DaVita® Stories

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

This post was originally published on the Family Talk Blog on August 29, 2018. It was republished with permission on DaVita Stories.

Recently, while exercising, I watched the lovely movie “Eat, Pray, Love” based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. When the author is in Rome, her Italian friends chide Americans for their addiction to busyness. One of her friend’s comment— “Italians know how to relish the sweetness of doing nothing”.

It struck a chord.

Most of us live “crazy, busy” lives—at work, home, and even in play. For myself, this summer, I’ve had a mountain of chores and projects at home. Those “honey do’s” have eaten up my free time.  And those household tasks don’t include the everyday stuff—shopping, cooking, and cleaning. And I don’t even have young kids or teenagers to chauffeur around to their various activities. Yet, it seemed like the summer sped by without a moment of stillness.

I have a very social job and so on my time off, I relish time by myself. I am also an introvert by nature, where time alone restores and nourishes me. (Extroverts are replenished in the company of others). But like everyone else, there always seems to be something to do.

The other day, while walking around Green Lake, there was a parade of walkers all glued to their smartphones as they marched around the lake. Some even had two or three phones hooked up to battery packs. Every two minutes they would stop and touch their screens. I was curious!  What were they doing? It turns out that it was a Pokémon field day—they were all searching out these little creatures on their phone that popped up as they walked around Green Lake. Yes—they were outside and they were walking. But they weren’t doing anything.

Exercise can become a chore too—burning calories, structuring workouts, rushing to get to Yoga class or to the gym. It’s a healthy activity, but like many “to do’s” it can become a burden.

How can we savor the sweetness of doing nothing?

Take an opportunity to pause between activities.

Simply taking a moment to breathe, to be, and to appreciate this moment enables us to be in the present, without thinking about what’s next. This space, albeit small, can provide us with rest. It can foster stillness. It can offer us the opportunity to simply be—to feel the air against our skin and in our lungs, to notice what’s around us, to smell the air, and to become aware of our bodies. This break fills our day with mini-tranquility breaks and slows our speeding train down.

Walk instead of drive.

Our lives demand to get places quickly—but what about walking? When there is an opportunity, walk instead of drive. Sure, it takes more time, but walking brings us into our bodies and the world around us. Sometimes I walk to the Post Office which is about a mile away, rather than jump into the car. Walking slows down our hurried pace.

Eat slowly, linger at the dinner table, connect with your family. 

It’s a challenge these days to simply take time to eat, enjoy our meal, and connect with each other. Everyone is in a rush to do the next thing. Yet family meals are a great opportunity to connect with each other in our busy lives, to catch up, to laugh, to joke, and to remember what is most important—the people we love.

Just Sit. 

Some of my favorite moments are just sitting alone, on a park bench, or in my living room simply resting in the present, without doing anything, my smartphone is off, my screens are dark, and I can hear the clock ticking. I’m not thinking about my next adventure—I’m simply appreciating the present.

Let’s all make sure to enjoy the sublime sweetness of doing nothing.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist with The Everett Clinic, a DaVita Medical Group, and the Director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. He specializes in working with children, families and adults. In his spare time, he’s a second degree black belt in Aikido (a peaceful martial art) and teaches aikido to children in Seattle. In addition (like many Pacific Northwesterners) he likes to hike, bike, and play in the sun (and rain).