Dolce far niente.
The sweetness of doing nothing.
Just the sound of these mellifluous Italian words (first heard on Eat Pray Love) rolling off my tongue is enough to inspire a sense of calm and stillness I had not realised I craved in a world that is constantly rushing.
If you’re not filling the minutes of your day, on autopilot, to complete a school project, to graduate, to do up your resume, to find a good job, to meet deadlines and to get ahead in the rat race, you’re stressing out trying to beat the clock, ticktockticktock, before you’re the last to be married, have children and nail this thing called life.
But is this life?
To many people, doing nothing is synonymous with laziness, inefficiency and sorely lacking ambition. Somewhere along the way, somewhere between building Lego houses and building portfolios, we have learned to consider rest as a reward that needs to be earned through hard work that leaves us feeling stressed, breathless, blue in the face, and even then, when we do eventually reward ourselves with the bliss of doing nothing, we can’t help but feel guilty, as if we are undeserving of it.
I know that’s how I feel. And I’m only 19. I can’t justify a Netflix binge unless it has been a productive week. I think I don’t deserve a getaway unless there is something to actually get away from.
Just as doing a whole lot of somethings could sometimes amount to nothing, doing nothing sometimes can be everything.
Gosh, we’ve been so wired to do do do, to keep things moving that slowing down and doing nothing have become too audacious an act.
But what happens when the life you thought you had going for you throws you a curveball and your non-stop routine abruptly comes to a screeching halt? What happens when you’ve graduated, full of straight As and no idea what to do with the rest of your life? What happens when, at 40, at the peak of your high-flying career, your zest for work and life hits rock bottom? What happens when Mr Right for the last decade, whom you sure you were going to marry, turns out to be a wrong match now?
I graduated from Junior College in 2017. Those two years were intended to be a one-track, no-nonsense expressway that would lead me to the university and ultimately, a law degree. But alas, right before my A Levels, there was this… “nudge” from Destiny, re-directing me elsewhere. I was not ready for it. I felt like the
rug that was my certainty/reality was pulled from under me without warning. I needed some time to recalibrate and find my footing with whatever new ground I am to tread next. So, I decided to take a gap year.
Between my recovery from the disorientation and enjoyment of my newfound freedom, I found myself first squandering my time as I pleased, then confronted with a huge void of time with little prospect for tomorrow. It was daunting to say the least. Doing nothing then felt like I was failing to make something of my life. I was drifting in aimlessness and torpidity.
BUT. The irony is, the timeout I had taken rewarded me with some precious insight: Life is a journey. In our bid to make our time here purposeful and meaningful, we will inevitably be met with days when inspiration ceases to visit for days, months, even weeks, when you experience unproductivity at the most inopportune time, and everything feels stale. There will be off days. Whether you think you deserve it or not, I recommend you take that day off. Do something completely different, try something new.
When these days happen, I am learning to give myself some leeway, to be kind and forgive myself for trying but just can’t. After all, I don’t think confronting them with guilt is healthy or sustainable. Maybe people-watching, daydreaming and reading a fiction novel may not be the most “value-adding” activities by popular definition, but the ability to accept and come to terms with your current state of mind, to be present and go with the flow, to allow yourself the joy of doing nothing — that in itself may be a little victory worth celebrating. And who knows, the meaning of it all, the answers you seek will come to you when you wake up the next morning.
Let’s be honest: Just as doing a whole lot of somethings could sometimes amount to nothing, doing nothing sometimes can be everything.
I sincerely hope you find your dolce far niente. And relish it — guilt free.