Doing nothing is an art form. We live in a society full of over-achievers, people constantly hustling and grinding, and posting about it on social media. So when we do nothing, we’re made to feel bad for it, we’re ridiculed, we’re made to feel guilty or lesser then, we’re made to feel as if we don’t measure up to societies standards. The internet would have us believe that we don’t do enough in our spare time, instead pressuring us to become expert bakers, write the next best-selling novel, or transform our bodies and get in the best shape of our lives. We live in such a constant “state of doing”, that even when we vacation somehow we still have a to-do list. How are we supposed to manage our attention in a world full of distraction? When was the last time you really stepped back, relaxed, and enjoyed the simplicity of doing nothing?
I’m told Italians have mastered the art of doing nothing, so much so they have a saying for it, “Il Dolce Far Niente.” In the movie Eat Pray Love Julia Roberts’s character scolds herself for doing nothing but eating good food and learning a few words of Italian during her time in Rome, to which her Italian companions rebut “You don’t know how to enjoy yourself.” Nothing is harder in today’s world than doing nothing. We live in an always on-the-go civilisation that’s become the default way of being, particularly in the West. We fill almost every second of our lives with things to do, places to go, people to see, checklists to tick off – it’s no wonder millennials have become known as the burnout generation. Being so busy all the time has made it hard for us to know how to truly relax, to tune out the noise and instead just be.
When was the last time you did something because it brought you joy, not because it was expected of you? This is the sweetness of doing nothing. Society has shifted towards being constantly productive, trying to utilise every waking moment of every day. If there’s time left to be filled in the day, then there’s this undeniable urge to fill it, to make the most of it. There’s so much pressure to perform and meet others expectations, it’s no wonder we have a hard time enjoying moments of complete nothingness. How different would life be if we all made the time to experience a little more “Il Dolce Far Niente?”
The sweetness of doing nothing may seem like a luxury only a few can afford, but it’d help us all if we incorporated a little more of it into our lives. From rushing around in our jobs, to coming home and doing chores, to grocery shopping and making sure dinners ready, as well as running our daily errands, many of us don’t have the time to do nothing. Yet the art of doing nothing can be quite powerful, possibly life changing. In Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing, she discusses the pursuit of productivity and how it’s driven by forces that are out of our control. Competition, capitalism, and greed to name a few. All of these things she argues have redirected our attention, one of the most precious resources we have.
If we reclaim our attention, and take back the limited time we have on this earth, we become more open and our lives can have more purpose. But how do we do this? For starters, unplugging is a necessity. Banish the devices, and step back from what you know as your online self. This may seem overwhelming at first, as we’re so used to having access to whatever we want whenever we want, so it’s bound to take a while to adjust. As they say, anything worth having never comes easy.
Who doesn’t want to improve their lives, melt away daily stressors, and allow their body and mind to unwind? Whilst its unrealistic to feel this way constantly, there’s something to be said about pressing pause on your life from time to time to become more present. Release the idea that doing nothing is selfish and indulgent, instead recognising that it comes from a place of self-love and self-care. If the idea of doing nothing seems uncomfortable and foreign, don’t fret as you’re not the only one thinking this. This skill is one that requires practice. Instead of spending your free time binging Netflix, making never-ending to-do lists, and checking your email, how would you feel if you just did nothing?
“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” –Lao Tzu
Written by J'Nae Phillips