Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Close your eyes and think back.

Think back to a recent time when you just sat and stared off into space. A time when you were idle, where you did nothing but empty your mind and sit still.

Wasn't it great? Didn't it feel relaxing and liberating?

This is something the Dutch are experts at apparently. They do it so well, they even have a word for it.

It's called "niksen," and it means doing nothing, or being idle, or just farting around.

And me being Dutch, I'm an expert at that too.

Niksen, that is, not, uh, farting around.

No, not "Nixon!"
This new word is different from another word that sounds the same, but means to lead a government administration rife with corruption whose scandalous discovery leads to your resignation in utter disgrace. This is "Nixon," and really only applies to one person. Possibly a second one later on.

Niksen is sort of like other European lifestyle concepts that have made their way to the United States and Canada. Words like "hygge," (pronounced "hue-gah"), which is the Danish word for coziness, or the Swedish word "lagom," which means a feeling of "just right," like Goldilocks was looking for.

And most recently, there was "dostadning," also known as Swedish Death Cleaning. It actually refers to the act of steadily decluttering your life and home over the years, and not the maximum-intensity power cleaning my mother called "I'm sick of your room looking like [the S-word], Erik!"

Doing niksen means taking a break from our fast-paced, tech-filled lives and to stare off into the distance without thinking. This is a worldwide practice apparently, because the Japanese even have a word for this called "boketto."

Not playing on your phone. Not watching TV. Just sit, watch the world go by, and revel in the wonderful feeling of not having anything pressing to do. Sort of like when your teacher said to "sit there and think about what you've done," only without the giggling because whatever you did was actually awesome.

It's a form of meditation, mindfulness, or even daydreaming. There are even mental and physical health benefits to practicing niksen once in a while.

And if you're lucky, you could experience "Rasasvada," which is the Sanskrit word for the bliss that comes from the absence of all thoughts. It sounds difficult, but it's actually not. I've seen countless drivers around Florida achieve Rasasvada the second they get into their cars.

It's the sheer gloriousness of doing nothing that feels so good. That feeling that comes from not having any responsibilities, even for just a few minutes. Of enjoying the calmness of a quiet spring day. It's lounging on the back porch with a cold drink, listening to the birds. Or sitting at a cafe with a latte and a pastry and watching people.

We work so hard every day, so we're allowed to do nothing once in a while. We have to fight the urge to do something productive.

In Indiana, this is our state motto: do something productive. We can't slow down, we can't take a break. Blah blah blah idle hands, blah blah blah devil's workshop.

Even though the big cities have the reputation for always being on the go, you don't know what busy is unless you've worked on a farm. It's that frantic farmer attitude our grandparents and great-grandparents instilled in their kids. From the moment the sun rose to the moment it set, you were supposed to work, and pausing to do more than wipe your brow was met with a scowl and the promise of getting the switch. Although I may be thinking of Almanzo Wilder from the Little House On The Prairie books.

Even today, we Hoosiers still have that do-it-yourself attitude that the settlers and farmers had 200 years ago. It seeped into the soil and has grown into the food, so now everyone has it.

If something needed planting, you had to plant it yourself. If the plow needed to be sharpened, you would plant it yourself. And if something broke, you would fix it yourself.

This attitude is so prevalent in Indiana that I've known businesspeople who will learn a new skill, even one they hate, rather than pay someone to do it for them.

I'm guilty of it myself. There have been times that I needed to fix a customer's website, but rather than pay someone else to do it, I'll spend three hours trying to find the solution online because I'm supposed to do it myself.

And my family isn't even from here! There's something in the water that seeps into our brains and makes us all overachieving maniacs, regardless of where you're from.

But I learned the American equivalent of niksen a long time ago, even if I had never heard of the concept. It's called "fishing."

It's where you climb into a boat or you sit on a dock, throw a hook and line into the water, and sit and do nothing. You stare at your line, and you wait.

Except Hoosiers can't even do this right. They think it's still work, because while you're being idle, you're still doing something productive by trying to catch dinner.

Which is a shame, because nothing sucks the fun out of doing nothing than actually trying to accomplish something. We can't do anything fun because there's always someone who wants to ruin everything.

Photo credit: Oliver F. Atkins (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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