'Niksen' Is the Delightful Dutch Concept of Doing Nothing

person sleeping on then end of a dock

Krisztina.Konczos / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Embracing life's pauses is healthy, restorative, and can boost creativity.

First came hygge, the Danish concept of coziness that captivated people's imaginations (and Instagram accounts) last winter. It was followed by lagom, the Swedish idea of living in moderation, and friluftsliv, open-air living. More recently came dostadning, a.k.a. Swedish Death Cleaning, or the act of slowly and steadily decluttering one's home as the years go by.

It's always amusing when a single word from a foreign language kickstarts an entire lifestyle trend, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes all a person needs is a bit of inspiration, a spark of encouragement, to make changes they've been craving all along.

Now another word is making its way into wellness headlines, this time hailing from the Netherlands. The word is 'niksen' and it means "doing nothing"; or, as my sister who speaks Dutch explained to me, "to idle or muck around." Basically, niksen embraces a state of indolence, of languor. It reminds us that periods of doing nothing whatsoever, of purposely avoiding productivity, has great value.

Why is it so valuable? For one, it stands in stark contrast to the way in which most people live these days, rushing around from dawn till dusk with an unending to-do list. Western culture, in particular, is reminiscent of the mythological Sisyphus and his rock, forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down as he nears the top. The duties never end. We do this, despite knowing how unhealthy it is, depriving us of downtime, of sleep, of time to think, of time spent with family and engaging in hobbies.

One might think niksen sounds terribly boring, but recent psychological studies have shown that boredom is a surprisingly fertile mental state. The Atlantic reports that encouraging contemplation and daydreaming can spur creativity:

"A British study [asked] subjects to complete a creative challenge (coming up with a list of alternative uses for a household item). One group of subjects did a boring activity first, while the others went straight to the creative task. Those whose boredom pumps had been primed were more prolific."

Niksen differs from the ever-popular mindfulness in that it advocates a state of mental relaxation, even absence from the present. It endorses mind-wandering and imaginative digressions. Staring out the window, lying awake in bed, listening to music, spending a weekend doing nothing, watching paint dry -- all of these are wonderful examples of niksen. I particularly like writer Olga Mecking's description: "A thorough enjoyment of life's pauses."

Niksen gives a name to a concept I already embrace at home. I adore lazy weekends with my family, when there is nothing on the docket and nowhere to be. My favorite evenings are the unscheduled ones, when I can lie on the couch (with my bowl of popcorn) and read a novel. I suppose one might call that productive, but to me it's pure idleness and I love it.