‘Niksen’ like the Dutch: how you can accomplish more — by doing nothing

“Niksen is niks” but ‘niksen’ is also good for everything. As time goes by, we discover that people from different cultures invent and adhere to new, innovative trends that are supposed to bring jolliness and contentedness into their lives.

The Dutch are no exception to this. Quite familiar with the hygge concept, which they call gezelligheid, people in the Netherlands have found a way to become happier and more relaxed by also embracing life’s breaks.

What does this mean exactly? We’re talking about a Dutch concept that has become some sort of a buzzword in the wellness world: niksen.

What is ‘niksen’ and how does it work?

Niksen means doing nothing or, more specifically, performing an action without a clear purpose or a deadline. Doing something just for the sake of doing something.

For instance, for the Dutch, looking out the window just to watch people pass by or going to the beach to stare at the waves for a while is considered niksen. By engaging in niksen, the Dutch reach a state of calmness and tranquillity.

READ MORE | Uitwaaien is the Dutch invention you never knew you needed (until now)

Caroline Hamming, a coach at CRS Centrum — an organization devoted to fighting stress and burnout — states that niksen is great for people suffering from burnout. Taking some time in the midst of your daily struggles to just sit back and relax helps you increase your creativity and productivity.

I first heard of the concept of “doing nothing” in the movie Eat Pray Love when the Italians from the barbershop explain Liz the idea of dolce far niente — the sweetness of doing nothing.

So then, what’s all the fuss about ‘niksen’?

The Dutch didn’t invent this concept and while it seems utterly similar to mindfulness, the two are not the same thing. Niksen doesn’t require you to focus your entire attention on the present moment or become one with your surroundings. Quite the opposite, niksen allows you to think — or not — about anything you want. The mind is simply free to wander.

Going back to why the Dutch prefer to niksen over just “doing nothing” (as the Italians put it in Eat Pray Love), my two cents on the terminology is that this has something to do with how the cultures differ.

As opposed to Italians, who are known for their fondness for leisure activities, the Dutch tend to be more like the Americans when it comes to these things: Although most Dutch people aren’t workaholics, they do like to get everything done and the activities they perform are usually goal-oriented. Even when they relax by cycling, they do it with a purpose — to get some fresh air and stay fit.

In the end, then, niksen seems to be the Dutch secret to finding a balance between getting things done (on time!) and appreciating the small things in life.

Do you engage in ‘niksen’ when you feel tired and stressed out? Have you heard of this concept before? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2018, but was fully updated in August 2021 for your reading pleasure.

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  1. Everybody should take a few hours a week and go “lekker niksen”. Haven’t heard this expression in years but n5ow I will put it to work. Thanks Johanna.


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