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Art of Doing Nothing

The Netherlands has a reputation for emphasizing work-life balance and for having a culture that places equal weight on wellbeing and productivity
12:02 AM May 19, 2024 IST | Syeda Afshana
art of doing nothing

Proactiveness and continuous involvement are highly prized in today’s fast-paced environment. Niksen, pronounced “nik-sen,” literally means “to do nothing” in Dutch. Niksen is not about being indolent or putting things off. It’s the act of purposefully pausing from the responsibilities of everyday life to devote time to an undefined activity. This could be relaxing in a chair, gazing out the window or even going on a leisurely stroll without any particular plans.


In actuality, the core of niksen is to partake in activities that release the mind from the demands of efficiency and goal-oriented work, allowing it to relax and recharge. Though it has only just come to the notice of a global audience, the idea is deeply ingrained in Dutch culture.


The Netherlands has a reputation for emphasizing work-life balance and for having a culture that places equal weight on wellbeing and productivity. Although taking breaks and relaxing in various ways have long been practiced in the Netherlands, the term “niksen” as a defined practice has gained popularity as part of a larger movement towards mindfulness and mental well-being.


Today, niksen has become a well-known idea due to the growing demands of modern life, when people frequently feel driven to use every free moment with worthwhile endeavors. Niksen provides a counterpoint to the unrelenting quest of effectiveness and accomplishment by reclaiming the right to do nothing.


For example, in Dutch workplaces, the necessity of breaks and downtime is frequently acknowledged. Many organizations urge their staff to take quick breaks throughout the workday in order to unwind and refresh. In a similar vein, the Dutch approach to leisure time is well-balanced, placing a high value on taking time to relax and have mind repose.


Niksen proponents think it has a lot of advantages, both psychologically and physically. Stress and anxiety are lessened when the mind is given time to relax. These conditions are frequently made worse by a relentless schedule and performance expectations. Through mental clarity that this practice offers, people are able to handle their thoughts and feelings more skillfully.


Niksen is thought to cultivate creativity as well. When the mind is not preoccupied with a particular job, it might meander pointlessly and give rise to fresh concepts and revelations. This quality of niksen is especially appreciated in the creative sectors, where originality and inventive problem-solving are crucial.


In a society where having a hectic schedule is frequently mistaken for being significant, Niksen provides a sobering reminder that relaxation and respite are equally essential to leading a good life free from burnout.

Although there is a dearth of empirical study on niksen specifically, an increasing amount of evidence points to its advantages. A study that was published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” discovered that mind-wandering, a crucial aspect of niksen, might boost cognitive performance and advance original problem-solving. The researchers came to the conclusion that more mental flexibility and creativity can result from letting the mind meander without a defined focus.

Furthermore, studies on the effects of pauses and downtime at work lend credence to the notion that regular rest intervals enhance output and job contentment. According to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, workers who took brief but frequent breaks were less tired and more productive than those who worked long stretches of time without a break.

But there’s also a chance that Niksen will overindulge. Excessive or prolonged use of niksen can cause a lack of productivity and a directionless feeling. It could lead to procrastination or the abandonment of obligations if it is not counterbalanced with productive pursuits.

In societies where productivity and constant activity are highly valued, practicing niksen may be misinterpreted or even frowned upon. People who take time to do nothing may encounter criticism or judgment from peers or coworkers who might not understand the advantages of doing nothing!

It can be difficult for people with demanding work or hectic schedules to find time to practice niksen. Deliberately doing nothing could seem extravagant or unrealistic, which could cause guilt or worry about “wasting time.” If not understood correctly, niksen could be perceived for a lack of drive or laziness. This misunderstanding might cause poor self-perception and undercut the practice’s intended advantages.

The other harsh truth is that not everyone has the luxury of participating in niksen. It may not be feasible for someone who works several jobs, is struggling financially or has a large caregiving obligation to take regular breaks and do nothing.

For individuals prone to anxiety or overthinking, idle time can sometimes lead to increased rumination and stress. Without a structured approach, niksen might not provide the intended relaxation and could exacerbate anxious thoughts.

There is a subtle balance between sufficient rest and maintaining output. Overemphasizing niksen might disrupt this balance, leading to procrastination or a decline in work ethic.

In highly competitive settings, engaging in niksen could be interpreted as a lack of commitment or drive (kaamchori), which could have an impact on one’s ability to advance in career and social standing within professional circles.

Although some claim that niksen offers a variety of advantages, not all cultures and work profiles can afford this luxury. For some people, juggling daily obligations and niksen is not an easy call.