The Italians have an expression: “Il dolce far niente,” or “the sweetness of doing nothing.” It harkens to a long-standing tradition among Italian people to take time to simply sit back and do nothing but rejoice in those quiet moments of relaxation and reflection that, as society evolves, are becoming rarer and all the more precious.
Our modern lifestyle makes the idea of doing nothing seem almost sacrilegious. We’ve been raised to believe that if we’re not constantly on and active at work or home, then we are lazy and irresponsible, wasting our lives away while everyone else is forced to pick up our slack.
However, human beings were simply not meant to be without downtime. Even the earliest forms of human civilization involved plenty of time to relax and be idle. Eliminating relaxation time doesn’t make us more productive; in fact, it actually kills our productivity. Constantly being busy can burn us out and lead to low morale, depression, anxiety, and damaged relationships.
Even though we are working fewer hours than ever before, we are working harder, and people feel busier than they ever have. Our world is full of distractions and stimuli, so much so that even our idle time has become full of busy work, checking emails and social media.
So, what should we do? The answer is simple: Nothing.
The Sweetness of Doing Nothing
It can be hard to imagine being able to carve time out of our busy lives to do what feels so unproductive and silly. What benefits could possibly come from sitting around and doing nothing?
The answer, surprisingly, is quite a lot. Regular downtime reduces stress in our bodies, which can lead to lower blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart disease. Decreased stress can also improve immune system functioning, better sleep, and an overall better sense of well-being.
Disconnecting gives our unconscious mind a chance to work on problems while our conscious mind recharges. Stressing over problems can give us a sort of tunnel vision and make it difficult to think outside the box. Putting down a problem and stepping away from it gives us a chance to relax, recalibrate, and refocus, and gives us space for new ideas we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The benefits of relaxation have become so well-known that even major corporations, like Google and Facebook, are taking notice. “Disconnected time” is becoming a key component of workplace culture and more resources than ever are being funneled into company wellness retreats, increases in paid vacation time, and workplace relaxation exercises. A third of American companies have stress-reduction programs to combat what the World Health Organization has called “the health epidemic of the 21st century.”
Incorporate Nothing into Your Day
While disappearing for a week to join a yoga retreat or going on a relaxation vacation for a few days sounds lovely and ideal, for many of us it is simply unrealistic. That doesn’t mean we can’t dedicate pieces of our day to downtime. Even a few minutes of doing nothing each day can be enough to reap the benefits of increased creativity, boosted energy, and happier mood.
So, what can we do to add some nothing to our day? Here are a few suggestions:
- Set an alarm to go off every hour. When it goes off, pause, close your eyes, and take a deep breath.
- At work, eat lunch away from your desk, or at least don’t do any work while you’re eating.
- Fully engage your senses while tackling mindless chores like washing dishes or folding laundry.
- Go for a walk in nature or try the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”).
- Do a body scan meditation. Starting at your feet and working your way up, examine each part of your body and look for places that feel tense or uncomfortable. If you find something, try to relax those muscles with a deep breath or two.
- Try to carve out an entire day of “laziness” once a week or so. Use that time to rest or engage in relaxing activities like reading or taking a bath.
- Take advantage of paid time off from work. It’s provided for a reason!
- Disconnect from your devices at night to eliminate distractions.
- Try the Pomodoro Method of working: Work for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break.
This list is nowhere near exhaustive. It’s far less important how you disconnect and do nothing; what matters most is that you are taking the time to stop, unplug, and spend time with just yourself.