Niksen: Being happy doing nothing?

Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / Pexels

When you niksen, you’re not doing anything—at least nothing that serves a purpose. Here you can find out what this kind of relaxed doing nothing is all about and what advantages and disadvantages there are.

Just do nothing, really nothing: don’t watch a series, don’t listen to self-improvement podcasts or read books, don’t endlessly scroll through social media, just sit and think. Many are only forced into such a situation, for example when they are sitting in a waiting room with an empty mobile phone battery. Consciously doing nothing is sometimes unimaginable. After all, that’s not going to get you very far in our fast-moving, performance-oriented world. For many people, therefore, leaning back is associated with feelings of guilt rather than relaxation.

Others even avoid doing nothing with all their might because they fear boredom. In a 2014 study, researchers left their subjects alone in a room for six to 15 minutes. The test persons could decide whether they would rather “just think” during this time or whether they wanted to devote themselves to an activity. They found: Participants turned to almost every available distraction, including administering painful electric shocks to themselves, just to avoid being alone with their thoughts.

“Waste of time” can make a lot of sense. The Dutch concept “Niksen” wants to show that. Niksen is the Dutch word for “sitting around” or “squatting around” and describes a philosophy of life that focuses on one thing: doing nothing.

What is Niksen?

Looking out the window can help with the niks.
Looking out the window can help with the niks.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / mhouge)

Sitting in a chair and looking out the window, taking in the surroundings and maybe listening to music – this is what Niksen can look like, as Carolien Hamming, head of a stress management center in the Netherlands, described in Time Magazine back in 2019. It is important that all of this happens without a purpose, i.e. without you wanting to achieve anything specific (such as more productivity afterwards). You don’t look out the window to see if you need to weed the garden again. And you don’t listen to the music to increase your concentration or to distract yourself.

All of these are meant to be just the frameworks that allow you to be easy when niksen. You even give up control of your thoughts. So unlike practicing mindfulness, where the goal is to become more present in the moment, you don’t examine your thoughts during the nix. You also don’t imagine letting go of your thoughts like balloons rising into the air, which is often required in meditation. Instead, you can just indulge in your daydreams.

According to Time Magazine, niksen was originally considered a sign of laziness in the Netherlands. But in view of a changing perception of stress not as a status symbol of a life geared towards productivity, but as a health risk that can lead to burnout, among other things, Niksen began to rethink it – namely as an attitude to life that resists the social pressure of always having to perform and should allow you to do nothing at all.

Doing nothing can be so positive

Niksen joins other lifestyles that also try to slow down and find balance in the hectic everyday life: Hygge from Denmark teaches us how to make ourselves comfortable, and with the Swedish Lagom we are suitable for a relaxed “everything in moderation “-mentality on. And the good old “dolce far niente” has long described the Italian art of sweet idleness.

While the positive effects of hygge (coziness, spending time with friends) and lagom (calmness) are readily apparent, it seems doubtful at first that staring out the window in a niky way can really make a difference. In fact, researchers can attest to the benefits of slowing down, boredom, and daydreaming:

  • Eve Ekman of the University of California told Time Magazine that slowing down can reduce anxiety, slow the aging process and strengthen the body’s immune system.
  • Ruut Veenhoven from Erasmus University Rotterdam also reports in Time Magazine that Niksen can promote creativity. Because even when we don’t seem to be doing anything, our brain continues to process information. That’s why it’s not uncommon for new ideas or solutions to problems to come to mind while we’re out for a walk.
  • Research supports this thesis. One study found a connection between wandering thoughts and creative problem solving. Another 2013 study concluded that wandering your mind can inspire you to achieve goals and gain clarity about what actions are needed to get there.
  • In addition, the niksen is helpful to find a good balance between relaxation and tension in your everyday life. According to Netdoktor, doing nothing spontaneously is a recommended coping strategy for acute stress.

Niksen: You should pay attention to that

Niksen can increase the tendency to ruminate.
Niksen can increase the tendency to ruminate.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / RyanMcGuire)

So Niksen would be very good for many of us now and then. However, it is important to note that intentionally doing nothing can also have negative consequences. This applies in particular to people who tend to rumination – i.e. to brooding. When we do nothing, we consciously give up control of our thoughts. But you can also go in an uncomfortable direction. A merry-go-round of thoughts then begins to revolve around worries and fears, which can also result in physical complaints: The study from 2013 mentioned above also points out as a negative consequence of wandering thoughts that some test subjects after a daydream exercise had an increased heart rate and trouble falling asleep for 24 hours.

In addition, courses and guides are now marketing idleness as a lifestyle topic, explains Yvonne Robel from the Research Center for Contemporary History in Hamburg. This conveys that people are responsible for their own well-being and should take time out to achieve better health or creativity. Niksen risks becoming just another item on a to-do list that we should check off for the sake of self-improvement. Of course, relaxed Niksen has nothing to do with such an inner pressure to perform. In niksen it is permissible to be “passively lazy” – just doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing.

Another point to consider: Ideally, you should alternate niksen with productive periods for greater life satisfaction. A 2016 study found that people who engage in more productive leisure activities (like playing games, talking, gardening, or reading) tend to be happier because they have stronger social relationships and feel stronger have self-efficacy.

Here’s how to start niksen

Doing nothing is harder than you think. After all, free time is often full of appointments and we are used to being able to distract ourselves with entertainment around the clock. These tips will help you to integrate Niksen into your everyday life anyway:

  1. Don’t put any pressure on yourself: Don’t see Niksen as another trend towards self-optimization, but as something that in and of itself simply serves enjoyment and being. In this way you can avoid pressure to perform and don’t despair if doing nothing doesn’t work out right the first time.

  2. Approach the niksen: You don’t have to niksen for 15 minutes or even half an hour. Start with two minutes of doing nothing a day and then build up. This tool can help you with that: Do Nothing for 2 Minutes.

  3. Find out what niksen means to you: is it sitting in the chair and looking out the window? Or aimless wandering in nature? Or maybe just scribbling on a piece of paper relaxes you. The important thing is that all these forms of niksen should only serve the purpose of letting the mind wander.

  4. Accept other people’s nicks: If we don’t always expect other people to be productive, then we don’t always expect that of ourselves either.


  • Relaxation techniques: These 4 exercises slow you down
  • Doing nothing: That’s why you should try it consciously
  • Getting rid of negative thoughts: How to deal with them

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