Friday 23 April 2021

Book Review - Niksen by Olga Mecking - Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

I recently treated myself to a couple of new books from my wish list, starting with one that frequently popped up in the books recommended for me - Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing (affiliate link).

The Dutch noun niks means 'nothing', and so niksen becomes the verb adapted from the noun, meaning something along the lines of 'nothing-ing'. It's difficult to come up with an exact definition for the act of niksen, but after exploring lots of options the author feels that the state of 'doing something without a purpose' is a useful description. 

Book review - Niksen by Olga Mecking

I'm such a sucker for books like this. I had to smile when the author went through a list of current popular wellbeing trends from around the world - Mindfulness, Zen, Hygge, Konmari, Swedish Death Cleaning, Nunchi, Ikigai. I'm very familiar with almost all of these. You can see them reflected in my bookshelves, and I must confess that the list inspired me to add a couple more books to my wish list!

The book is divided into six chapters covering detailed definitions of niksen, why it can be difficult, why it's good for you, how to introduce more opportunities for niksen into your life, and what to do if it doesn't work for you. There's a lot of information in the book drawn from interviews with many different people along with references to many books and papers. This can break up the flow a little bit at times, but I was glad to be introduced to some extra reading. 

In essence the concept of niksen is quite simple, so I felt that sometimes the book went off on a bit of a tangent, however I still found interesting to read. In particular I enjoyed the section on Dutch daily life, family life, culture and so on, even though I've not spent much time in the Netherlands myself. It was interesting to think about how different cultures are more accepting of taking time out for relaxation than others which have a much less tolerant attitude. 

I've read books about the importance of boredom before, and this book reinforces many of these ideas. Various studies have shown that people who are bored are much more creative in their thinking and I've definitely found that to be the case. In fact, reading this book came at a time when I found myself with some unexpected time to myself. Distanced from some of the emotional labour that forms my everyday, I was frequently able to let my thoughts run freely and I definitely noticed an increase in my creativity and productivity. 

The book also acknowledges that some activities can be an aid to niksen, even though you are technically doing something, as when you are engrossed in a task you enter a state of flow which allows your mind to wander. For example the author suggests knitting or listening to music.

The most useful part of the book to me was tips on how to niksen in the three places that we spend most time - at home, work and in public space (although home and work are the same for me!). It made me think about how I need to carve out this time in my daily life. It's not so difficult in term time when the children are at school, but it's harder when they are at home. I need to try and do things like get up earlier to have the house to myself, take myself out for a run or a walk, or just sit in the garden with a hot drink and watch the birds. 

Book review - Niksen by Olga Mecking

Finally from a purely aesthetic point of view, this is an attractive and pleasant book to read. It's hardback, a comfortable size to hold, and although it's mainly text, each chapter is illustrated with simple graphic designs. And even though the author tries to distance herself a little from the popular trends mentioned above, because the book is the exact same size and format as many of my other "wellbeing" books it fits neatly alongside them on my shelf.

I really enjoyed this little book and would definitely recommend it if you want to learn more about how doing nothing can be beneficial for so many reasons. 

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