I recently came across an interesting piece of research, done in 2014 by Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia et al. The researchers found that between doing nothing for 6 to 15 minutes and giving themselves mild electric shocks, a significantly large pool of participants chose the latter (administer mild electric shocks) instead of being left alone with their thoughts.
Raise your left hand up if you also prefer to do something rather than nothing. I raise my left hand too!
Some of you may disagree with this research and argue the “curious” human nature over doing nothing. I beg to differ on this and strongly agree with Tim’s research findings. Paradoxically, while our brains are designed to do nothing and conserve energy (again, there’s plenty of evidence from neuroscience and evolution,) our social environments combined with the modern economy and technology have forced us into believing that we should always be doing “something” all the time. And if we don’t do anything, we often feel guilty and left behind.
What is feeling guilty after all? Productivity expert Chris Bailey claims that we feel guilty when our actions don’t align with our values. I stop here and ask “Are these really your innate values?” or, “Are these a value system ingrained and influenced by our parents, society, culture, media, governments, religion, education, etc.?” Our society and culture favor hustle over relaxation, and busyness is considered a badge of honor.
Take a moment and reflect on whose values are you really following?
Intrigued by Tim’s research I kept digging for more (yes, which again reaffirms his findings that most human beings are obsessed with being busy being busy.) Historically we don’t want to work unless we have to, but today’s ego loves busy work! Continuing my search, I looked at the World Happiness Reports and found that countries from Northern Europe (Finland, Netherlands, etc.) continued to show up on the top of their charts for many long years.
It turns out that the Dutch have a term for this experience (of doing nothing): Niksen. Niksen, when loosely translated, means doing nothing – just because or for the hell of it – without any attachment to goals or results. The Dutch treasure their Niksen or do nothing time. For some, it could mean lying in the sun, going for a run (without the attachment to stay fit or lose weight, or counting steps,) or simply chilling on the couch without fiddling with your phone or watching the television.
Coming from a productivity-obsessed society, we may find Niksen a bit strange and alien. The idea of being idle, and just sitting and doing absolutely nothing is a bit daunting – I get that! We even feel the need to do something on our time off! How many of you take a leisure vacation without checking office emails or attending to office calls? Or, stuff your travel days with multiple sightseeing activities. We almost never do nothing.
Considering the spike in burnout and mental health, accommodating some form of Niksen into your daily and weekly schedules can only be a good thing.
Here are some of the benefits that practicing Niksen in your life can bring about:
- It can actually give you a break from planning and hustling, and gradually inform your mind that all is well, even if you aren’t running a thousand miles a minute.
- It’s an opportunity to lean into the discomfort of doing nothing, giving your mind and body the recovery it needs.
- It can help you take a break from betterment. It’s letting yourself know that it is okay and safe to stop for a moment.
- You will eventually learn to tap into your inner child who leads their day without any agenda.
- It’s an opportunity to let your mind wander into creative and imaginative states.
What is your take on Niksen? Do you feel it might just be the cheapest wellness trend?
Can Niksen be one of your values?
How can you add small doses of Niksen to your life?