OPINION: Celebration of being idle - niksen - just seems a load of Double Dutch

The Dutch have a term for doing nothing - niksen - which Nick says seems like a flawed concept. Pict

The Dutch have a term for doing nothing - niksen - which Nick says seems like a flawed concept. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dutch trend for doing nothing doesn’t make sense to our columnist

Could you sit on the train from Norfolk or Suffolk to London and, as Bing Crosby once sang, be busy doing nothing?

I don’t mean scroll through your phone, read a magazine or listen to some music – I mean just do nothing but look out of the window and be happy in your own company?

If you could you’d be right on trend for this autumn as we’ve got another one of those continental buzz words invading our lingo.

First we had ‘hygge’ which was the 2016 Oxford English Dictionary word of the year. If you remember correctly, it is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfort. A year later Sweden’s ‘lagom’ was dropped into our vocabulary – it means ‘just enough’ as in not going to any excess.

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Hot on the heels comes a word from our friends in The Netherlands – ‘niksen’.

Niksen is the Dutch art of doing nothing which for me is very relevant on two levels. Firstly, my recently departed Dutch grandmother had an adorable idle streak that she played up to. If I saw her doing some housework I used to joke with her that I should have had my camera with me to record it. She made a hobby out of sitting around for most of her last 30 years, although she did spend plenty of that time actively channel surfing with the TV remote and reading the Radio Times cover to cover several times over each week.

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It’s also apt because this week I’ve had a nasty little virus (not that one) and for the first time in a while I’ve been forced to do, well, nothing.

The joy of working from home and having a daily chat over a webcam means your colleagues can take one look at you and tell you to log off because you look shocking. I didn’t even have to pretend to cough when it was my turn to talk.

Normally I would pepper my time at home doing the usual boring chores with some wild and diverse mid-40s fun like spinning plenty of records, watching some obscure 1980s football highlights on YouTube and picking up a never-ending pile of toys off the floor. If you’ve ever trodden on a Brio wooden train at 6am with nothing on your feet, I do share your pain.

But this week I spent two days with no inclination to do any of those things. I just wanted to get better.

So I was ‘niksening’ to a point, although it wasn’t really through choice. It was more thrust upon me by a total lack of energy and a burning desire to avoid watching Loose Women.

To niksen is to celebrate being idle, but it’s something you can’t share. So you could lay in the park in the summer in a pair of shorts – but taking a picture of your legs and posting a jealousy-inducing ‘wish you were here’ message on Facebook would break the idea of it. For the act of taking a picture and telling the world means you’d not be doing nothing, you’d be doing something. Even though you’d be telling the world you were doing nothing.


The benefits of niksen are clearly to do with ditching your mind of clutter and taking time out of the cut and thrust of modern life.

I can see the logic – apart from maybe when you have a bath or lay on the beach, when do we ever actually do nothing? But then maybe to a niksen disciple, having a bath is still doing something!

Wait at a bus stop, join the queue to drop off a child at school or patiently stand in line for fish and chips and what do 90% of us Brits do? We whip out our mobile phones and start scrolling through mindless information. This Dutch term is about being comfortable in your own company, although if you saw someone sitting on a bench in the middle of a town actually doing nothing you’d probably think there was something wrong with them.

I guess that’s the way of the world we live in. We are more comfortable when we’re surrounded by stuff and information to the point that I’d argue it’s actually harder to do nothing than it is to do something.

And although taking time out to ‘niksen’ (it is a verb apparently) helps the brain slow down, eases stress and gives you time to think, I’d say it’s a word the Dutch can keep in their vernacular especially in a year like this.

People are in isolation, locked down, living alone and cut off from work colleagues, friends and family more than ever. It’s certainly easier to do nothing if you’ve got nobody to do it with.

We all need our space and time to think but the concept of niksen seems like a flawed way to enjoy life. Surely as we get older we have more stuff around us, more time on our hands to fill and a sense that we can’t waste a second of it.

Do we really want to actively be so anti-social and do nothing?

So next time you feel guilty about simply doing nothing, just have a think about this article. Although don’t think too carefully about it for that would be doing something, rather than nothing...

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