Dolce Far Niente: The Art of Doing Nothing

This Italian phrase recently took over the internet and the world. But what does it mean? And how can you practice it?

So many of us rush through life, treating it as a to-do list. And while we tick things off, we hardly take the time to enjoy those small moments of achievement as we’re too busy thinking about the new tasks constantly being added. And in the incidents when we decide to take time off and give ourselves a break, an action that is quite rare, our minds are never still, continuously planning and dotting the following days, including any future rest days. We ultimately race through life, engulfed by guilt on the days we did not tick off anything from our lists.

That is the exact feeling that the character Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) voiced in the famous scene from the film Eat, Pray, Love. In response, the Italians surrounding her introduced her to the phrase ‘Il Dolce Far Niente’. And while Google translates these words into ‘being lazy’ this idiom that shapes the Italian lifestyle is anything but that.


The Meaning of Il Dolce Far Niente

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These four words that shook up the world and forced us to question our lifestyles have been put together to give the literal meaning of; the sweetness of doing nothing. While the phrase is spoken more by foreigners and Julia Robert’s fans than Italians, it is the latter who actually mastered this art of doing nothing. Having been around since the 18th century, this phrase emphasizes something we all regularly forget. Our time is ours. Thus, the matter of doing nothing is not a luxury some get to afford while others cannot, but rather an active decision we all have the power of making.

But what is so important about doing nothing? What might surprise you is that this act of staying still while the world continues to move around you can be quite hard. We constantly want to move on to the next thing or idea, busying ourselves every time it gets a bit too loud in our minds. But when you decide to do nothing, you only have those never-ending thoughts to keep you company. That’s not to say that Dolce Far Niente can’t also be practiced with family and friends.

What is so significant about this phrase is how practicing the act of doing nothing grounds us. As cheesy as it may sound, the action of people watching while drinking coffee on your balcony, or eating a dish with loved ones savoring every bite, truly makes us live in the now. In a world where people constantly work towards certain goals and plans that they believe will bring them happiness, Dolce Far Niente forces us to realize that happiness isn’t something only our future selves can be allowed, but rather an emotion we can feel right here and now, as we are.

So, how can we learn to live in the moment and find joy in the simplicity of life?


How to Practice Dolce Far Niente 

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Look Studio/Shutterstock

What’s beautiful about this way of life is that you can adopt it no matter where you live or what you do. But practicing Dolce Far Niente can be easier said than done. This is because sometimes we try to put these expectations on ourselves, planning things to perfection, even if it’s planning how to do nothing. That’s why it’s essential to choose an activity that suits you. Going on a walk and discovering a new scenic route might be a great idea in theory, but how can you expect yourself to do nothing but live in the moment if heat and insects buzzing will only keep your head spinning instead of steadying it? Doing nothing might mean taking a nap or snacking on a chocolate bar on your kitchen floor, admiring its taste. And don’t forget to allow yourself to embrace spontaneous opportunities to do nothing rather than planning them down to the T.

Another thing to consider is that to truly connect with yourselves, your friends and family, and the present, you must disconnect from anything that will keep you from doing that. People seem to confuse doing nothing with the action of sitting on a couch staring mindlessly into screens. That is simply not the case. Practicing Dolce Far Niente does mean doing nothing but in ways that serve you, creating a smile on your face as you understand the hidden beauties in life, and bringing back the bounce into your step when you’re done. Practicing Dolce Far Niente does not mean wasting time, frown lit by harsh blue light as you feel your energy getting sucked out of you.

But perhaps the most crucial factor of practicing the art of doing nothing is to learn how to let go of the guilt that usually comes with it. This might be difficult when you begin your journey of mastering this practice, but soon you’ll be able to silence that tiny voice in your head constantly pushing you to do something ‘productive’ or add a checkmark to your list of tasks. Similar to how to choose to do nothing, the action of how to let go of guilt comes down to you. With time you’ll be able to understand how to balance your need to finish chores and tasks along with your need to relax. This might mean scheduling important work in the morning but always giving yourself a long uninterrupted lunch break to sit back, laugh with friends, enjoy delicious food and just do nothing.

Now that you’ve come to the end of this article and have, in fact, done something productive, I challenge you to practice Dolce Far Niente and discover the simple pleasures in life.


Photo: Look Studio/Shutterstock


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