The Art of Doing Nothing

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When I’m in France, I take so much pleasure in doing absolutely nothing most days. It’s something that feels entirely natural there, but hard to practice when I’m home in the States. The art of doing nothing is embraced by the French and feared by Americans.

The art of doing nothing by Mon Petit Four main photo

The Art of Doing Nothing

I always marvel at the fact that I can sit in a cafe in Paris for 3+ hours, just sipping on coffee and staring at passersby, yet can’t do the same here in California. 

In Paris, I’m not bored, or worse, anxious to get up and going after I’ve finished my coffee. In California, when I’ve finished my coffee, I’ve started fidgeting with my things and packed up my bag.

Why? Well, I’m sure that in Paris there is an element of “vacation” mode that allows me to relax, but I think it’s more about the atmosphere.

Walk into any Parisian cafe during the lunch hour and you’ll see it filled with white collar workers enjoying a warm, leisurely lunch. Walk into an American cafe and you’ll see someone eating alone, hurriedly downing a sandwich or some other quick bite. 

In America, we’ve learned that if you’re not doing something, you’re not being productive. And the atmosphere and vibe you get in America reveals that. I know I’ve fallen victim to this mentality countless times, especially as someone who is self-employed. 

Sitting at a cafe in the middle of the day for 2 hours can bring twinges of guilt, where I feel like I should be doing something productive for my business rather than sitting down needlessly and doing nothing. For many in America, the option of a 2 hour break during their workday isn’t even there. 

More than that, I’ve noticed that even on our days off, many of us struggle to just sit back, go with the flow, and give ourselves some much needed time to just do absolutely nothing. Even when our jobs aren’t pulling us back to our desks, we’re filling our calendars with endless activities. 

The kids’ soccer practice. Gym meet. Baby showers. House errands. So much of what we do in our time off is taken up by extracurricular activities and social obligations. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to meet up with family and friends or have your kids participate in a sport. But it’s also good to balance these out with some periods of having nothing planned out. 

In my own life, I’ve learned that this means being extra choosy with the activities I participate in or the invitations I accept. If I’m not great friends with the host (or mommy-to-be) of that baby shower, I’m probably not going to go. 

I made it my mission last year to stop saying yes to everything, and more importantly, to not feel bad about lying on the sofa doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday night. 

We all deserve to have peace, calm, and relaxation in our lives. It’s one of the reasons why I think the societies that practice this concept of doing nothing often live such happier lives. 

So I want to know, do you embrace the art of doing nothing in your life? 

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12 thoughts on “The Art of Doing Nothing”

  1. Hi, I am Egyptian, I Think, that it’s all about a balance, doing nothing will enhance productivity, and productivity will lead you to not feel guilty.

  2. I set aside a whole day a week for this and I actually call it “French Fridays” It started one day when I was in my garden in the early afternoon, and it was unseasonably sunny and warm outside with a cool breeze. I thought to myself that I really wanted to enjoy a glass of rose in the sunshine. I thought it sounded absurd, and I would feel guilty, (self-employed myself) then I allowed myself to do it. I told myself that days like this are few and far between, so they are worthy of celebration when they come along. They are like a holiday but you don’t know when they are coming, and it feels like a gift when you allow yourself to drop everything and celebrate.

    From that day, I decided to have one day a week where I can enjoy the finer things, do nothing, and most important- not feel any guilt over it. I chose Friday because it was practical scheduling wise, but also because Friday is conducive to the mood. I believe Fridays feel good because of a kind of emotional morphic field that we all share and our emotions are influenced by. I think it’s the reason why Mondays will always feel like Mondays to me even if I don’t have to work. It’s why French Mondays just wouldn’t work, haha!

    I have a new French friend who recently became my tenant. She lives downstairs from me and she is going to come up and join me for French Friday this week, I’m so excited!

    • Hi PJ,

      That is so wonderful to hear. Honestly, you’ve got it all right. The best way to actually incorporate concepts like this are to actually practice them, and your French Friday sounds like the perfect way to do it. It can be hard as self-employed individuals not to feel guilt when we’re not working, but as you so perfectly said – days to stop and enjoy beautiful weather, a chilled glass of rose, or a gorgeous garden are few and far between.

      I’m so excited for you and your meet up with your new tenant! I hope you two have a fabulous French Friday this week! <3

  3. How timely are these comments. I am a Scot, living in Seattle these 20 years after working in the Middle East with a French Company. I have a Scottish & American work ethic guilt about not always being productive. Literally minutes before reading your comments I sent a text to my wife (our son is taking an SAT test today) when she asked what I was doing. I responded that I had a talk with myself, not be feel guilty about chilling this weekend and. I was practicing the Italian art of ‘la dolce far niente’. The sweet art of doing nothing. I am feeling recharged already. Guilt free time out is good for the soul & the mind.

    • Hi Ewen! It’s so great to just relax and be at peace with doing nothing. Living in the U.S. can definitely test our ability to do so, but making a conscious effort to incorporate “la dolce far niente” as you mentioned can truly have a positive impact. Thanks so much for sharing your story and feedback on this article! 🙂 (p.s. best of luck to your son!)

  4. I am not sure why but as Americans we tend to feel guilty about many things, like doing nothing or eating rich foods. I think one word you mentioned is key: balance. If we allow ourselves more nothing time, it gives us the space to think. It gives us peace and clarity. Get off the phone and just do nothing, you know? Great post.

    • Thank you, Rachel! Oh my goodness, yes! The phone! It has taken over our lives. And you’re exactly right – when we’re doing nothing we have more time to hush our minds and just enjoy some tranquility and clarity. Thank you for your feedback <3

      • I love a lazy Sunday. I may sew, bake Madeleines, or watch a movie. I never look at the phone or the computer on Sundays. Sundays have turned into “me” days.

      • I absolutely love that, Kathleen! I think I need to start doing that because it sounds so dreamy! <3

  5. I’m Greek by origin but American born and raised so, like you, I have been instilled with the American work ethic and feel guilty if I sit to watch a movie or read a book for more than an hour. That is a horrible shame to carry that guilt. An old Greek once told me, “No one’s last words were that I wish I had more time to live because there’s more work to do.” Got to learn to relax and enjoy life’s blessings.

    • Those are such true and poignant words, Peter. It’s hard when we grow up in societies like ours, but I think habits can change and we can make the mind shift if we try 🙂


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