Niksen: Doing nothing seems to be the next hype

It was world mental health day on the 10th of October. Usually I’m not that on-topic, but my colleague sent me a link to a book: “Niksen: Embracing the Dutch art of doing nothing” that came out this month. She added: “Please help me get some Niksen in my life!!”  It made me snicker.

Apparently, “we, the Dutch” mastered the art of doing nothing. After the Danish “Hygge hype” and the Swedish “Lagom legacy”, Niksen is the newest trend in the battle against stress and anxiety.  

I wasn’t sure about taking this as an insult or a compliment. Have the Dutch just been called lazy? Or have we been praised for the ability to properly switch off?

After doing some research, it appears to be the latter.

Niksen is considered to be an effective method of stress management. It’s a little different than mindfulness. Where mindfulness encourages you to focus on being in the moment and not to worry about the past or the future, niksen allows your mind to wander or consider light topics (“what a pretty sunset”), or daydream for a bit. Niksen requires you to do nothing and have no purpose while doing it, such as staring out of the window; lying on a beach; curling up on the sofa and reading a magazine. Niksen can lead to decreased stress levels and increased creativity and problem soliving abilities. What’s not to like?

Niksen doesn’t mean you’re lazy, although the word has a bit of a negative connotation in the Netherlands. The Netherlands historically is a Calvinistic country and working hard is in our heritage. But we do know what we should do to switch off even though we might need to do a bit more of it. Niksen means you take time to allow yourself to do something (or actually: nothing) just for you, without any specific purpose. I think me and my friends might prefer to call it me-time.

Imagine tonight, you’d have an hour of me-time. You allow yourself to spend that hour doing something that has no purpose other than winding down. Not actively or consciously using any of your brain capacity. It instantly lifts your mood looking forward to that, doesn’t it?

For once, I seem to be an early adopter of a trend just based on my nationality. But does being Dutch really mean I’m automatically good at niksen? You might recall I mentioned one of my colleagues said I came across as someone who’s always keeping busy…

I think I’m pretty good at not massively overplanning my free time. I might also be good at intending to do nothing. However, the execution can be pretty poor: As a form of me-time, I might plan to take a nice long relaxing bath. I don’t like taking baths. I don’t have the patience to wait until it fills up, so I’ll get in while the water is too hot and the tap is still running. With a book. I’ll read three pages, get annoyed the book is getting soaked. Will start washing my hair instead. By the time the bath is full, I’m done. I guess taking a bath is not my ideal scenario when it comes to niksen.

Sometimes I move a comfy chair over to my floor-to-ceiling windows and promise myself to just enjoy the view for a bit. I do bring a book, my phone and my iPad… And after 10 minutes of staring out of the window I usually end up reading the news, finishing my book, watching something on Netflix or on a call with family or friends. But those 10 minutes do actually feel pretty good! (And so do the other 2 hours of me-time)

Niksen is not the easiest thing for many of us, especially in a world full of constant distractions and responsibilities. Niksen also shouldn’t replace a workout or a healthy diet, or doing anything else you need to get energised. But I would encourage you to give it a try. Even if it’s just 10 minutes.

Is niksen something you’d consider to de-stress? Or do you get nervous even thinking about it?

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