Have you experienced niksen? It could be 2019's answer to millennial burnout, writes Lee Suckling.
We all remember hygge, the Danish lifestyle concept of rugging up with blankets, big woolly socks and candles and actually enjoying winter. Once the Anglo world discovered it, the idea sold countless books and spurred Pinterest page after Pinterest page dedicated to being cuddly and warm indoors.
Now we've found "niksen", the Dutch art of literally doing nothing. It's similar to an Italian concept "la dolce far niente", one of my favourite ways of being – it basically translates to "the sweetness of doing nothing". La dolce far niente is what I try to do when I'm drinking a coffee with a sea view or sitting on a park bench with the sun on my face. It's about brimming with joy simply because you are being present. It's so enjoyable, it's actually sweet.
Niksen, similarly, is about doing nothing. It's sitting in a chair and looking out a window. Or lying on the grass and musing the shapes of the clouds. However, unlike la dolce far niente, the point of niksen is not to get joy out of doing sweet nothing. The goal is to have no goal at all. To be idle and be completely without purpose or use.
Niksen is posited as a solution to millennial burnout. Our lives are spent anxiously trying to achieve, to be productive, to prove something, to obtain what we've been told by our elders (and each other) is possible. The result is a generation of people enduring constant, low-grade trauma. A kind of mental distress that weaves itself through every day, inevitably making us feel a little bit of nervous discomfort all the time.
Doing anything without trying to achieve something is an inconceivable concept for most of us. It's why everybody now pulls their phone out to scroll through new updates when given 30 seconds of free time. We have been conditioned this way: to sit or stand aimlessly is thought to be creepy.
Many people who have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon in recent years will understand the difficulties that come with being present. It's so much easier to plan or to worry than to Be Here Now, isn't it? I always found my mind wandering during mindfulness (particularly using apps like Headspace) because it's really tough to let yourself just feel your feelings and focus on them in the moment.
Niksen, as some kind of genius savour for the over-active mind, actually stipulates that you MUST let your mind wander without the focus of being mindful. As long as there's no purpose to it.
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Burnout is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a chronic health problem caused by the stress of modern life. Niksen, the art of daydreaming aimlessly, is how we solve it. There are few other ways we can truly slow down in this ever-overstimulating world. Today, there is so much to do, so much to read, so much to learn, so much to watch, so many e-mails, so many items on to-do lists, so many people wanting things from you. It seems like it never stops.
With some practise, it can stop. But first, we have to accept two inevitable sensations that come with niksen: guilt and boredom.
The guilt felt during niksen is the self-reproach that comes with feeling like time is being wasted or being lazy. This can be remedied by accepting that by doing absolutely nothing, you're making yourself healthier. Which, in turn, is actually doing something. It's a form of self-care.
Boredom is harder to manage. Activity is a really good driver for happiness. It gives us a sense of dignity. Being bored can be painful and frustrating, so the only choice is to embrace it. Push through the negative feels of niksen, and keep going, for just a few minutes a day at first. Perhaps you'll start with just sitting on your couch and look around your living room. Maybe you'll just go for an aimless slow walk around the block. Be bored until you don't care anymore.
As the discomfort of boredom fades with time (it will!) stretch out your niksen sessions. Get to the point where you can spend an hour at night doing nothing. No obligations, no chores, no shows to binge on. I'd love to arrive at a place I can spend an entire night at home alone "niks-ing". No box-ticking, no emotional satisfaction from achievement. Just stopping.
There's freedom and tranquillity in niksen. Doing absolutely nothing is a hard nut to crack, but do remember being idle is not a permanent state. Eventually, you'll go back to being productive. And maybe, because you're less burnt out, you'll be even better at it.