The Big Happiness Interview: Carl Honoré on why slowing down will make us happy

In true ‘slow’ style, I bumped into Carl Honoré in a hotel spa in Ibiza.

Award-winning writer best known for In Praise of Slow, broadcaster, TED speaker with over 3million views and ‘godfather’ of the Slow Movement, Carl was chilling on the Spanish isle known for its relaxed vibes where I enthusiastically fan-girled him in the spa lobby.  

Currently creating a masterclass on slowing down for the new TED Courses initiative, his work encourages us to reconnect slowly with people, places, nature versus travelling at breakneck speed through life.

His work has also changed my life and inspired my recent life leap to leave London and move to the wilds of Northumberland.

In today’s Big Happiness Interview, we chatted with Carl about why going slow will make us healthier and happier.

Why will going slow make us happier?

Let’s start by flipping that and stating why going fast will make you unhappy.

When we are stuck on fast forward and we are racing through our lives instead of living it, we end up sacrificing our happiness on the on the altar of impatience and distraction.

Our bodies suffer, we’re unable to think clearly or creatively, we make more mistakes at work, we’re less productive and we struggle to connect to people.

So slow is better?

Not always, but it’s about learning to change gears so you’re not always going at top speed.

You need to allow yourself slow time. When you slow down, you have better health, you’re more rested, you’re less stressed, you’ve got more energy.

It’s the delicious paradox of slowing down. We think when we go slow, we’re being lazy and slacking on the sofa. But in fact, when you slow down judiciously, in an intelligent way, you actually end up having a lot more juice in the engine.

You’re just a better version of yourself, physically, emotionally and mentally.

How does going slower affect our relationships?

We’re more connected now with faster communication than ever before. And yet, in many ways, we’re more alone. Slowing down is one way to deepen, strengthen and enrich relationships of all kinds, whether it’s within a family or with a partner, or friends or neighbour.

But how can we slow down in the workplace when there’s so much to do?

Research shows that slowing down in an intelligent way makes you sharper. We are more creative, more innovative, we listen better, we lead better and have time to think strategically and see the big picture and join the dots.

I feel that we are living through a tectonic shift, a seismic pivot in human history.

What’s been the effect of the enforced ‘slow down’ in the Pandemic?

When the world shut down, we were forced into this almost mandatory workshop on slowness. People found themselves doing something they had never done before, which was… nothing.

We had the space and the time to let our minds wander, to daydream and essentially bump up against those big questions such as: Who am I? What’s my purpose in life? Why am I here? Am I living the right life for me?

Often we get stuck in ‘roadrunner mode’ where we get disconnected from who we are, end up following the herd, or going through the motions, or living in autopilot.

What do you think will happen now that we’ve had an experience of slow living?

It’s hard to see just yet. But I feel that we are living through a tectonic shift, a seismic pivot in human history.

There are big shifts that we’re seeing because when people had time to contemplate the big picture and reflect deeply, they got time to look at the lives they were living before.

Many people thought, ‘you know what, that isn’t the life for me.’

People are changing their lives. Whether that’s changing career, or moving from the country to the city, or the city to the country, or dumping a bad relationship, it feels like something really deep has changed during the pandemic. And like any big shift, it’s going to take time for the ripple effects to be visible.

When we slow down, often we start to feel our feelings more intensely. Do we need therapy to help us with that?

You can’t go slow without confronting yourself. You have to do what I describe as the ‘metaphysical homework’ of asking the big questions.

Often we give lip service to going slower in our lives. You realise you’re racing around like a headless chicken so you run across the street and sign up to a yoga class or download a meditation app.

Meditation and doing yoga can be immensely helpful on their own, but it needs to be part of a deeper internal shift and that boils down to taking the time and finding the space and the courage to confront the big question of ‘why am I here?’ – and finding real answers. All the other stuff is window dressing. It’s ‘slow washing’!

You can’t go slow without confronting yourself.

How do we start to go slow?

Try to break out of roadrunner mode by creating little time experiments. Next week, carve out one hour a day and do whatever you want. Leave a window of unstructured, unplanned, unfilled time and allow yourself to fall into serendipity and just go with whatever happens. Sometimes it helps to do that with a buddy to keep you accountable.

How can we change gears from fast to slow?

There are the obvious ones like yoga or taking a few deep breaths, which has an immediate calming effect. It’s not going to solve all your problems or turn you into the Dalai Lama. But it’s an instant hack to get you started.

Get out into nature. I’m sitting here now looking at of the window at a glorious Magnolia and it’s a perfect balm. You don’t have to go and spend a week in the Rockies, you can just go to the park.

There’s a lot of research that shows that when we lift our eyes to the horizon, we think longer term and bigger – so go and find a horizon in nature to stare at.

How do we handle technology? It’s so tough to slow down when we’re connected 24/7

I’m not a luddite but there’s always the off button. I think we’re wising up to how technology can bleed into all areas of our lives.

Post-pandemic, the pushback has started. Whether it’s companies saying we’re not going to have any Zoom meetings on Friday, or committing to be offline from 5pm, there’s the beginnings of ring fencing, new norms and fresh protocols in the office.

Out of work, we are seeing changes too. Young people are doing something called ‘stacking’. They meet for drinks or a meal, stack their phones in the middle of the table and whoever looks at their phone first, pays the bill.

Countries such as France have made it law that people have the right to disconnect once they leave the office.

How can we help our kids to manage the digital overload?

Maybe they can manage it by themselves?

I did a talk at a school in Bath to teenagers and they had created their own switch-off club. A group of friends who were most interacting on social media would get together at the end of school day, and say: ‘okay, how much homework do we have? 90 minutes? Ok today, between 7.30 and 9 everybody is off social media and they all agreed to put their phones away out of sight.

They said it was amazing. They were actually finding they’re enjoying their schoolwork more, getting their essays written more swiftly, their marks had gone up, and they’re enjoying their social media more.

These are digital natives and they are coming up with their own solutions. There is hope!

Five ways to go slow at work

Listen slowly

Next time you’re in a one-on-one conversation, make a real effort to listen carefully.

Ask lots of questions. Using your own words, weave back into the conversation the highlights of what the other person has said to you.

Take breaks

Build regular breaks into your work schedule. Take one when you feel yourself flagging.

Build regular breaks into your work schedule. Take one when you feel yourself flagging.

Make a ‘not to-do’ list and streamline your calendar

Scan your schedule daily to find tasks you can ditch.

A meeting you can cancel? A dinner you can duck out of? Move it to the Not To-Do List and move on.

Prioritise and delegate

Pause to figure out what tasks really deserve your time and attention at work. Then delegate (or eliminate) the rest. Do this individually and as a team.

Take a walk

Leave your desk to go for a stroll – in a nearby green space or even just round the building. Walking can also be a more laid-back and intimate way to chat with a colleague.

In Praise of Slow (Orion, £8.99) by Carl Honoré is out now

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