The Sweet Art of Doing Nothing
“We need, above all things, to slow down and get ourselves to amble through life instead of to rush through it.” — Alan Watts.
Liz Gilbert’s eyes light up in Eat Pray Love when she says she is in love and having a relationship with her pizza. Her euphoria is visible while she devours a large, rustic-looking Napoli pizza in L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (since 1870). Relatable, right?
The life transformation of Liz begins with three tickets from New York to Italy, India, and Bali. The itinerary of this trip is to search for life’s meaning and discover her lost self. On the first leg of her travel quest (post-separation from her husband), Liz finds comfort in Italian staple food. She switches on her guilt-free mode and gets into action. Liz lavishly savours a cup of Cappuccino with two Napoleons and rich gelato. She polishes off a heavenly plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and finely grated cheese. Furthermore, she cleanses her appetite with a tall glass of red wine. How much food accounts for too much food? Agree?
On a bright afternoon at the salon, an Italian man named Luca Spaghetti enlightens her about pleasure and entertainment. He delineates how the American lifestyle lacks the essence of life’s simple pleasures. Luca continues to add that they only get burned out at work. On the other hand, Italians take a break whenever they feel like having one. Liz’s Italian tutor, Giovanni, addresses it as “dolce far niente”(the sweetness of doing nothing). Giovanni teaches her to pronounce delectable Italian words and phrases (for example - “attraversiamo” (let’s cross over)). The tutor proudly declares that Italians are masters of dolce far niente. Liz raises her eyebrows with this nuovo (new) term, just like the audience.
What is dolce far niente for the Italians?
Dolce = sweet, far = do, and niente = nothing (in Italian).
The concept of dolce far niente first appeared in the memoirs of the famous 18th-century Italian explorer, Cassanova. The idea came into force when the traveller was tired of his adventures and needed a break. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness,” and the Oxford dictionary describes it as “pleasant idleness.”
In simple terms, dolce far niente means doing nothing and living in the moment guilt-free. It is not about lazing away all your days but taking time to embrace nothingness. It is to do nothing without letting pressure, stress, or anxiety steal your clock. For Italians, dolce far niente is not a concept but a way of life. It is a celebration of the soul. The ideology is to break free from the rat race and seize a break if you deserve one. It is also a sacred me-time necessary for the mind and body to rejuvenate.
The Zen culture follows a similar practice named Shikantaza (just sitting). It is executed by sitting in a chair without thinking and doing anything. It helps to calm the nerves and embrace the slow side of life.
Snippets of the Italian Lifestyle -
The following lines prove that Italians lead a carefree lifestyle: ‘You are not doing anything tomorrow? Good for you!’. The Italians consider their downtime very seriously. There is a clear line drawn between work and fun. Food comes across as the central element in Italian culture. Eating and drinking occupy a prime role in the concept of dolce far niente. Italian food holds the medal for being one of the most popular cuisines around the globe.
Home is the root and beginning of the Italians. Lunchtime is the golden hour for any Italian. They dine at their favourite restaurant, cafe, or bar with friends. People possess a tight-knit bond with their family and friends. They never miss out on their sacred Sunday lunch ritual with the famiglia. (family). The roads, shops, churches, and piazzas appear empty on Sundays. And the city breathes in the aroma of slow-cooked tomato sauce. Wine is the essential food companion in Italian households and restaurants.
The people of Italy own the talent to turn a mundane Monday into a vibrant Friday. An aimless stroll down the streets in the evenings is one of the most important rituals of their everyday routine. Every town in the city has the main piazza (the square), and people gather to shop, pay bills, and hang out at the bars. It is also the space where people-watching happens (dolce far niente). We press the escape button to spend our holidays on posh and exotic islands. Meanwhile, Italians take a break on a typical day and turn it into a mini staycation.
The Art of Slow Pace and the Italians -
The Italians do not look forward to anything else when they are in the blissful state of dolce far niente. The landscapes in Italy consist of panoramic views of sea coasts, snow-covered peaks, and luscious green hills. It provides people with a great chance to hike through doing nothing. It is an opportunity to create memories and capture treasure-worthy frames with their loved ones.
