Want to stress less… do absolutely nothing! Forget mindfulness

Study after study backs it up: regular as clockwork, the Netherlands takes top spot on the World Happiness Index, while just last month, Dutch children — the least stressed I’ve ever met — were once again named the happiest in the world in research from Unicef. (Photo: Unsplash)

In Dutch, niks means nothing, and it’s just a small step from niks (which is a noun) to niksen (which is a verb). So niksen literally means ‘nothing-ing’.

Precise definitions vary even among the Dutch, but I think ‘doing something without a purpose, such as staring out of a window’ sums it up delightfully.

One expert I spoke to for my book said it was ‘a Sunday morning kind of feeling’; another that it was ‘being with one’s own thoughts without judgement’ or simply ‘sitting and soaking up the sunlight’.

In practice, it’s lying on the sofa daydreaming, or idly ambling back from the shops. It’s letting your mind wander in a supermarket queue, or sitting with a cat on your lap.


Most of us are always busy. It’s become a familiar feeling; we’re used to it, we know it well and everyone around us knows what it’s like to be busy, too.

But too much to do leads to stress; or guilt because we can’t physically do it all.

And once your stress response is activated, it takes a while for it to calm down — like a wave with a peak that lasts progressively longer than the corresponding trough. Worse still, too many of us are living in a state of chronic stress, in which the wave is a constant peak and our bodies and brains are on a permanent state of high alert.

And that’s bad for us at a basic physiological level.


Studies show that men don’t just have more free time than women, they are also better at protecting it. And what’s more, women protect their husbands’ free time, too, even at the expense of their own.

Statistics show that while men and women do approximately the same amount of work, men do more paid work, while women do more unpaid work. This is the case all over the world, even in the most gender-equal countries such as the Netherlands.

‘I think we hold men and women’s leisure time to different standards,’ says Gemma Hartley, the U.S. journalist who popularised the term ‘emotional labour’ for the invisible mental load that women bear. ‘We allow men to participate in daily relaxation, unwinding and processing as their due for working.

Yet doing nothing is practically unheard of among women.