Doing nothing is beautiful

"...the drive to be constantly productive isn’t always the best strategy for nurturing one’s inner self."

Running on the treadmill is rarely my first choice, but when faced with either scorching heat or torrential rain, the treadmill in the basement beckons. In the last month, I’ve found myself running indoors on several occasions because of both conditions. I try to make the most of running on the treadmill, using it as an opportunity whenever possible to multi-task.  A recent treadmill work out reminded me that the drive to be constantly productive isn’t always the best strategy for nurturing one’s inner self.

That particular day, I was watching David Rocco’s Dolce Vita.  Within minutes, I was laughing aloud. The episode revolved around a professor who is throwing a party. The professor’s appearance immediately cracks me up; he looks ridiculous in his Speedo underneath a bathrobe. Equally amusing to me, he is relaxing beside a pool that is almost empty, and which he has been filling for three weeks.

The professor is enjoying being idle, and he enlists the help of an old Italian saying, “Never do today what someone else can do tomorrow”, to justify his lack of productivity. On the surface, he seems to be praising laziness. And while this is the sort of attitude that typically gets under my skin, today it makes me laugh. It reminds me of our visit to Italy.

Last summer, we spent some time with my relatives who live near Venice. While we were productive in that touristy sense of visiting historical sites, it was the moments of doing nothing that made the visit memorable. In typical Italian fashion, my relatives outdid one another in their generous hospitality towards us, which translated into leisurely meals celebrating family and savoring the fruits of the garden as we sipped Prosecco.

Recalling that experience, the professor’s brand of carpe diem philosophy took on new meaning. The professor wasn’t advocating idleness. He was promoting a form of leisure encapsulated in another Italian saying, il bel far niente, or “the beauty of doing nothing”.

This episode of Dolce Vita and the memories it evoked of visiting Italy were a reminder that we do not always have to be productive, nor do we need to wait for a vacation to create some space for leisure. We can punctuate life with moments of doing nothing. The simplest things, like water trickling into a pool or an impromptu party such as we enjoyed on my aunt’s portico the night before we left, can create the sensation of rest or celebration in an otherwise ordinary day.

At the heart of il bel far niente lays a spiritual intuition; doing nothing enriches our spirit, nurtures our relationships and heightens our awareness of life’s many blessings. There is nothing flaky about doing nothing.

I hopped off the treadmill full of enthusiasm. I’d punctuate the day with an exclamation mark, with my take on il bel far niente.  I’d make pasta al limone and invite the kids over for an impromptu dinner party.  I could taste the sweetness of doing nothing.

Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is Contact her at