Il Dolce Far Niente
The essence of doing nothing and enjoying it
In this day and age one could argue that the human species has evolved into one that strives to do more and more. There must always be a full plate. There must always be a plan to do something more. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Be it work, play, food or anything to occupy our minds and the gaps in our calendars. We seem to always be on the go or on the look-out for more. Our boss tells us more is more if we are to succeed or if we are to earn respect and dignity. But of course it’s always too much and never enough. Busy is the new black. It's a privilege, it’s high social esteem, it’s a badge of honour. But really it has become a toxic false sense of self-worth and belonging.
If we are not busy at work, then our social calendars should house events that seamlessly flow into one another. We must have an exciting plan for every weekend either to indulge in the shared anticipation with our colleagues on Friday afternoon or to report back on, on Monday morning, or both. For without being busy, there must be something wrong. We must be a social outcast or just plain rude for not affably engaging in watercooler small talk, or the riveting skydiviging-esq weekend that one yet again undertook. Or God forbid, if we didn’t go skydiving then we must be boring.
The obsession with being busy is amping up the chatter in our minds. It is the excuse we use to avoid the unpleasantries in our lives. We seek to bury the uncomfortable in a mound of ‘busy’ hoping it will disintegrate in good time. But the unpleasantries will not go away. They show up every day. In slumped shoulders. In bulging midriffs. In dry eyes. In sore joints. In weakened limbs. In no sleep. In no exercise. In no sunshine. In no nature. In depression. And they will continue to be ever-present until we decide to listen.
We have become so addicted to being busy that we have lost control. We cannot switch off. We will not switch off. We have forgotten to stop and breathe. We have stopped looking up at the sky. We don’t even register that we cut off the cyclist in the right of way lane. She falls. She is broken. She may never walk again. But you didn’t look up and you have disappeared into your burial ground of busy in that handheld thing they call the smartphone. You will never know the cyclist and she will never know you. And you continue on to the busy place. You don’t even know where you are going to or why.
Perhaps we should use the state of being busy much more sparingly, for being busy does have its rightful place in life. Perhaps we should treat it as we might an expensive bottle of eau de parfum or the purest form of extra virgin olive oil we can only purchase whilst on holiday in a remote hard-to-get-to village in the hills of Tuscany. Too much will overwhelm us and maybe even make us sick, but tiny droplets can be rather healthy and perhaps give a little meaning to life. Here we may give ourselves permission to indulge and maybe even live in the moment but only if used sparingly. How do we arrive here when we have gone so far down the rabbit hole of manic busyness?
We might turn to look at what the Italians have termed ‘The essence of doing nothing and enjoying it’ or Il dolce far niente. It is the art of doing nothing. Taking time to embrace nothingness and letting the world pass you by from time to time. Your mind empties, your thoughts are allowed to escape you and you are allowed to just be. Or perhaps more fashionably put, you are allowed to just live in the moment.
The key here though is giving one’s self permission to indulge in the essence of nothingness. We have become so far removed from such a concept that any gap of nothingness makes us feel uneasy. To do nothing is no longer a comfort zone so much so that we now must train ourselves on how to actually do it. Something so simple has become something so difficult.
Il dolce far niente is deeply a part of our DNA and always will be. But we need to unpick the repression that it has repeatedly endured over time and find ways to bring it back to its full vibrancy. We must re-learn how to find joy in doing the simple things like sitting in the window watching the world go by, enjoying an espresso, solo on the terrace of a side street cafe or more to the point, doing nothing. There are a million and one ways to satisfy our inner dolce far niente and the onus is on the self to discover what that is. It might take a long time to find a healthy balance of busyness and nothingness but we owe it to ourselves more than ever if we are to be contented human beings, if we are to fulfill our values and realise our self-worth, and most importantly, understand how much the universe needs us to be here. Now.