Learn how the Dutch concept of "niksen" could help you de-stress and simplify your life.

By Katie Holdefehr
January 30, 2018
Yuri Arcurs/Getty Images

First came the Danish concept of hygge, and we were all trying to not hate winter by embracing the coziness and conviviality while lounging fireside. And then came lagom (a.k.a. the “new hygge”), or the Swedish concept of balanced living, and we were all busy finding the happy middle ground located somewhere between not-too-much and not-too-little. Well now, there’s a new Scandinavian trend that’s ditching the moderation and going full tilt into relaxation mode: niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing.  

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When translated literally, niksen means to idle, lounge about, or hang out. And when practiced deliberately, the subtle art of doing nothing can be used as a stress reduction technique. When we overpack our schedules with work, meal prep, carpooling, and social events, it doesn’t leave a spare moment to simply relax. In fact, the idea of sitting and doing nothing makes me feel a creeping sense of guilt. Shouldn’t I be cleaning something, or writing something, or calling someone, or checking something off the to-do list?

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Somehow, by conceptualizing doing nothing as a trendy Scandinavian idea, it suddenly gives us overworked Americans permission to let go. If the Netherlands, which is currently ranked as the sixth happiest country according to the 2017 World Happiness Report, believes in the power of niksen, then who are Americans (the U.S. has fallen to fourteenth place) to say it doesn’t work?

In fact, many recent scientific studies have attempted to figure out exactly what niksen does for us—on the neurological level. While scientists typically study brain activity while participants complete an activity, more and more research is focusing on what happens during the brain’s downtime. By monitoring blood flow in the brain using fMRI during a resting state, researchers have found that even while on rest mode, our brains are surprisingly active, and certain patterns tend to emerge. Disruptions in the usual patterns have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and more. Some theorize that even while our brains are resting, they’re making important connections that will increase productivity and creativity later.

Ready to give niksen a whirl? It’s actually not as easy as it sounds. Put down the phone, avoid checking emails, stop browsing the Netflix queue, and embrace the art of doing nothing. Stare out the window, try meditating, listen to some music—but whatever you do, don’t try to accomplish anything. Who knows, doing nothing may turn out to be the best thing you do for yourself today.