Time has rarely meant more to us as a species than it does now. We move hastily through a present we do not fully understand towards a future we are not capable of understanding. Futile as it seems, the race is on.
The Dutch, who know a thing or two about happiness – after all they are ranked fifth in the world on the World Happiness Index – have a practised way around the predicament of pace. Oddly enough, it involves doing absolutely nothing.
Years after the Danes brought to the world Hygge (or the quality of cosiness), the Dutch have inspired another positive trend in Niksen. Literally meaning ‘to do nothing’ in Dutch, Niksen is the art of intentional purposelessness.
Niksen can best be described as a moment of mindless relaxation. Research shows that these targeted moments of ‘nothingness’ have played a vital role in the happiness of the Danes.
All it takes is to put away all devices, remove all distractions and observe surroundings as a passive participant. That is it. It might sound incredulously easy, but it is quite the other.
To many of us raised in a culture which does not paint idleness in the right light, it is not easy to sit without reaching for a smart device or moving without intention. In keeping ourselves busy, stimulated, we have lost the ability to sit still.
Take for instance George Seurat’s ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’. This 19th century masterpiece by the French artist depicts a life so far removed from the one we are living. Melancholic as it seems, the painting portrays stillness. Niksen aims to do the same.
“I hadn’t heard of Niksen until you told me about it, but it’s exactly what I have been telling parents to let their kids do for a long time,” says Nagammai Nagappan, a teacher at a prominent residential school in Andhra Pradesh. “Young children do it naturally. They spend time observing nature and things around them with a wide-eyed curiosity even if they aren’t participating in it.”
She says that whenever children are caught idling, parents assume they’re wasting time and push them into either more studies, sports or extracurricular activities. “They don’t realise just how important it is to let children daydream,” she says.
Research has shown that it is not only children who need to daydream. Numerous studies have indicated that daydreaming allows us to think of unique solutions to mundane problems.
According to Dr Erin Westgate, a University of Florida psychology professor, asking people to think meaningful thoughts made daydreaming less enjoyable than freely thinking about unguided thoughts. Dr Westgate recommends priming the brain to think of topics which are simultaneously fun and meaningful.
Shruti Ramesh, a Mumbai-based therapist says she has recommended Niksen to many of her clients.
“Novelty sells,” she says. “Most people come back saying it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, they felt restless and unproductive, but they did notice a change. They noticed a calm and reported that they were able to be in the moment for a bit longer.”
The Indian diaspora is only exposed to the idea in small metropolitan pockets, but Shruti reckons that will change soon as people with anxiety, depression and hypertension among other mental health concerns are beginning to unlearn the societal need to be busy – or act busy.
A link to creativity
Dr Sandi Mann in her paper titled Running head: Does being bored make us more creative? insisted that “It might be a worthwhile enterprise to allow or even embrace boredom in work, education and leisure.”
While the study did not delve extensively into daydreaming, Dr Mann implied that daydreaming played a vital role in the boredom-creativity link.
So, the next time you catch yourself daydreaming or choosing to do nothing, remember that you are serving yourself well and perhaps are on the path to creating something worthy.