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Niksen translates literally to: “do nothing, to be idle or something without any use”. It is a Dutch verb and has been used as a mindfulness method to combat the intense work culture of our society. It involved commonly used techniques like meditation, listening to music, and walking in nature. It is important to do these actions without purpose, without goals, primarily with a focus on relaxation.
This is not the only term that encompasses an escape from the hustle and bustle of regular life. “Hygge” is a Danish word referring to being or feeling cosy. It surrounds snuggling up by a fire or lounging around in blankets, enjoying simple pleasures. The Japanese word “Ikigai” simply means “purpose in life”. Yet, once imported into English it becomes quasi-mystical: “a way of finding profound meaning in one’s life or work”.
Olga Mecking, a Polish writer, and journalist believes Niksen is the answer to improving our productivity. Her work exploring the art of doing nothing has led to her book “: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing”, which was published last year. When talking about Niksen, Olga argues it has a great number of benefits. “It turns out, doing nothing has a great number of benefits. It can calm down your body and mind when you're agitated. It can make you more creative, allowing unique and original ideas to come to you. Ever wondered why we get the best solutions in the shower or on a walk and not when we're focused on solving the problem?”
Olga continues: “Well, that's because this is how creativity works. It can't be pressured; it needs to be given space. By giving yourself regular breaks during the workday, Niksen can make you more productive, allowing you to work better and more efficiently.”
THE DANGERS OF DOING EVERYTHING
Our society today thrives on being busy. As John Hopkins University studied this phenomenon, dubbing our work-life balance as the “cult of busy”. We are under constant pressure to pack our schedules with meetings, being our best-productive selves.
Just look at the “That Girl Trend” or the popular hustle culture on Instagram. Everywhere we look, productivity is idolised over laziness. 6 AM morning routines are viewed as motivation, and even moments of rest must be placed somewhere in the complicated schedule. The busier we are, the more successful we feel.
This romanticised idea of doing nothing is harder than one might think. Many people who have attempted Niksen have struggled with it. Many have reported feelings of guilt, restlessness or boredom when pursuing doing nothing. Our cult of busyness truly has us in its grasp.
Even when allowing themselves to sit in silence and focus on the present. We still find it difficult to shut our minds off and not worry about tomorrow. People become hyper-focused on what they should be doing, or what they could be doing with their time.
Olga mentions this struggle with truly doing nothing. And defining what “nothing” really means. “The way you can look at it is that it's a spectrum. You start at zero.” She continues humorously “you're truly doing nothing but that means you're dead. You have absolutely zero energy expenditure.”
“And then at 1, you're just sitting and breathing and doing nothing - that’s Niksen. Mind you, Niksen isn't checking Facebook or watching a movie on Netflix.” - Olga explains.
Niksen isn’t entertainment. It is being still: “It's staring out of the window, sitting in a cafe, and watching the people pass by. It's lying down on a towel on the beach or sitting on your couch. So, in this definition of Niksen is absolutely possible.”
We all in some way practised a form of Niksen during the 2019 pandemic. The pandemic adapted our reliance on hustle culture. We could no longer feel guilty about what we weren’t doing because we couldn’t do it even if we wanted. The world adapted and fell in love with working from home, walking through nature and taking things slower.
As Olga reminisces “When I wrote my NYT article that has eventually led to the book, I was writing for an audience that was heavily burned-out and overworked. In the Netherlands, my book came out a week after the first lockdown, with international editions coming out at various times during the pandemic. So I was able to watch how things were changing.”
For Olga, the pandemic showed the downside of work culture: “I think one of the things the pandemic has done is show that often the way we're expected to work (the more the better, preferably in the office, be "on" at all times).” She continues: “It isn't working, and it has affected women even more. So many of us had to leave or scale back work in order to care for our children when schools were closed. In modern society, we put all the responsibility and blame on the individual, but we need support systems too.”
Yet it isn’t all negative. “But there are some positive changes, too. From what I've noticed, many people now want to work from home more and employers should make that possible, at least part of the time. Many people are leaving jobs where they don't feel appreciated or valued. I hope the pandemic will lead to a better understanding of human needs. We need to learn to value rest and doing nothing and taking real breaks.” - Olga explains.