone involved in the process has been treated fairly. If your coffee is coming from Africa, it means knowing that those farmers have been paid a fair price
for their work.”

Sullivan says it’s not a movement that restricts you from enjoying food from other countries or culinary traditions. What’s important is, where possible, buying from your local farmers market and supporting local producers.

To enjoy slow food in your home, start by spending time thinking about where your food comes from. How far has it travelled from paddock to plate? Is it close to its natural form or has it been processed? Visit a local farmers market to buy fresh, local produce. Talk to your neighbours about where they buy their food. Enjoy shared, home-cooked meals with your family and friends. Bon appetit!

G Tip: Put a list on the fridge and unless it’s on the list, don’t buy it. Try lightening the load and see if it has a positive impact. - Tamara DiMattina, Buy Nothing New Month.

Slow travel

Have you ever come home from a holiday more exhausted than before you left? The lure of visiting seven countries in two weeks is often difficult to refuse, particularly considering the distance we need to travel to even reach another country.

But this need to tick attractions off your bucket list has a significant eco-footprint. Air travel is the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in land-based tourism, yet with almost seven million Australians travelling abroad each year – equivalent to 31 trips overseas for every 100 residents – its popularity is showing no signs of abating.

Instead of keeping to a hectic schedule, slow travel encourages you to live like the locals and explore each destination thoroughly to experience the local culture. You might live for a week in a rural French cottage, mingling with the locals and enjoying fresh produce from the local market. Or you might spend two weeks understanding what makes a large metropolis tick – imagine the fun to be had exploring the markets of Bangkok or the tiny eateries hidden in Tokyo’s laneways.

“Slow travellers assume that they do not have to see everything on one trip, that there will be other trips,” says Pauline Kenny, founder of slowtrav.com.

Like the length of time spent in one place, the way you get there also takes on a slower pace. Train travel is preferred over air, back roads instead of highways, and two wheels rather than four.

The environmental benefits are many. You’ll generate fewer transport emissions by travelling less often on more sustainable modes of transport, reduce your food miles by enjoying delicious local produce and meet loads of interesting locals.

Slow cities

Forget the fast lane – it is possible to enjoy urban life minus the traffic, noise and crowds. Inspired by the success of the slow food movement, the Italians initiated the slow cities movement in 1999 – Cittaslow (pronounced chitta-slow) to the locals.

There are 147 slow cities in 24 countries, including three in Australia: Goolwa in South Australia, Katoomba in New South Wales and Yea in Victoria. To achieve the status of a slow city, “a city must agree to accept the guidelines of slow food and work to improve conviviality and conserve the local environment”. The city can have no more than 50,000 residents and must adhere to 55 criteria, including environmental policy, infrastructure, quality of urban fabric and encouragement of local products and produce.

Slow cities have less noise, traffic and pollution, and aim to be litter and graffiti free. They are not opposed to progress; rather, the movement is about preserving unique community characteristics and working with technology to plan for a sustainable future.

G Tip: Ban the word busy from your vocabulary. Focus on what you have achieved, not what is still waiting for your attention. Talking about being busy makes you feel busier. About 85 per cent of people answer the question ‘how are you?’ with ‘busy’. - Susan Pearse, Mind Gardener.

Slow money

From banks in the Cayman Islands to Switzerland and everywhere in between, money zips around the world faster than we can comprehend. And as the distance between investors and their investments grow, our knowledge of where our cash is headed and its impact on people and the environment is reduced.

The slow money movement seeks to steer investors to smaller, more local food enterprises, organic farms and food systems. Coined by finance guru Woody Tash, the term refers to investors who shun traditional channels for direct investments where the money goes to a local agriculture program, bakery or organic grocery store. Money is exchanged locally rather that globally for the benefit of growers, sellers and shoppers in your region.

While the returns on investment may not equal those made on Wall St, Tasch says the financial industry needs to focus on local businesses and sustainable enterprises in the long term. And benefits of a smart sustainable investment are twofold: you’ll turn a profit and make a contribution to the green economy.

G Tip: Part of slowing down is saying no. There are reams of studies showing that by sleeping more, resting more and working less we reduce our risk of heart attacks and other ailments. - Carl Honore, author of ‘In Praise of Slow’.

Slow mind

Do you feel mentally and physically cluttered? If your home is littered with more stuff than you know what to do with, and you’re constantly thinking about the past or future rather than the present, it’s time to have a clean out.

The psychological concept of mindfulness is intrinsically linked to sustainability – it encourages us to pay attention to what’s happening now without brooding over the past or fretting about the future. Living in the moment means we’re much more likely to enjoy simple pleasures and as a result, consume less stuff.
And being mindful means great things for our wellbeing. Focusing on the present means we’re more likely to have greater emotional strength and experience fewer bad moods and less stress.

“Slowing down and living a more mindful life results in decreased stress and increased happiness,” says Pearse. “When we are mindful we are consciously paying attention to things without the chatter of the busy mind. It’s like a mini meditation and achieves the same benefits that science has found in these activities.”

Combine a calm mind with a spring clean to fully immerse yourself in the slow movement. Tamara DiMattina from Buy Nothing New Month says a clean-up helps us to slow down and feel great.

“It lightens the load somehow, physically and mentally. Many of us feel weighed down by our stuff – cupboards bulging with clothes we have forgotten we own, paying for storage because our own places are brimful.”

Going slow:

Carrie Sze, 31
"A trip to Cambodia triggered the change of pace in my life. It led me to re-evaluate my priorities. Learning about the Khmer Rouge, the genocide, meeting the people, the survivors who with much humbleness are rebuilding their lives, made me reflect about what was really important to me.
So I made the choice to stop chasing by slowing down and working part time. This gives me the time to promote positive change in environmental issues and social justice. I feel I have more control of my life. I am less angry and frustrated and definitely less stressed as I now have a work/life balance where I can make changes for the better without any pressure.
I get much enjoyment in the simple things I used to take for granted. Now I toast my own muesli and have time to ride my bike."

Kylie Kwong
"Eating ethically is a great passion of mine and so I’m obsessed with the whole subject of slow food, it means so much to me.
Essentially, I grew up with the idea of slow food already implanted in my learning. My mum was always a great Cantonese cook and she taught us how to cook. Through her actions she taught us how important it was to always have fresh produce in the kitchen, and how important it was to look after the people who grew our food, and she taught us how to share food with people, and how food can connect people and make them happy.
The reason why I love using locally sourced organic and biodynamic produce in my restaurant is because it’s naturally grown. And nature, being nature, you’ve just got to go with it, you’ve got to go with the flow."

Christine Lewis, 41
"When I was in my 20s I thought I wanted to be independent and have an education, assets, money, designer clothes and a great job. By my 30s I had secured a degree in London, purchased a flat in the city, established a small share portfolio and was working as a private bank manager.
However, one day I woke up and realised that as these achievements were obtained, the level of satisfaction was diminishing. I had a clash with senior management and realised that the corporate world’s desire for ‘meeting the shareholders’ needs’ was starting to conflict with my moral code and personal satisfaction.
I returned to Australia and set up my own business – a guesthouse in Daylesford in country Victoria – which enabled me to pursue my passions for food, wine, people and fun times.
I enjoy the new luxury of fresh air, time to spend with friends and a traffic-free life within a community that has an amazing heartbeat. My biggest decision each day is to decide if I walk my dog in the forest or around the lake, or which cafe to go to for a latte."