Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

Pursuing ‘me time’: can watching reality TV be categorised as 'switching off'?

Farah Andrews tries, and fails, to differentiate between healthy downtime and a Netflix addiction

Niksen can be doing anything “as long as it’s without purpose - so does watching bad TV count? Or does it need to be more of the 'staring out the window' category? Photo: Getty
Niksen can be doing anything “as long as it’s without purpose - so does watching bad TV count? Or does it need to be more of the 'staring out the window' category? Photo: Getty

Recently, I read about niksen, the Dutch wellness phenomenon of doing nothing, which promises to be the "antidote to millennial burnout". If I am being totally honest, my initial reaction was a slightly conceited scoff. "Doing nothing doesn’t need to be spun into a wellbeing fad," I thought.

But upon further pondering, I realised that I very rarely do nothing.

That is not to say I am always busy, productive or constructive. After a long day at work, I can certainly spend an evening burying my head in the sand and devouring an entire series of Queer Eye or Sunset Real Estate like the best of them. But that isn’t doing nothing.

I have seen niksen described as “sanctioned daydreaming”. As a newbie and an outsider to the movement, couldn’t you also say this is just meditation with a cool, new Scandi moniker? I am sure many a meditation devotee would beg to differ; but what it all boils down to is giving your brain a little time to switch off and reset, right? I certainly don’t do that enough.

But, again, what is doing nothing? Do we all want to sit and stare out of the window? I am more than happy to spend a little time watching the world go by from my balcony on the weekend, armed with a cup of tea or coffee, but it won’t be long until my brain switches to things that I should be doing, even if it’s a leisure activity. "You could be in the gym right now," I will tell myself, or, "Maybe it’s time to give that recipe you read about last week a go?" I am not complaining – I enjoy the gym (cough, sometimes) and love cooking – but that isn't doing nothing.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that niksen is not limited to daydreaming with a hot drink in hand. An expert on the topic told Time it can be doing anything “as long as it’s without purpose". So, despite all being things I enjoy, I would argue that working out, cooking, watching TV or reading are all discounted. They are all ways to kick back and switch off, but there is certainly purpose there; even if that purpose is nosing around Australian homes with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in the new series of Instant Hotel.

At the risk of sounding like someone who can only be found bingeing series after series of Netflix reality shows in her downtime, it seems to be the closest I come to letting my brain idle, which is somewhat troubling.

However, I have found ways that, outside of my home, a regular dose of niksen can be slotted in. At the beginning of this year, I started commuting an hour to work each way, which has taken my daily commute from a 20-minute round trip to a two-hour-long one.

Despite it not being a perfect drive – I am no petrolhead, so I am not sure there actually is a perfect drive for me – I've found it does give me time to come very close to doing nothing. I tend to carpool, so I have a couple of hours to fit in a little daydreaming when I am not driving, which is welcome. I can also listen to an almost-limitless number of podcasts and give myself time to read my Kindle most days, should I want to.

Come the weekend, there are endless social offerings in Dubai, which means we can often find ourselves spread a little thin. But recently I've been trying to fit in morning walks at the beach before a day of errands, lunches or gym classes. It’s free, peaceful and calm; if there was ever one way to remind yourself that there is plenty of tranquility to be found in this busy city of ours, an almost deserted beach at 7am on a Friday is certainly it.

In 2019, when being busy seems to be a badge of honour and burning out can be an inevitability, we need to take a leaf out of the Dutch’s book. For me, it seems, it could just be contemplative hour on the ride home, a quiet meander or half-watching a trashy new series.

That is where I am starting; perhaps I will have graduated to full-blown meditation by the time I next check in…

Updated: August 15, 2019 04:47 PM



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