If You’re Big On JOMO, You’re Going To Love Niksen, The Dutch Concept of Doing Nothing

by JR Thorpe
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

So long, hygge. Bye bye, lagom. This year, we're taking inspiration from the Netherlands for a concept that helps us prioritize health and wellbeing through basic hanging out: the art of niksen. Carolien Janssen, in her book Niksen: The Dutch Art Of Doing Nothing, defines niksen as "similar to mindfulness, yet you don't need anything special to do nothing." If you want to practice it, she writes, "slow down and celebrate the moment of not achieving." In other words: do precisely squat, nada, nothing at all.

Niksen is having a moment right now, probably because Scandi-chic is still in (though technically, the Netherlands aren't part of Scandinavia). What's more, many of us could probably use a novel way to de-stress. The world is difficult, the elections are coming, and everyday life is tough — so why not mine a Dutch chill-out concept for a little self-care? Niksen doesn't quite have the reach of cozy hygge yet, but you can expect to see it everywhere soon. The concept is deeply appealing — but trickier than it seems. When was the last time you sat and truly did nothing, no scrolling through your phone, no just-checking-Insta, no planning your next week, nothing? That's what niksen is all about, and it's supposed to replenish energy and instill a healthier mindset about productivity. Here's what niksen's all about, and how to practice it.

It Celebrates The Value Of Being Unproductive

My gran used to say that the Devil makes word for idle hands, and that's actually a pretty common idea. Ever since the Industrial Revolution in Europe, historians argue, life has often been defined by work and productivity — and when we're at home, we're still driven to be "productive" with our spare time. Bake a cake! Watch that documentary! Knit! Don't just sit there!

Well, just sitting there is what niksen is all about. It's about stepping away from the idea of productivity and just letting yourself do nothing: yawn, look at the wall, nap.

It Emerged Out Of Dutch Culture

Niksen's origins in Dutch culture, according to Olga Mecking at Woolly, come from a problem: in the Netherlands, being unproductive is often seen as undesirable. Mecking, who lives in the Netherlands, explains that "the popular proverb 'niksen is niks,' for instance, means 'doing nothing is good for nothing.'" Expert Carolien Hamming tells Woolly that filling your life with productive activities is built into the Dutch mindset from a young age: “Dutch children don’t learn to niksen. They are told always to be useful and work hard.”

Niksen aims to help people stop feeling as if their leisure moments need to be useful. Instead of doing an activity, niksen is all about contemplation without an object or a goal in sight. Unlike "flow," which is about activity, or mindfulness, which teaches you awareness of yourself in relation to your surroundings, niksen requires — well, nothing at all.

It Can Take A While To Get Used To

"For the Dutchies, looking out the window as people pass or going to the beach to stare at the waves for a while is considered niksen," writes Ionela Bărbuță for Dutch Review. "And by doing so, they obtain a state of calmness, of tranquility that they really like." Existing without an object in mind is a big part of niksen: you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, stare out the window, look at the scenery, or just look at your own hands. It's meant to be peaceful and produce nothing but your own peace of mind.

For many of us, though, this might be tricky. Philosophers from Bertrand Russell to Schopenhauer have contemplated what it means to truly do nothing and how it affects us. Philosopher Brian O'Connor, in Idleness: A Philosophical Essay, explains that idleness is "a feeling of non-compulsion and drift," and that it's not the same as leisure, which "allows us to recover from labor" and so makes us good workers; idleness isn't about goals, or work, or anything productive. A lot of us have the mindset that holiday time is about "recharging" to help us survive the working world. Idleness is about dropping out of the working world altogether, just for a little while.

To Practise Niksen, Resist The Temptation To Be Useful

Niksen is a godsend for people whose lives are chock-full of activities: work, exercise classes, crafting, good deeds, meeting up with friends for a coffee. If you want to have a niksen moment, sit and do precisely nothing; loaf about, eat a biscuit if you must, daydream, and do your absolute best not to be a productive member of society. Eventually you'll have to get up and do the laundry or head out for work, so why not enjoy these precious moments of nothingness while you have them?