Growing up, I lived the slow life- in a rural Ohio town where people kept horses in their backyards and our neighbors were always dropping in for a chat and a cup of coffee. Then, I never appreciated what I had. This was, perhaps because I was a child still, and a restless spirit that loved noise and speed. A few years later my family moved to Dallas, and thereafter I have lived a very, very fast life. I’m happy to say that I appreciated it. I appreciate it still.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a small preppy private college and turned it down to attend UT, an enormous school smack in the middle of a city known for parties and politics. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Rushing from one thing to another, learning to be alone in a crowd and by myself, and more importantly, to navigate the real world, has been an integral part of my transition out of childhood. I’ve tripped, scraped my knee, hell- fallen on my face-several times. And I’m nowhere near as suave as I should be to be able to survive in the zoo of city life. But I’ve learned that what is important is learning to get up again, to keep hope when all the world gives you is reason to fear.
Living the fast-paced, jam-packed life has been, in short, a blessing in disguise. Still, I’ve been feeling a wave of nostalgia for my family’s days of boating at the lake and neighborhood Thanksgiving dinners, of endless sled rides with my dad and setting the table with my mom. Those are experiences that have disappeared now- replaced with separate schedules and separate cities. And even as I find success in my academic life, and my sister finds success in hers and my parents continue to be successful in their respective fields, I am longing for something that I feel I have let get away.
And so, I’m adding a new resolution to my list of 2016 resolutions (because I believe it’s never too late to start a good habit and it shouldn’t be limited to a single time of year). Live slowly. Yep, that’s it- just 2 words. Take it from someone who has had the opportunity to live both the fast and slow lives- if we stopped spending so much time obsessing over the next thing and started appreciating this very moment, we would transform our lives into much happier, more productive, and more fulfilling ones. You may feel tempted to deny that you aren’t already doing this. For years, I’ve lived by making myself believe that if I just got that A, if I just became president of that club, if I just got into that college, if I just got that score on that test, if I just made more money I would finally be happy. And yet, the strange thing was, every time I achieved one of those goals, I didn’t find that boundless happiness. Instead I was plagued by stress about the “next thing”. Even at this very moment, I have a line of things that my brain has listed as “if-then” paths to happiness. If I get a good LSAT score, then I’ll be happy. If I get married, then I’ll be happy. If I live on my own, then I’ll be happy.
Examine your life and I’m 100% sure that you will have similar “if-then” paths subconsciously or consciously in place as part of your epic road to happiness (unless you are already a master of slow living, in which case please share your secrets to success in the comments). But I’m here to tall myself and you that this has to stop. We are not mere robots on a never ending treadmill. The problem is that we choose to be. We choose to see the world as a two way street where we need to do certain things to get certain things. And we do it with good intent- we want to be happy. But we are placing the responsibility of our happiness in the wrong hands. I have found my happiest life moments to be those I spend living slowly. These moments are the ones where I am walking down the beach without any devices in my hands and appreciating the smell of salt and the feel of sand. These moments are the ones when I spend two hours organizing with my mom without constantly preoccupying myself with worrying about my next assignment and instead listening to her and bonding with her.
How do we find happiness in our lives? By learning the art of slow living. But how does one transition themselves from their ingrained mentality to this fresh new perspective? I believe that slow living is about prioritizing relationships. Your relationship with God. With yourself. With your parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, the lady at the checkout counter. Your relationship with the world around you. It sounds kind of cheesy, huh? That’s because our lifestyle has coerced us into becoming machines, burying our natural tendencies to prioritize relationships and instead putting us on a path that promised happiness but didn’t deliver. If we reverse that cycle, we find ourselves more content, and probably no less successful.
Slow living doesn’t mean sitting around like a sloth all day. It means prioritizing and appreciating everything. For many of us, living slowly 24/7 just isn’t feasible. So instead of encouraging you to change up your whole life, I’m sharing some suggestions for how to incorporate slow living into your every day.
1. Wake up earlier
If it’s just 15 minutes or 1 hour it doesn’t matter, but make it a habit to get up a bit earlier than you currently do. Use that time to pray, write, reflect, and plan your day.
Really, really do this. Write down all the things you have to do and then order them by priority. Then, draw a smiley face by the ones you really look forward to doing, a star by the ones you have to do. Focus on those. And learn to cut things out and stop stressing over getting the little things done. For example, getting out of the house on time to get to class before 8 is very stressful, and every time I try, I end up feeling like crying because of the stress. So instead, I’ve prioritized. Sure, I’ll miss a few minutes of class. Sure, I’ll walk into the auditorium late. But at least I won’t be as stressed. I can borrow notes from a friend. Now, I try to get to class by 8:30. I don’t freak out and panic in the mornings anymore. If my schedule gets pushed off or I need to sleep in a few minutes, I let myself have the luxury because I’ve realized that starting my day relaxed and happy is worth much more in the long run than catching the first few minutes of class. See where you can prioritize like that in your life.
3. Sit and do nothing.
Wow, this one is tough. Trust me. I can’t sit still for 2 seconds without thinking and doing stuff. But I’ve been trying to put everything away and clear my mind and sit. It helps SO much. I get to observe others and the world around me. I get to build relationships and make new friends when my face isn’t buried in my phone.