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Lessons in Niksen: The Dutch Idea of Doing Nothing

The Personal Kaizen team has recently reviewed the tenth annual rankings of the happiest countries in the world and read several books that examine what these countries do that is different and better. Over the next several weeks we are going to review some of the differentiators we observe with the governments and people in these countries. This week we will discuss the Dutch idea of doing nothing – niksen.

2022 Rankings of the Happiest Countries in the World

Below are the 2022 United Nations Rankings for a few of the Happiest Countries in the World. We share a few of the positive outcomes that contributed to the high ranking and one defining word for the country. Our previous posts looked at how good policy and sisu make Finland the happiest country and the Danish concept of hygge.

RankCountryContributing to High ScoreDefining Word
1FinlandFreedom, communal support, trust Sisu
2DenmarkSupport, trust, equalityHygge
5NetherlandsGenerosity, low corruptionNiksen
7SwedenLack of corruption, GDP, life expectancyLagom

The World Happiness Report ranks countries on GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption in government and business. The Netherlands scores well on social structures, generosity, GDP per capita, and perceptions of corruption resulting in a high level of trust and benevolence.

You can review some of the questions and read the entire report with the study rationale here.

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing: How the Dutch Unwind with Niksen

Maartje Willems wrote The Lost Art of Doing Nothing: How the Dutch Unwind with Niksen in 2021 as a call to action . . . for unwinding and not taking action.

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing: How the Dutch Unwind with Niksen
Photo Credit: Amazon

In a world where many of us have become slaves to our work or technology, Niksen is having nothing to do and not finding something new to do. The book defines the three essential ingredients of niksen as:

  • Time – stop watching the clock. You can’t schedule niksen, it just happens.
  • A calm mind – it takes practice to accept that doing nothing has a place in your life. De-stressing and relaxing is the purpose.
  • A place where you won’t be hassled – it is okay to have people around, but they mustn’t judge you or make you feel guilty for practicing niksen.

Some Benefits of Niksen

One reason niksen has become important to the Dutch is their history as a country that prioritizes hard work. In recent years, the Netherlands has become a global leader in part-time employment, with about half of the country working a part-time schedule. The COVID-19 pandemic helped promote slowing down and being more present. Well-being is more important than wealth!

A woman meditating on the beach - niksen

Niksen is incredibly good for your:

  • Mind – makes you calmer and reduces stress.
  • Body – offers rest on hectic days.
  • Creativity – clears space for brilliant ideas.
  • Wallet – it’s free!

Of course, it’s not practical to practice niksen constantly — we can’t do nothing all the time. 

Five Ideas for Practicing Niksen

Here are five ways you can benefit from niksen in your life.

A girl looking out an airplane window
  1. Take a siesta: A mid-day break is a great way to unwind and do nothing for a few minutes.
  2. Meditate: Practicing meditation is a great way to destress and clear your mind.
  3. Daydream: Stop what you are doing for a few minutes and just let your mind wander. We suggest practicing hygge (in a cozy spot) to help with this.
  4. Public transportation: Turn off your screens and just stare out the window and chill the next time you take a bus, train, or plane.
  5. Take a staycation: Many of us schedule destination vacations to enjoy the sights and culture of a new place. Instead, try scheduling time off from work where you just stay home and relax!

More Lessons from the Happiest Countries in the World

We will return with another lesson from one of the happiest countries in the world in our next post. Please leave comments and questions below!

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