At a time when half of the global population is living confined and our society has ground to a temporary halt, this mantra has taken on a new resonance. Niksen, the Dutch word for doing nothing, is a wellness practice said to promote daydreaming (hence productivity and creativity), relieve stress and help us (re)discover the culture of purposeful idleness and the simple pleasures of everyday life.
Busy, busy, busy
We feel obliged to spend every second of our free time doing something productive, following the dictates of a society worshipping at the altar of hyperactivity. Our addiction to digital devices aggravates the overload, for they bombard us with a never-ending flow of social connections and activities.
This state of affairs has created a major health issue. According to a report published in late 2019 by the U.S. association of health insurance companies Blue Cross Blue Shield, the mental health of Millennials is steadily declining (cf. “The Burnout Generation” on buzzfeed.com). For one thing, there has been an increase of 47% in diagnoses of depression over the past six years. The workplace is a key contributing factor in this alarming trend: according to a December 2019 article on Forbes.com, two out of three workers experienced burnout last year.
Now the COVID-19 public health crisis has exploded onto the world stage. By mid-April of this year, 4.5 billion people were staying at home, a totally unfamiliar situation obliging us to rethink our habits and seek a more holistic approach to wellness to avoid succumbing to anxiety and depression.
Freedom from External Stimuli
Niksen does not provide an excuse for laziness, nor does it rely on the methods that we habitually use to decompress – e.g. fitness activities and meditation – on our never-ending quest to optimize our physical and mental capacities.
What it does do is help us create a mental void, allowing the mind to recover from the daily barrage of overstimulation. In her book “How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy“, the American artist and writer Jenny Odell denounces the chaos created by the attention economy and recommends contemplation. Instead of measuring quality of life by the yardstick of higher productivity, which she finds destructive, she advocates the value of being alone with one’s daydreams and thoughts as an excellent remedy for preserving mental health.
The idea of benefiting from downtime is not new. In 2016, Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at a British university and director of The MindTraining Clinic, wrote a book called “The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom is Good“, explaining “how boredom can be a catalyst for humor, fun, reflection, creativity and inspiration.”
An article published in 2012 by UK university researchers, “Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?”, speculates that boredom might stimulate the “production of fantasies, awakening creativeness”, “can induce challenge-seeking behaviour”, “can actually be energising, inspiring a search for ‘change and variety’” and allows the mind to clarify what action to take.
In an interview, Naoko Yamamoto, assistant director-general for universal health coverage at the World Health Organization, remarked that “inspiration almost always happens when you’re doing nothing special – when you’re showering or doing the dishes”. Similarly, an opinion piece published in 2019 in The New York Times, “Let Children Get Bored Again”, observes that boredom teaches children that “life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency.”
Niksen is the latest twist in this way of thinking. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, several studies have shown that practicing niksen for short periods throughout the day can help reduce anxiety, boost immune responses and postpone the appearance of physical signs of aging. And that’s not all! Psychological well-being can also help increase productivity.
Brands Follow Consumers’ Lead
By (re)learning how to do nothing, consumers are shedding their preconceived ideas about idleness, often mistaken for laziness. Niksen is often associated with a stay-at-home lifestyle, which has been a Millennial preference for some years now. In a 2016 survey by mediapost.com, 72% of Millennials and teens said they would rather stay in on the weekends than go out at night. The revival of the homebody has gone hand in hand with the rise of JOMO (the joy of missing out).
In response to these shifts in attitude, many brands are developing products and experiences geared to the slow life. For instance, some emerging brands are offering a sophisticated new take on loungewear and nightwear. OFFHOURS specializes in “inactive wear for being indoors”, including a Homecoat billed as “the closest you can get to actually wearing your comforter”. In the same vein, the sleepwear brand No Plans celebrates downtime (“from 9pm to 5am when you are at your realest – unbothered, uninhibited and wonderfully imperfect”). In 2018, the Casper mattress company created The Dreamery, “a magical place in NYC where you can rest and recharge whenever you want”. These market offerings are expressions of the conscious deceleration trend, diametrically opposed to the get-up-and-go culture.
It’s all about living life in the slow lane, a philosophy that is very a propos as we all deal with confinement and what comes text.
Cover image credit: © OFFHOURS