The Beauty of Doing Nothing
Being idle is a valuable pursuit in a world focused on activity.
Posted Jun 29, 2019
The New York Times recently published an article which argued that we should stop being so active all the time and instead enjoy just doing, well, nothing. It referenced the Dutch term niksen, the art of being idle. Niksen involves conquering the culture of busyness by making a deliberate effort to just hang out, by, for example, staring out a window, sitting motionless, or daydreaming. The article even suggested organizing boredom parties to revel in doing nothing with other people.
Our fast-paced, electronically infused, media-obsessed world has led many of us to implicitly believe that we must always be busy, moving, accomplishing, and looking for the next rung on the ladder. We have become so narrowly focused on success, consumption, and industriousness that we have forgotten about the need to slow down, decompress, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
We’ve become trained to look forward in anticipation, instead of looking around in awe. We’ve learned to strive, but forgotten how to bask. We understand how to drive ourselves hard but overlook the need to refuel. This leaves us exhausted and feeling empty.
To remedy this, we need to recapture the meaningful moments that lie outside of obligation-related matters and fill our lives with recuperative pleasure. We need to remember to allow ourselves to indulge in the quiet spells that refresh and inspire us. We need to re-balance lives that are out of balance. In a world obsessed with industriousness and productivity, we need to reclaim the value of sometimes... just… doing… nothing.
Idleness can be beautiful.
I have a 9-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. The little guy goes to bed a half-hour before my daughter does, so she gets an extra 30 minutes each night to quietly decompress. Normally she watches TV, grabs her tablet, or plays a game with me or her mother. One night, my wife was out, and my daughter and I were lazily lounging on the couch.
“I’m bored,” she said. “Let’s do something.”
I responded by telling her that it’s good to be bored sometimes and that we should continue to just sit on the couch and do nothing.
“Nooooo!” she protested. “C’mon, let’s do something more fun!”
I held my ground. “No,” I said with a smirk. “Let’s just do nothing.”
The good-natured squabbling continued. As we jokingly bickered about what to do, my daughter started pushing my leg, trying to nudge me, metaphorically and literally, into action. I pushed back. We jostled, playfully engaging in a sort of tug of war.
We started giggling and laughing, and I had to keep telling my daughter to quiet down so she wouldn’t wake her brother. We talked. We cuddled. We pondered the questions that occupy a 9-year-old mind. This continued for half an hour until it was time for my little girl to go to bed.
Two days later, I once again put my son down to sleep and was alone with my daughter for a short time before it was her turn to head off to bed. As the two of us sauntered into the living room to figure out how to occupy the next 30 minutes, my daughter turned to me and coyly asked, “Daddy, can we do nothing again tonight?”
“Yes, honey,” I replied. “I’d love that.”