People do not need a national holiday or accomplishment of any personal milestone to open a bottle of wine. They celebrate an ordinary day with a bottle of Prosecco, slow-cooked risotto, a slice of pizza with basil on top, a plate of pasta or spaghetti, and a cup of gelato. You can hardly spot a soul in a rush at the small cafes and restaurants. They wholeheartedly embrace the idea of doing nothing. The locals shut down the shops at noon on a festival day. Whether it’s a weekend or a weekday, Italians enjoy wrapping themselves in the flag of their favourite soccer team at the nearest pub.
Playing card games and listening endlessly to music are their go-to activities. Italians pause their watches to appreciate the beauty of the everyday. They do not glance at the newspaper or book while savouring every moment of their Italian espresso or cappuccino alongside a croissant. People like to lounge in their sunny backyards or on the beach sands on Sundays. They are known for thriving in the now and seldom experiencing a single second of FOMO.
Ways to practice Dolce far niente -
There are a million ways to satisfy your inner dolce far niente. It can also be a road to self-discovery and self-care. Here are a few ways by which you can embrace doing nothing in your daily routine:
- Set a screen time if you are binge-watching television or Netflix. It robs you of your time mindlessly.
- Gift yourself a book and pick a cosy spot in the corner of your room. Start reading!
- Write letters to your family and friends. Make them know that you are grateful to have them in your life.
- Yes! Any day is a perfect day for sky-gazing. Grab a picnic towel and step up to the terrace. Take in the picturesque sunset, flight of the birds, and cloud patterns.
- Forbid yourself from using the planner and to-do list. Take the day as it flows.
- Make some hot, piping masala chai for yourself and sit by the window. Sip it leisurely and note the flavours as they make their way to your throat. CAUTION: Avoid using one hand to scroll your
- Take on the digital detox challenge. Disable the wifi when you feel overwhelmed. Offline is the new luxury and path to inner peace.
- Cook a delicious spread for yourself or your loved ones.
- A solitary stroll or one with a friend or pet in the evening is a great choice. Free your pocket and wrist by keeping the mobile and smartwatch at home. It must be a calorie-free walk to admire the unnoticed beauty of nature.
- Find your way to the nearest coffee shop. Look at how the coffee beans are roasted to perfection, ground, and brewed. And do not fail to capture the aroma in your senses.
- Bake a warm brownie for yourself on a Saturday night instead of Netflix-ing. Top it with a big scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.
- Try it out! Indulge yourself in a power nap whenever you find the time. Afternoon naps have gained the authorised seal to increase your productivity levels. They are also your heart’s best friend.
- Tap into your creator mode and indulge in painting, stitching, calligraphy or any hobby of interest. It is your work of art, and it can be imperfectly perfect.
That sounds therapeutic! Right?
GET SET to Declutter Your Mind -
We are caught deep down in the rabbit hole where doing nothing is out of our comfort zones. At present, we have almost forgotten how to take a deep breath. Our routine is packed and monotonous within a fixed time frame for every activity. We are in a constant search for something, one after the other. Hundreds of tabs are always open in our brains, and our non-stop thoughts hijack us. And we easily surrender to them. The design of the present world has become highly competitive and commercial. At times, even planning and productivity consume our batteries. We seek instant gratification and comfort in junk foods while binge-watching. Our brains want to achieve perfection in whatever we do, and social media plays a huge role.
Ultimately, we will look back at the warm moments, not the numbers. Thanks to COVID-19, which has made us cherish the simple moments and meaningful relationships around us. Research indicates that downtime has a calming effect on our minds. The concept of doing nothing can be strenuous and unsettling at first because of our all-time online mode. The idea that something is better than nothing has been hard-wired in our veins. The sweetness of doing nothing can be rewarding if we take tiny steps to master it. And someday, we will be able to balance and embrace the hustle culture and dolce far niente. It is time to add “dolce far niente” to the top of your to-do list and into your DNA.
The clock is ticking. Rack your brains and pick your favourite activity!