Doing Nothing Is Back In Fashion

Our romance with the Dutch concept of Niksen.

Posted Aug 30, 2019

Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Americans are having a summer love affair with Niksen. Thanks to recent articles featured in The New York Times and Time magazine, the Dutch concept of allowing yourself to do nothing⁠—to be idle without guilt or worry⁠—is the new companion that many don't want to see go home.

It's no wonder. For years, Americans have needed an excuse to let go of their unhealthy infatuation with doing, achieving, and succeeding. This "pursuit of happiness" is a tiring, taxing venture. And it gets awfully lonely.

Now that this stylish Dutch import with its devil-may-care attitude is on the scene, it' no surprise we can't stop courting it. It reminds us of what we really need and what we've forgotten: basic psychological principles and research.

Niksen Is Our Fundamental Nature

Niksen isn't really about doing nothing; it's about making space for being. That's an essential part of who we are psychologically. We're called human beings, not human doings, for good reason. Like the breath in meditation, being is the foundation for everything creative in our personal, professional, and artistic lives.  

Niksen Helps Us Steep In Our Gratitude and Inner Abundance  

Unfortunately, we often put being on the back burner, when it truly deserves center stage. I liken Niksen to providing the time and space for the tea of life to steep, getting the full flavor and aroma so that we can feel the "cup runneth over." It allows us to savor the richness and subtleties of our being, giving us a hearty appreciation for who and where we are in the present moment.        

Niksen Allows Us to Tap Into Our Creative Magic 

Research supports the view that allowing yourself to have unscheduled free time, time that might feel boring, is actually good for you, helping you reconnect with your hidden creativity.  In a 2014 study, British psychologist Sandi Mann and her colleague Rebeka Cadman found that people who initially engaged in a boring task performed more creatively and were better problem-solvers on a later task.  

Remember when you were a kid and there was nothing to do, and you somehow found a way to make all sorts of inventive games, finding new uses for old toys, or putting on that impromptu performance? Mann and Cadman's research supports this, too. Boredom helps us to daydream again, providing fertile ground for the creative potential and bliss we didn't even realize was already in us.    

Niksen Helps Us Dream Again

Niksen allows us to access our free-wheeling dreamer. In the magical space of reverie, we have no choice but for interesting things to spring up. Writer Franz Kafka said it best:

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

Niksen Is the Artist's Best Kept Secret 

Writers, painters, musicians, and inventors have long known the importance of taking restorative breaks. In The Courage to Create, psychologist Rollo May encourages people to alternate hard work with periods of relaxation so that the unconscious can allow pieces to come together in novel and unexpected ways. Writer Brenda Ueland reminds us that:

"the imagination needs moodling—long inefficient happy idling, dawdling, and puttering."

So, go ahead. Do nothing. I dare you. 

You'll be glad you did and you'll be the richer for it.