Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. 

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The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on April 10, 2011 at 6:06 PM

If you’re like most people, you probably feel guilty when you take time for yourself. Instead of relaxing, you fill your life with tasks, errands and busywork. You tell yourself, “I’ll take a break when work slows down” or “I’ll have time to myself when my kids leave home,” or even “I’ll have time to do X, Y, Z when I retire.”


This weekend I decided to spend some time doing nothing. That’s right – nothing. I took off to a country farmhouse with a few girlfriends. We had no plans, no schedule and nothing to do.


When we arrived we soon noticed how uncomfortable we were with doing nothing. It was 12:03pm and we had the entire day and night to ourselves. There was no TV, no internet and no shopping mall. The only things around us were farmer’s fields and an expansive grey sky.


This was both liberating and somewhat scary.


At first, we tried to busy ourselves with little tasks around the house. I soon found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen not quite sure what to do. I eventually forced myself to sit down and drink a tea. As I looked out the window at the majestic trees surrounding the house I gradually started to accept the idea that there really was nothing for me to do.


After about an hour, we let go of the need to organize dinner, set up our bedrooms, or really do anything at all. We started chatting, slowly releasing the need to plan how the day was going to evolve.


As the day progressed, we ended up walking in nature, relaxing by the woodstove and having a impromptu afternoon tea party with cupcakes. As darkness fell, we put on Dead Can Dance and danced around in an empty room. Anyone looking in the windows would have thought we were crazy.


We didn’t care.


We lost track of what time it was. We ate when we were hungry, spoke when something needed to be said, and enjoyed silence when it seemed right. We felt connected to the feminine energy of creation and allowed ourselves to simply be in the moment. We accepted ourselves exactly as we were, without expectation, judgment or criticism.


We called it the sweetness of doing nothing.


In the book Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert describes how one of her Italian friends introduced her to the idea of Dolce Far Niente, or the Sweetness of Doing Nothing (you can watch the 1-minute clip from the movie here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqLSCRCw8l0). Gilbert’s friend shared how Americans think they can’t take a break unless they deserve it. And of course, we never feel like we deserve it. So we work our butts off all week and then buy a case of Miller Lite to drink our sorrows away on the weekend. He described how Italians cherish Dolce Far Niente and take breaks when they feel like it.


I think we should too. Today, give yourself permission to take a break and do nothing.


You might be thinking, “I could never take a day (or more) to do nothing because my kids need X or my partner needs Y or my boss needs Z.”


But what about your needs?


When you’re 95 years old, laying on your deathbed, I can guarantee you aren’t going to look back on your life and say, “Wow, I’m so glad that I got everything done at work all the time,” or “I’m so happy that my house was spotless every day.”


Why? Because these things don’t matter.


In the end, what you will most cherish about your life is the experiences and relationships that you cultivated. On his deathbed, the main character in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich asks his wife “What if my whole life has been wrong?


You do not want to be left asking yourself this question. By taking time to relax, you nourish your soul and ensure that when the time comes for you to leave this earth, you won’t look back in regret. To enjoy the sweetness of doing nothing, you might need to disappoint a few people. You might have to say no to your boss or your kids or your spouse. But this is an important part of setting boundaries and living a life you love.


This morning, as our day of Dolce Far Niente came to an end, we woke up when we wanted to and ate when we felt like it. Before leaving, we sat in a circle and spoke about each other’s strengths and talents. We left feeling refreshed and connected.


By doing nothing, we realized that life is truly sweet.

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4 Comments

Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
10:35 PM on April 14, 2011 
Thanks for the feedback Joy! I'm a big fan of Dolce Far Niente now too :-)
Reply Joy
5:27 PM on April 14, 2011 
Great post! I absolutely loved it! I'm a huge fan of Dolce Far Niente!
Thanks Bethany, this is just what I wanted and needed to read right NOW!
Reply Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
7:19 PM on April 13, 2011 
You're very welcome Sherry! I agree, there's no point working hard if we're never going to enjoy it . We need to stop taking life so seriously all the time!
Reply sherry
5:02 PM on April 13, 2011 
I LOVE that you danced and ate cupcakes and sat in a circle. I could feel the joy. What a wonderful, wonderful reminder this is. After all, what in the world are we working so hard for ... if not to enjoy the sweetness of life. Love how you grabbed it by the tail! Thanks!!!!!