Whether you are decluttering your home or slimming down your apparently never-ending shopping and to-do lists, now could be the right time to try leading a simpler and more meaningful style of life.
Whether or not you are burnt out by the fast pace of life, running from chores to job and then heading to the gym only to end up sleeping on the couch with a burger meal to look forward to, today could be the right time to step aside and start prioritising your values, goals, and how to make the best use of your time.
Slow living is a lifestyle philosophy that aims to de-glamorise being busy and devalue the culture of consumerism that goes with it. It calls for taking a slow approach to all aspects of life to try to enjoy and value everything we do at work, at home, and even in our leisure time more than we currently manage.
The concept began in Italy in the 1980s when fast-food companies started to appear in the country and consumerism began to creep into its culture. The Italians threw pasta feasts to protest against the commercialisation of their society and wrote a manifesto that went on to inspire the slow living movement.
“Slow living calls for eating well, playing well, working well, and even resting well. It is mainly about enjoying the quality of life and not just the quantity,” said Ahmed Al-Guweili, an Egyptian community pharmacist and Internet influencer.
Slow living is about taking things slowly. “We should not aim to sacrifice everything else for the sake of the job, but should try instead to find time to spare to be with our family. We should try to exercise well and listen to music, meditate, and contemplate,” Al-Guweili said.
The concept is related to Islam and Christianity, which call on us to work efficiently and to live competently. “We should care about our family, friends, and society and should not be driven by consumerism or materialistic values,” added Al- Guweili, recalling a hadith of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in which he said that “whoever among you wakes up secure in his property, healthy in his body, and with his food for the day, it is as if he has been given the entire world.”
Sometimes society can make people feel pressured towards attaining a certain social class or buying a luxurious apartment in a compound, or even buying the latest mobile phone or television just because it is on offer. “If you feel attracted to all this, just stop and think what your priorities are. Do you actually need this stuff? If you are in debt, you need to get out of this materialistic lifestyle because you have been sadly trapped,” Al- Guweili said.
Concerning the need for a more spiritual life, Haytham Abdel-Aziz, a Cairo dentist, agrees with Al-Guweili that a slower style of life can make you experience more, something he found after his pilgrimage in 2017. Though he could have waited to afford a better package a year later, he preferred to go a harder way at less cost and find a more spiritual and life-changing experience.
“I put myself in God’s hands in every sense I could. I walked six km every day to reach the holy site and spent as much time there as possible to pray and worship God and meditate on the surroundings,” Abdel-Aziz said.
He also had to stay with six different men from different social classes in one apartment and share the same bathroom. He learned a lot about equality in Islam and minimalism in life. “I learned that sometimes the hardest road is more rewarding than the easiest or the most luxurious one,” he added.
Abdel-Aziz has also adopted a slower lifestyle in his professional life as his career changed when he knew better what he wanted to focus on. “I used to run from place to place, working two jobs, learning many languages, and taking too many courses in the medical and sociological fields. This was when I realised that I was actually doing nothing and working too much for zero product,” he added.
After this massive realisation, he took decisions in his career that enabled him to leap forward, focusing on what he really wanted and excelling in a cutting-edge specialisation. “It is not only about quitting jobs you had imagined you couldn’t, but also about believing in yourself to prioritise the most important things and the achievements you really want to attain,” he said.
SLOW LIVING: The concept of slow living is not learned or taught but is inspired by people who are thinking outside the box.
It is believed in by people who want to lead their lives in the most satisfactory way they can. These are sometimes people who do not wish to lead a corporate life, but who simply “want to move to a quiet place, let’s say a farm, and raise cows” or its equivalent, as Youmna Halawa, a 22-year-old student, said.
Many members of Generation Z who are digital natives may be fed up with the corporate lives many are living. “Who said we should go to school and then university and then join companies just to get promoted and get a higher salary? Do we have to live in this endless circle until we die,” asked Naira Shalabi, 22, a student and artist.
“We are brought up to think there are certain achievements you have to do in order to fit in. If you do not fit in, you are not successful. But when society defines what success is, you have to take a leap of faith and just start thinking of what makes you successful instead,” Halawa said.
Shalabi and Halawa have been thinking about how to lead more interesting and enjoyable lives, lives which are not busy but are productive and lives that do not make them feel burnt out but that they can enjoy. These should be lives not dedicated to fulfilling materialistic needs, but instead be about cherishing time as it passes and making memories.
For such reasons, they thought the concept of slow living might suit their graduation project, a documentary about the concept and how some people have adopted it in Egypt. The two students, both at the College of Language and Communication in Alexandria, shared their idea with their team members who were equally excited to research and produce the documentary.
It reveals the kind of love-hate relationship people may have with the city and follows a group of people who travel to Nuweiba in Sinai. Through their journey, viewers become familiar with Dar Jan, an art and farming space run by Khaled and Gihan, a couple who decided to leave the bustling urban life of Cairo and start an organic space instead in Sinai.
By featuring Dar Jan, “we had the opportunity to feature the real story of a couple who had no idea of how to start this kind of life at first. They were both engineers who used to work in big companies, but they quit it all to follow their passion and start a totally new life elsewhere,” Shalabi said.
“We are not calling on people to quit their jobs or go travelling in the desert, but the documentary is meant as a wake-up call to all of us to question our habits and the style of life we have grown up to know,” Halawa said.
“You can have a stable job and practise slow living, and you can live in the desert and not practise slow living. What we should do is prioritise our goals and understand our values in order to know better what best fits with our lives,” she concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.