The Day of Slow

Today is the International Day of Slowness.

Switch off your Blackberry. Turn off the TV. Go for a walk. Share a long, leisurely meal with friends or family. Read a story to your children. Take a nap in the middle of the day. Do some yoga. Spend the afternoon with a friend that you normally just speak to on Facebook. Channel the Pointer Sisters by bringing a slow hand to your lovemaking.

Wander round a forest or park. Smell the roses.

Or just sit still and do nothing for a few minutes. When was the last time you did that? And didn’t feel restless or guilty?

Do whatever slides you into a slower gear.

Just don’t try to squeeze all the suggestions on the list into a single day. That would turn slowing down into another exercise in rushing to cram everything in. Remember that less is more.

The bottom line is that this is a day to set your inner tortoise free. Don’t fret and overanalyze. Just do it!

Slow Sunday

Remember when we used to have a day of rest? In Christian countries, it was Sunday. Work stopped, stores closed, the sound and fury of the city subsided.

But that’s all a distant memory now. Sunday has become just like any other day of the week: we work, shop, surf the Net, sit fuming in traffic jams.

This is folly. Most cultures have some kind of Sabbath tradition for one simple reason: we all need a break.

It’s probably too late to turn back the clock to make Sunday an official day of rest. The genie is out of the bottle and the world is too complex and multicultural to accept an enforced Sabbath.

But we can still set aside a day to relax, reflect and spend time with the people that are important to us.

One way to do that is to take part in the Slow Sunday Campaign. It is the brainchild of Resurgence, a wonderful British magazine that espouses a Slow view of the world. One Sunday a month, its readers are invited “to take part in simple actions that symbolize a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change.”

One Sunday it was baking bread. Last time it was planting something.

I love this idea. We’re all so busy and frenetic that we almost need a campaign to remind us that it’s okay to ease off one day a week.

My own Sundays are already pretty slow. In the morning I play soccer with my son, his friends and few other dads. Then we usually cook, eat a leisurely lunch and maybe go for a walk.

Come to think of it, our Saturdays are kinda slow, too.

If the Resurgence campaign catches fire, the next step might be to start crusading for Slow Weekends…

In Praise of Snow…

Talk about climate change. Britain is grappling with the largest snowfall in nearly 20 years. London is buried under seven inches of the white stuff – and there are still flurries blowing around outside my window. The country has ground to a halt. In London, there are nobuses, no Tube, no school, nothing.

This is a huge inconvenience for many, but there is also a silver lining. To begin with, children are over the moon to have the day off school. Mine dashed outside in just their pajamas and boots this morning before breakfast. My son declared it the “best day of his life.”

Many Londoners know how he feels. The absence of traffic has changed the whole mood and feel of the city. Streets normally clogged with cars and buses are now full of children (and adults) building snowmen, throwing snowballs and even tobogganing. Neighbours who usually avoid eye-contact are stopping to chat about the weather. This is hardly surprising:Studies around the world show a direct correlation between cars and community: the less traffic that flows through an area (and the more slowly it flows) the more social contact among the residents.

I do not mean to demonize cars. I drive one myself. The trouble is that driving has gained too much ascendancy over walking. For decades, urban life has been haunted by the words of Georges Pompidou, a former president of France: We must adapt the city to the car, and not the other way round.

How wrong can someone be? The city of the future – a truly Slow city – must take a different tack. It must adapt not to the car but to the citizen, to the pedestrian, to human beings. And it shouldn’t wait around for a snowstorm to do so.

By coincidence, this snowfall has hit Britain on the day that alandmark studyon the statechildhood hit the headlines. The report sounds fascinating and flawed, and I will blog on it later once I’ve actually read it. But a quick comment now.

On the BBC this morning, one of the report’s authors blamed the unhappiness of modern British children on career-obsessed parents, competitive schooling, broken families, excessive consumerism etc. But he failed to mention our collective reluctance to let them run around and play outside on their own. If we want happy, healthy kids, then we need to redesign and rethink our cities so that they have plenty of outdoor space for play. And surely reclaiming the streets from traffic must be a first step to achieving that.

What about Santa?

I wrote a column in yesterday’s Washington Post about the Great Santa Debate and how it shines a light on the anxieties of modern parenting.

Can money make us happy?

One big argument for slowing down and working less is that more money doesn’t always make us happier. The roots of this thinking lie in a 1974 study by Richard Easterlin at the University of Southern California. He found that the happiness of a nation’s inhabitants rises in tandem with growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but only up to a certain point. Thereafter, getting richer stops making us any happier. This, of course, calls into question our obsession with maximizing economic growth. But over the last 30 years the boom in happiness studies has encouraged other academics to revisit the data. Apparently, two researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are about to publish a comprehensive survey of the literature which shows that happiness and per capita GDP continue to rise more or less in unison. In other words, making more money does make us happier. I haven’t read the study yet, but already it raises some intriguing questions. What does it mean for the Slow revolution if working longer and earning more does in fact make us happier? How much does our happiness depend on the kind of work that we do? Do we need to build other criteria, such as health, education and the environment, into any measure of economic growth? How do we even define happiness? Lots to think about here….

Maiden blog

Hi everyone! My new site is finally live. I will be blogging here and at www.slowplanet.com. At the moment, I’m in Ottawa, four days into the North American tour for my new book, Under Pressure. There is nothing less slow than a book tour but it has to be done every few years. The upside is that the reaction to the book has so far been very favourable. People seem to get it. And it’s not just parents. Yesterday, a 24-year-old told me about her over-scheduled childhood. Her college application contained two pages for extracurricular activities and she won a scholarship based on her work in community development. But as soon as she left home and school, she dropped everything, including the community development. “I feel ashamed because everything I was doing in high school had an ulterior motive,” she said. “Looking back it would have been nicer to done things for their own sake.” Sure, she got the scholarship, but what did she lose along the way?

Slow prayer

I gave a talk over the weekend to some executives and afterwards one of them, a very affable Austrian called Thomas, told me about the time he went to close a big business deal with the Vatican. He arrived from Vienna with a full schedule of meetings but instead of hurrying to the first of them his priest-chaperone took him to a chapel to pray for 45 minutes. And they stopped for further prayers after every meeting through the busy day. At first Thomas was anxious and restless, but eventually he surrendered to the ritual and actually found the breaks quite soothing. He also found that the meetings were more relaxed and more efficient (faster, even!) because he’d had time to reflect, recharge and even plan a little. Maybe prayer is the ultimate form of slowness.

Best job in TV?

Last Friday I appeared on an Argentine TV show called Mañanas Informales. It’s one of my favourite shows for talking on. It manages to be noisy and dynamic without being stressful. One reason for this may be the Laughing Trio. In one corner of the studio, three rather scruffy young men sit in front of microphones sipping yerba mate and providing the show’s live laughter soundtrack. They whoop, whistle, make cheeky remarks and laugh with infectious gusto. I know they’re laughing to order but the effect is still the same: I find them hugely amusing and weirdly soothing. Certainly beats the hell out of the canned laughter that blights so many sitcoms. I even feel a bit envious: if you have to work in TV, then what better job could there be?