What Happens When We Slow Down?

May 6, 2015
Originally published on December 30, 2016 10:42 am

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Simply Happiness.

About Carl Honoré's TED Talk

Journalist Carl Honoré believes our society's emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there's a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their modern lives.

About Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré is the author of In Praise of Slowness, which dissects our speed-obsessed society and celebrates those who have gotten to slow down. Honoré is an advocate of the Slow Movement, an effort by those all over the world to decelerate the pace of their lives, with everything from "slow cities" to "slow food." He's also the author of the book Under Pressure.

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It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, ideas around happiness, fulfillment and how so much of the science and philosophy is surprisingly simple. So we just heard about the science of happiness, and we'll get back to that a little bit later in the show. But for the moment, we asked two TED speakers - one, a writer, the other, a designer - to explain their ideas about what makes us feel happier. Let's start with the writer.

CARL HONORE: My name is Carl Honore, and I am an author and a speaker. I travel around the world telling everyone why it makes sense to slow down.

RAZ: Yeah. It does make sense to slow down, but I read you play hockey.

HONORE: I'm not quite as fast as I used to when I was 16, but I'm still playing.

RAZ: Wow, 'cause I was thinking like, tai chi, like, tai chi, like, competitive tai chi maybe.

HONORE: I'm not good enough to be competitive I'm afraid.

RAZ: So Carl Honore says we are a world obsessed with speed. And our need to do everything faster, to cram more and more into less and less time, it's not making us any happier. Here's Carl on the TED stage.


HONORE: We're so marinated in the culture of speed that we almost fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives - on our health, our work, our relationships and our community. And sometimes it takes a wake-up call, doesn't it, to alert us to the fact that we're hurrying through our lives instead of actually living them. That we're living the fast life instead of the good life. My wake-up call came when I started reading bedtime stories to my son. And I found that at the end of the day, I would go into his room and I just couldn't slow down. You know, I'd be speed reading "The Cat in the Hat."

You know, I'd be skipping lines here, paragraphs there, sometimes a whole page. And of course my little boy knew the book inside out so we would quarrel. And what should have been the most relaxing, the most estimate, the most tender moment of the day when a dad sits down to read to his son, became instead this kind of gladiatorial battle of wills, a clash between my speed and his slowness. And this went on for sometime until I caught myself scanning a newspaper article with time-saving tips for fast people, and one of them made reference to a series of books called the one-minute bedtime story.

And I wince saying those words now, but my first reflex was to say hallelujah. What a great idea. This is exactly what I'm looking for - to speed up bedtime even more. But thankfully, a lightbulb went on over my head, and my next reaction was very different. And I took a step back, and I thought whoa, you know, has it really come to this? Am I really in such a hurry that I'm prepared to fob off my son with a soundbite at the end of the day? But why is it so hard to slow down? I think there are various reasons. One is that speed is fun, you know. Speed is sexy, and all that adrenaline rush. It's hard to give it up. Another reason, though, I think, perhaps even the most powerful reason why we find it hard to slow down is the cultural taboo against slowing down.

That slow is a dirty word in our culture. It's a byword for lazy, slacker, for being somebody who gives up. You know, he's a bit slow. It's actually synonymous with being stupid. I think there's a kind of metaphysical dimension that speed becomes a way of walling ourselves off from the bigger, deeper questions. We fill our heads with distraction, with busyness so that we don't have to ask - am I well? Am I happy? Are my children growing up right?

RAZ: See, like, I have so been there. You know, it's like when you wake up at like, three in the morning, and everything slows down. And that's actually when I start to feel anxious, like, I'm definitely not happy.

HONORE: That's true. I think that's probably a very common experience, but do you not find, also, that you stick with that and sometimes you work something out or you come to terms with something that you had maybe just been putting on the back burner? Do you never find any kind of benefit from falling through that anxiety or those late-night palpitations and worries?

RAZ: No. I usually just take an Ambien.

HONORE: Back to the quick fix again.


HONORE: I still love speed. You know, I live in London, and I work as a journalist. And I enjoy the buzz and the busyness and the adrenaline rush that comes from both of those things. But I've also got in touch with my inner tortoise. I no longer overload myself gratuitously. And the upshot of all of that is that I actually feel a lot happier, healthier, more productive than I ever have. I feel like I'm living my life rather than actually just racing through it. So is it possible? That's really the main question before us today. Is it possible to slow down? And I'm happy to be able to say to you that the answer is a resounding yes.


RAZ: Carl Honore. His TED Talk is called "In Praise of Slowness." Check it out at TED.NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.