“Il Dolce Fare Niente” or The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

Tesoro Irlandese: Day -52 (August 10, 2021) 

What is ‘The Sweetness of Doing Nothing’, you ask? And what business has anyone in partaking of it?  

Well, why don’t YOU talk to my therapist (la mia terapista). Just kidding. 

But this is a real conversation I’ve been having back and forth with her for coming on six months (sei mesi). I apparently have absolutely no chill whatsoever. I cannot just sit down and do nothing (fare niente). Even sitting still for an entire movie is excruciating for me. I told you in blogpost one: I’m like a collie dog on acid. 

Usually, this is a fairly positive thing (una cosa positiva). It keeps me productive (produttiva) and capable of managing a wild amount of projects all at once. However, there is always the fear of a long-term burn-out that forces me to take a full week here or there to decompress (decomprimere) and do absolutely nothing. In these weeks, I rest and recuperate, forcing myself away from the laptop (il laptop) and off my emails (le mie email) so that I can ‘pick up all the balls’ again the following week. According to the professional, this is a bizarre way to live one’s life (un modo bizzarro di vivere) and I must find my own way of embracing the sweetness of doing nothing.

Each time I self-induce this state of rest, I find myself struggling to relax and relinquish the go-go-go attitude (la mia follia). Last week, I decided that I was having a ‘restoration weekend’ and forced myself to sit down and watch a full movie for what felt like the first time in years. Guess what I watched? You betcha… 

Eat, Pray, Love – Classic. 

 ‘how to shoot a graffiti’ by Tobias Begemann on Flickr

If you haven’t seen this film, which I hadn’t until last weekend, there’s this scene in the over-the-top drama of the film where Julia Robert’s character has moved herself to Rome after her marriage collapses and is learning how to love herself for herself. She meets a load of Italian friends (gli amici italiani) and they all try to teach her about this concept of ‘Il Dolce Fare Niente,’ as they think she cannot just let herself enjoy the pleasures of life. It’s super cliche, but I found it delightful. Especially this notion of ‘il dolce fare niente’. It reminded me of a particularly Irish notion of saying you’re doing ‘Absolutely Sweet F*&% All’ when you get time off work or are trying to make plans with friends. Nothing incites jealousy (la gelosia) from the working mind like a person who’s spending their day faffing about doing sweet FA. I’ve never been any good at it, but I aspire (io aspiro) to be able to just walk around the place having a ball and doing nothing in particular. 

Feeling like my therapist had just superimposed my crazy hectic approach to life onto this super cheesy film, I began to do my own research into it, not trusting the veracity (la veridicità) of Eat, Pray, Love as a source text. I wanted to know just how deeply ingrained into Italian life this idea of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, life for life’s sake, is, and why on earth it felt so foreign (estraneo) to me, even though I’ve secretly been dreaming about a SFA lifestyle every Monday since I’ve turned 18. 

I started with these questions: what does it even mean to just ‘do nothing’? How could there be a sweetness in what I had originally perceived must be a state of laziness (la pigrizia) or boredom (la noia)? 

 ‘il dolce fare niente. El Panteó, Roma, agost 2008’ by Xavi on Flickr

To define Il Dolce Fare Niente, Merriam-Webster describes it as a “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness.” This gives off this fairly lazy/narsed impression that I had originally garnered from the phrase and not the fantastically self-nurturing notion of Eat, Pray, Love. Other alternatives are even less poetic, with ‘pleasant idleness’ or ‘pleasing inactivity.’

At its core, the principle goal, as I understand it, is to be present, acknowledging and appreciating the moment as it passes. Whether you are having this moment in the sunshine on a balcony with a cigarette (su un balcone con una sigaretta) or whether its lashing down rain and you have luckily bagged a seat under a canopy, enjoying an aperitivo. It is to be present and to take in what is going on around you, right now (proprio adesso), right here (giusto qui). To enjoy your life as it is right now. Do nothing (Fare niente); it’s not a moment about you. It’s a moment about time, about space, and your place within the puzzle of the world. So you’re not really doing nothing, but you’re not allowed to become so preoccupied (diventare così preoccupato) doing something that you lose sight of the fact that you’re alive; right now, right here. 

 ‘rome’ by Roberto Trombetta on Flickr

However, that doesn’t mean the Italians actually consider this phrase as a sacred part of being Italian. Really, this is just what Western/American media has created as a notion of Italian-ness, in films like the aforementioned Eat, Pray, Love. Kind of like la dolce vita, it is a romantic notion about Italy and Italian living, but not always a reflection of the everyday thought-processes or living conditions of the modern day average Italian. 

Rome’ by Nick Kendrick on Flickr

This doesn’t mean there is nothing to be gained from the concept! Far from it. If anything, I think it is best to consider ‘il dolce fare niente’ as something to aspire towards in your everyday life. To take at least a few minutes of everyday to reflect (per riflettere) on yourself, your life, where you are and what is beautiful in that exact moment, right then and there. 

What is so alluring about this clichéd notion of Italian-ness for me is just how difficult I find it to do nothing anywhere but Rome. Rome is full of delicious food (il cibo delizioso), gorgeous architecture (la splendida architettura) and beautiful artworks (le belle opere d’arte) that make it so easy to be consciously present in the moment and pleasantly idle while you soak in the beauty around you, sipping your morning coffee (il tuo caffè mattutino) or just sitting upon the Spanish Steps. 

Embracing ‘il dolce fare niente’ in Dublin? Somewhat more difficult for me; not impossible, but difficult. I don’t even want to imagine how a New Yorker would cope with the concept as a city that seems to spiral around itself in its own orbit; in its own concept of time. 

‘Streets of Dublin’ by Wojtek Kogut on Flickr

But I’m going to try incorporate this idea into my life a bit more now and when I am in Rome. My therapist and the KitKat bars that have been calling me from the cupboard (la credenza) are right. 

Sometimes, you just got to have a break from the mind and step into the now (entra nel presente). 

Alla prossima, 

Ciara O’Síoráin (chi desidera diventare la bella donna figa come gli italiani)

Here are my top tips for doing Sweet F*$% All: 

  • If you’re like me, when you have a deadline overhanging your head then that is all you’ll think about for the foreseeable future. Get whatever work is most pressing out of the way or actually set a time in the future, within reasonable timeframe, in which the work is going to be done. Then you can go and enjoy your time in the now, and not accidentally slip forward into the next week worrying about what is to be done. There’s a plan, so stick to it!
  • Playtime is as important as work. You have to nurture that side of yourself or else you will absolutely lose the run of yourself and go stir-crazy. Schedule in some time where you get to be present, be in your body, and engaging with others. For me, this is pole classes, hoop classes or climbing with friends. They are my lifeline in crazy busy times, where no matter what is looming, I will make sure that I have given myself these outlets for fun.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself if you are still struggling to enjoy ‘doing nothing’. Changing ways of thinking is incredibly taxing and difficult, and it won’t happen the first time you try. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take your time.

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