Why 'niksen' is not a thing
Updated: Jul 18
When I was young, my sister and I were forever told not to walk up the stairs without something in our hands.
Make yourself useful. Never be idle. Always have something to do.
My friend’s mum was worse. Whenever my friend was found to be doing nothing - or, as they say in Holland ‘niksen’ - she was put to work: washing the car, cleaning her room. (Or worse: her mum would make us all sit down in the garden and bring out a supervised picnic. And yes, it was the seventies, so lots of uncooked cauliflower and carrots in dips. I still can't think of any worse punishment!)
In other words, ‘niksen’ was frowned upon in Holland.
Or at least, it was in the Holland that I grew up in.
You can only imagine how surprised I was to learn that in Holland ‘niksen’ is now a lifestyle!
‘Niksen’ is being branded as a lifestyle choice, that the Dutch have universally embraced. In the last month international magazines and newspapers have been falling over each other to report on this brand new trend.
So, what is ‘niksen’?
‘Niksen’ is when you literally do absolutely nothing.
It is not meditating. Not mindfulness. Not ‘hygge’ - the popularised Danish ‘lifestyle’ of being content with little things, that typically goes accompanied by lighting candles and getting all cosy at home. It’s not even ‘lagom’, the Swedish idea of living a balanced, stress-free lifestyle (which somehow completely passed me by).
According to the articles it is about taking time for ourselves, and understanding that there’s value in consciously not doing very much. It generally goes together with just sitting down, aimlessly looking out of a window and idly whiling your time away. The same articles even tell us how to do it and how we should 'carve out' some time in our calendar to 'do' niksen.
In other words, it is just sitting down and doing absolutely nothing. At all. But consciously. See what I mean?
No, me neither.
‘Niksen’? It’s not a thing!
It is not a lifestyle choice. And it is certainly not a lifestyle choice for or by Dutch people.
Well, first of all, the Dutch are not exactly known for doing nothing. Doing nothing is not a value that gets instilled in Dutch children from an early age, or at least not in my experience. And whilst the Dutch score high in the ‘happiness’ tables, statistics indicate that the Dutch suffer from mental health issues just as much as anyone else, indicating that perhaps the Dutch are not embracing this so-called healthy lifestyle as much as the articles make us believe.
‘Niksen’ as a lifestyle? They might want to tell the Dutch about it!
Also, what is the link between mindfulness, ‘hygge’ and ‘lagom’ and now 'niksen'? Someone is bound to make money on it! Books, magazines, newspaper articles, classes, sales of smelly candles and onesies. Whole industries are built on these so-called lifestyles.
So far I’ve seen at least ten articles written about ‘niksen’, found over 500 comments on social media and sure enough there also is a book on the lifestyle-that-isn’t-a-lifestyle (‘Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing’ by Carolien Janssen).
No doubt, anytime soon, some clever clogs (ha!) will be making money on offering ‘niksen’ classes as well!
And putting 'niksen' on your calendar? Surely that completely misses the point altogether!
Finally, ‘niksen’ - and I agree completely with the comments on social media - is a terribly limp word. If you have to invent a new Dutch lifestyle, then at least show the tiniest bit of creativity, type it into Google and find a better word!
Lanterfanten. Luieren. Lummelen. Duimendraaien. All surely better than ‘niksen’ - which literally translates as nothing-ing.
So, why am I going on about this to you? Apart from perhaps some misplaced indignation on behalf of the Dutch people?
Well .. when I first learned about meditation, sometime back in the nineties, I was terrible at it. Sitting down for twenty minutes, not thinking about anything? No chance!
Mindfulness? A lot better! At least you were allowed to acknowledge that you couldn’t stop your thoughts. Instead you could recognise your thoughts for what they were and let them go.
Hygge? Lagom? Not for me (I don’t like candles and a onesie makes me look like a garden gnome).
And niksen? Well, apart from it not being a lifestyle choice, what we all do seem to agree on is that your body and your mind cannot always be on high alert.
You need downtime. To relax. To rest. To re-fuel. In other words, to do nothing.
And the good news is that you don’t have to pay anyone any money to learn this, as you are already a natural!
So, what's my advice?
Take time to relax and look after yourself, however you choose to do it.
Do not feel guilty about it.
Don’t pay money to learn how to do it.
And whatever you do, don’t put it on your calendar!
P.S. Today I read about the newest lifestyle craze from my home country: uitwaaien. Now you might know it as - you know - going for a walk, in the wind. Going for a walk is good for you. Especially after a heavy day, or a Christmas dinner. It's generally windy in Holland. There is really not much more to be said!
Tineke Tammes is an ICF accredited Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful career transitions into work they love! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.
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