We have all heard the stories about Northern European countries and their recipes for happiness. Today we are taking a closer look at a new concept from the Netherlands: niksen. Don’t let the seriousness of the Dutch term fool you, because it has a very Latin spirit similar to the Italian dolce far niente. Niks means ‘nothing’ in Dutch, and niksen literally means “to do nothing’. And when we say nothing, they mean absolutely nothing. From now on, when some tells you that you’re slacking off, tell them you are practising niksen.
Doing nothing on purpose, with a purpose
Sitting on the terrace of a bar watching people go by or being spellbound by waves in the ocean are both examples of niksen. A slightly less poetic example might be lying on your bed looking up at the ceiling or looking out the window. The key is being still and letting our minds go blank so our brains can rest.
In today’s workaholic and technology-addicted society dominated by activity and the constant pursuit of productivity, niksen seems like a waste of time. And that’s exactly what it’s all about: niksen is a type of detox to help us escape constant stimulation which helps us reclaim the idea of “wasting time” without feeling guilty.
Although it is one of the wellbeing trends that are based on being calm, which also include mindfulness and meditation, it’s actually nothing like them. Niksen is not about concentrating on something, but rather letting our minds wander with the goal of maximising calm and tranquillity.
The benefits of niksen
Niksen is recommended by some doctors as a type of therapy in cases of stress or burnout, two of the main conditions related to working too much. When we aren’t doing anything at all, we are letting our brain and body rest, our neurons can recover, and we can recharge. It’s like taking a mental step back in order to concentrate better and have clearer ideas. Some studies show that it slows down aging and strengthens our immune system.
This mental drifting that defines niksen also boosts inspiration and creativity, as well as thinking ahead. That’s what Sandi Mann, psychologist and author of “The Science of Boredom”, says, whose studies show that the habit of daydreaming helps us be more creative and face our problems better. One of the most frequently heard recommendations from child psychologists in recent times has been that children need to be bored so that their imaginations can develop. When was the last time you were bored?
How to practice niksen
Niksen is carried out alone, but everyone must choose the way of practising it that is right for them. If you find it hard to stay at home on the couch, you can go to a park or another natural space. If inactivity is not your thing, you can choose semi-automatic activities that don’t require concertation, such as knitting. Carolien Janssen’s book “Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing” recommends incorporating these moments into your day, setting aside time in your schedule for nothing at all.
Take your time, because doing nothing is more difficult than it might seem. Stuart Heritage, an editor at The Guardian, explains that the first time he tried it, he felt unable to stop thinking about all the things he could be doing during that time, like looking at his emails, listening to a podcast, or washing the dishes. We are used to too much work and marathon-like days full of activities, so at first niksen can produce feelings of anxiety and guilt because we don’t know how to deal with it.
There is one thing you must do, and that is distance yourself from electronics, because we must disconnect while practising niksen. Put your smartphone out of reach. In some way, these devices have robbed us of the moments of inactivity that we would normally have in our lives. Now, whenever we have nothing to do, we surround ourselves with screens. But after you train yourself, you’ll be able to reclaim those moments: the time you spend in a waiting room, the bus or metro ride to work, a relaxing bath…and it will feel amazing.
Niksen is part of the slow trend that is gaining more followers every day. It’s all about getting away from the rush and taking time to enjoy things (slow food), or taking the necessary time to make quality products (slow fashion, slow design), which are made to last. This is quite difficult in a world where doing nothing is a sign of laziness and even in our free time, we do one activity after another and plan vacations with packed schedules.
Now it’s time to give it a go. Close this article and take a moment for yourself. Your brain will thank you for it.