FIRST, there was Danish “hygge”: light a candle and get drunk. Then Japanese “wabi sabi”: accept that life is transient and get drunk. Then Finnish “sisu”: get drunk with great determination.

Now there’s a new foreign concept on the block, a word that might hold the key to a happy life, though I don’t know if you’re allowed to drink, as technically that would be “doing something”.

For “niksen” is doing nothing or, more literally, “nothing-ing”. The interestingly unexciting concept is explained by journalist and writer Olga Mecking in her new book Niksen (published by Piatkus, £12.99).

The concept is Dutch but not cheesy. And, though it sounds easy, the fact is our daft brain – that unrelenting enemy – is forever urging us to get on with things. Most common piece of writing today: the to-do list.

It’s hard to do nothing, though I guess it comes with practice. Niksen sound like quietening your mind, as the Buddhists or Taoists do. However, as far as I understand it, daydreaming and letting your mind wander is fine.

The main thing is to give your brain a break, to stop forcing it. Sounds good? Reader’s voice: “I give my brain a break by reading this column.” Nope. Even reading this weekly homily is technically doing something, for all that it makes you feel all sleepy and nice (readers’ chorus: “The hell it does!”).

Niksen is not for its own sake. It has a psychological purpose – to stop you feeling stressed. Stress! The very word stresses you out. And it’s everywhere. Even in this column now.

In an article adapted from her book for English newspaper, the Daily Mail, Ms Mecking notes that, in 2017, a YouGov poll found 74 per cent of Britonian people were unable to cope due to stress.

By contrast, says the author, “the Dutch rarely seem harried or stressed … They’re not whooping with joy, but they seem calm and satisfied with their lives”. Sounds like they need a good boot up the arse.

Only joking. And, while it’s wearing to read that everybody else has some national secret that makes them brilliant while we in Britland are basically hopeless, you must admit that maybe we could Make Britain Great Again by being less British. Gross

Britain is a country of colossal inebriation, rip-off business, low pay, long hours, horrendous poverty and gross inequality. But it’s not all good, and Covid has undoubtedly ratcheted up stress levels.

The worst thing is feeling overwhelmed. You must brace yourself against the mast to weather this storm. Grit your teeth – be a bit Finnish – and keep the heid.

Stress is caused by lacking control over your life. That includes being skint, which limits your options. With Covid, in addition, the Government is in control.

Further grief might be present in your environment, particularly when stuck at home with noisy neighbours or a farting partner.

I’m lucky to have few obligations – basically just brushing my teeth once a week – but I suffer stress like anyone else. My secret is to retreat to my natural habitat, a rock by the seashore. There I sit. And sit. And sit.

A few days ago, sitting there, I thought after a while that I should move on and get the groceries and other booze in, or that I should get home to check my emails or finish painting a room or to steam-clean my thongs.

But then I thought, ‘Nah!’, and just carried on staring at the sea. That’s my job description: wave-watcher. I also remembered my meditation mantra: Nothing Really Matters (NRM).

This came to me in a Gestalt moment after four lunchtime pints when I was 22. I like that it has three meanings, each unlocked by putting stress (emphasis!) on one of the words.

I was surprised to read recently that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had reached a similar conclusion when young. However, unlike me, he didn’t go on to make anything of his life.

NRM (also No Rab McNeil) links in nicely with niksen, I think. In the meantime, though, I must press on. Busy, busy. Speak soon, as the people who never speak soon always say.

Sea here

EARLIER on this page, one of the nation’s leading intellectuals highlighed the emotional value of sitting by the seashore.

Now, a London paper reports that living by the sea halves your chances of dying from Covid. The headline says “in Britain”, but the story says “in England and Wales”, though I think the finding might also apply to Scotland, despite our seas doubtless being smellier and deep-fried.

I’m unsurprised by the finding, though. One of my worst experiences was being in central Europe, as far from sea as one could be. It felt inhuman, and answered the question that had bothered me throughout my stay: “Why are these people so peculiar?”

Being by the sea liberates the soul. Perhaps it’s an atavistic phenomenon, triggering vestigial memories of our time as reptiles when we first wandered ashore and decided, “I think I’ll just sit here and do f*** all for a few million years.”

War isn’t a fair fight

HOWEVER rotten Covid life is, it’s salutary to remember that it’s not as bad as war.

There are echoes of same: state of national emergency; diktats from government that must be obeyed for the common good; weariness and a wish that it was all over; shortages; deaths. But it’s not as bad.

I mention this after reading about the situation in Nagorno-karabakh. This is not a subject on which I have any expertise but, generally speaking, I think you’ll find that expertise is a terrible handicap to the authoritative commentator.

At any rate, it was terrible reading about people spending weeks in bunkers and basements to avoid bombing. The words of a 65-year-old man struck me deeply: “Why are they shelling civilian areas and killing old women? Real warriors fight against each other in the fields, not in villages full of civilians.”

Correct. I’ve often raged against this. Whatever happened to the Geneva Convention about behaviour in war? Was it ever respected?

The only real hope for the future will come when we get robots to fight our wars for us. Perhaps they will do so with more decency and honour.


COMEDIAN David Mitchell is the latest celebrity to abjure Twitter. It has made people hateful, he says, and is “a nasty thing”.

Evidence suggests this analysis is correct. Or – den-den! – is it? I think the hate was always there. It’s just been given an outlet now.

Although not on Twitter myself, it’s easy to read on yonder internet what people are tweetering. Occasionally, this is entertaining, informative and educational.

I rarely see abuse or threats, but I guess, for that, you must be more involved. Never get involved in anything, readers.

In truth, it’s the virtue-signalling that makes me gag. This post-religious displaying of piety is affecting our politics, and it worries me with Scottish independence.

While unionism attracts mainly vegetables and people with syphilis of the personality, indie attracts halo-wavers who promise all things to all persons. It doesn’t bode well.

Politics aside, the fact is that giving media access to the masses was always risky. Previously, you had to be a properly qualified ranter, or journalist, to get a platform from which to announce your philosophies and bile with professional objectivity and measured rancour. Now everyone’s at it. It’s disgraceful.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.