Why You Should Join the 'Do Nothing' Club

Public Domain. Unsplash

It's not lazy, it's restorative.

Last spring I went to Bologna to visit my friend Francesca. We were sitting on the steps of the central market, eating apricots and watching the world go by, when I expressed surprise at how many people were out drinking beer at 6 pm on a Wednesday. She shrugged. "Why wouldn't they?"

So I described my typical after-school schedule, running errands, going to the gym, making dinner, taking kids to lessons and practices, and getting them to bed early. I told her that most other families are much busier than mine. Her eyes grew wide. "But when do you have time just to be?"

She then told me about the typical Bolognese routine of meeting friends in the piazza around 6 pm. Adults and kids convene, the former drinking beer and snacking lightly, while kids kick soccer balls and play tag. Around 8, they wander home and prepare food for dinner.

Though I was already familiar with the Italian rhythm of life, having spent a year in Sardinia, Francesca was genuinely horrified at how rushed my evenings are; she especially couldn't get over the kids' early bedtime. It was an interesting lesson in divergent world views, but her comment stayed with me, about needing time just to be.

piazza in Bologna

© K Martinko -- A small piazza in Bologna where families and friends gathered for several hours of relaxation after work.

We all need time just to be. I advocate for it on behalf of kids, who deserve emptier schedules and more free play time; but it matters just as much for adults. Without time to reflect, our ideas degrade in quality. Without time to recharge, we become less focused. Without time to relax, we work ourselves into a frenzy.

The Italians called it 'il dolce far niente', literally translated as 'sweet doing nothing,' or more colloquially as 'pleasant idleness'. It has a strong positive connotation because it's seen as valuable, even necessary to wellbeing.

We busy North Americans need more of this in our lives. On her blog Be More With Less, Courtney Carver urges people to join the 'do nothing' club, which gives us the energy to do something, but only when the time is right. She recommends scheduling empty time into your calendar to make sure it happens every day, even if it's only a tiny bit.

"You don’t have to determine how you’ll spend your do nothing time in advance. This 'do nothing' time will look different for everyone. Read a book, take a bath, stare at the stars, or simply rest. Do what helps you refuel and recover."

And forget the guilt, she says. You're not lazy; you're taking care of your health and happiness. "You are choosing to do nothing because you are not a robot and because you’ve done enough already."

While I likely won't be hitting the bar mid-week with my kids in tow, I intend to work toward de-scheduling, creating more space when we are able to wander down to the beach, fit in a bike ride before dinner, or have more evenings to myself to read. The next time I see Francesca, hopefully she won't be quite so horrified at my speed of life, and I will feel more relaxed.