First, everyone started talking about hygge: the buzzy Danish word that took the form of fuzzy blankets and candlelit bedside tables. Then, we learned about lagom, the Swedish idea of living a balanced, stress-free lifestyle — as well as pyt, a Danish sound meant to stop your racing thoughts in their tracks. Now, a new Dutch concept is teaching us to be more mindful about our downtime. It’s called niksen, and it’s all about the art of doing nothing.
Psychologist Sandi Mann, Ph.D., describes niksen to the New York Times as what we do “when we’re not doing the things we should we doing.” She explains that it’s about taking considered time for ourselves, and understanding that there’s value in consciously “not doing very much.”
Unfortunately, the idea of doing nothing isn’t something that many people are comfortable with: The rise of hustle culture has infused us with an always-on, always-working mentality, and people often don’t make the time for small acts of nothingness that spark joy (think: just listening to your favorite song without multitasking, strolling around the corner without looking at your phone, or even taking a nap). And keep in mind, niksen isn’t about being unproductive — it’s about keeping your focus, but carving out necessary time to recharge. Here are a few ways to incorporate niksen into your life:
Declare a real end to your workday
Carving out time to relax starts with allowing yourself to take that time — and that requires you to leave work at work. Research shows that taking our work home with us can prevent us from winding down at the end of the day, and can rid us of the time we need to destress before bed. To incorporate niksen into your post-work routine, make a conscious effort to detach from what you’re working on in the office, whether that’s unplugging for an hour before bed, taking emails off of your phone, or leaving your computer at your desk. However you decide to end your day, the idea is to remember that it’s OK — and even good for you — to take some time to do nothing at the end of a long day.
Incorporate an outdoor break
Staying inside all day can prohibit us from enjoying a moment of niksen — and experts say stepping outdoors can give you the change of scenery required for a relaxing break. Restoration occurs during time spent outside, Nevin Harper, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Victoria and co-author of Nature-Based Therapy, tells Thrive. “Time away from your stress or regular daily grind can assist in reducing the burden of directed attention.” Harper notes that taking a stroll outside can help relieve stress — and that we should make time for it, no matter how brief it may be. “Time is the key asset most of us don’t have,” he adds. “Being outside can help one better handle the demands of today’s highly urbanized and technologically crazy world.”
Schedule niksen into your calendar
We know that working nonstop is a recipe for burnout, but with mounting deadlines and a list of tasks to get done, it can be difficult to find the time to reap the benefits of niksen. But even on your busiest days, it’s important to schedule a concrete break into your calendar simply to do nothing. A 2018 survey of office workers in the U.K. found that nearly 70 percent report lower productivity when they aren’t able to step away from their desks for a real lunch break — but at the same time, eight in 10 Americans say they’re stressed out, and almost half of us give up our vacation days to keep working. If you want to enjoy the art of nothingness responsibly, it’s important to block out time for it in your calendar, and respect that time for yourself.
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