Oh, our brothers and sisters in the northern reaches of Europe, they just keep on coming up with practices to make us happier, healthier people. First, they gave us we hygge, that soft and cuddly candle-lit lifestyle of Scandinavia, especially Sweden. Then, there is the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, or free air living, which has us all scrambling to score big snowflake adorned sweaters and fluffy hats and mittens so we can get outside and stay there.

And now I hear of the Dutch notion, “niksen,” which translates roughly into the practice of doing nothing.

That’s Nothing.

Nothing at all.

The thinking is that, to fully relax, we might need to sit in a chair on a bright afternoon and look out a window. Or lie on a sofa, listening to music. Or sit in the sun, with a mind as wandering as the clouds overhead, which you can look at, or not.

I hesitate to mention niksen, because it seems like the antithesis to the American mindset, even in the time of COVID, and all the challenges of filling our isolated days. On the other hand, maybe COVID is the perfect time to embrace the notion of doing nothing. More than usual, I mean. In fact, many of us already have, and we aren’t even ashamed of it.

The Dutch, along with their neighbors to the North, consistently score high on the World Happiness Scale, and they do look pleased and serene, don’t they, as they cruise along on their big old bikes, or sip beer and wine and coffee with their friends at outdoor cafes along the canals, all robust and rosy-cheeked.

There is neurological evidence that an idle mind can be a creative mind, a calm mind. It’s all down to brainwaves, also referred to as neural oscillations, and those delta, gamma and theta waves. It’s complicated and I wouldn’t even try to explain it — primarily because I can’t quite grasp it well enough myself. But we have the ability to alter our brainwaves for a desired effect, and niksen is one way to do it.

The thinking is, doing nothing — emptying the mind — leads to a kind of meditative state. And in a meditative state, depending on how deep you go, the opportunity for deep relaxation, creative thinking, and even enhanced learning takes place. You have been in such a state, we all have. It is that moment between waking and sleep when we are awake and not awake, the place where the answers to a problem we have wrestled with all day come to us in a dawning, clear and creative fashion.

I recently chatted with a very successful executive who includes meditation in his workday, was trained, in fact, to do it, along with other executives in his organization. He swears by it, although he found it a bit odd in the beginning. But he is an open-minded kind of fellow, and he knows he is a better boss and producer because of it.

We had this discussion after I attended, on a whim, a Nidra yoga practice. I signed up because we were instructed to bring pillows and blankets and weighted eye masks and to be prepared to lie flat in the corpse pose for an hour. The class was held virtually, and I loved the idea of doing yoga without actually moving … that right there lives in the niksen house, don’t you think?

But in truth, we were doing something, it was just all internal. The instructor did an hour-long guided imagery, with the primary purpose of creating a calm, peaceful outcome to ratchet down stress and anxiety and the racing mind that plagues us. If you do it right, you can reach the deepest state of relaxation while still remaining conscious. The challenge is not to fall asleep.

I got right into it. There was lots of deep breathing and visualization, and by the end, I felt calm and centered, and oddly purposeful, yet floaty, and also ready for bed. I liked it very much.

Maybe deep mediation doesn’t entice you. I get that. But now this niksen, this doing nothing with purpose, might this be worth a go? Even just a little bit? We are entering the most beautiful time of year, with lallygagging written all over it. Might it be nice to charge up our happiness factor, our creativity factor, with permission from science, to do nothing, nothing at all?

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