Offbeat | The Sweetness of Doing Nothing: An Italian Lesson From TikTok

Offbeat is a bi-weekly blog offering new and meaningful takes on all things media.

By Jillian Rowan, Staff Writer

This was the summer of seeing the world through TikTok.

We saw videos of Oregon’s tall, bewildering pines, the sparkling blue waters of the Amalfi Coast along with the lemon cakes and Argentinian coffees of tropical South America. Whether or not you traveled personally, the short-form video app has displayed virtually every corner of the earth.

We’ve had the opportunity to see parts of the world we might never reach or the places we’ve already been — even if they’re right down the street — and we can recognize the beauty everywhere in between.

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel. After seeing so many picturesque videos of how to “do my trip correctly,” I had many preconceived notions about going abroad.

I wanted my holiday to be riddled with riding ATVs, petting donkeys and beat-bopping from one island to the next, making sure I didn’t waste a minute. I wanted every waking second to be something to write home about so that I could live up to my For You Page.

I will admit that it takes a critical eye to watch all these travel TikToks. Sometimes you’ll end up in a rabbit hole, wishing so badly for someone else’s life to be your own — even though we’re all taught time and time again that not everything is as it seems online.

We spend so much time comparing one incomparable thing to another that we sometimes neglect the beauty of our own existence. But there was one thing I saw on TikTok that stuck with me. It’s the audio of an Italian man that can many times be found paired with stunning videos.

“Il dolce far niente,” the man says. “It means the sweetness of doing nothing.”

After sifting through cinematic snapshots of every tropical coastline with beautiful songs, this is what stuck with me the most.

We all have these notions of needing to do everything and anything with our time here on earth. The “sleep when you’re dead” mentality, paired with the drive to pack a million lives into one and do and see it all, has tricked us as a people into thinking we don’t deserve to rest.

Dolce far niente is about finding pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness. You don’t need to always be doing something. You don’t need to always be doing more. It’s okay to be where you are and to do things slowly.

And yes, the sweetness of not doing anything may seem like an out-of-reach luxury for most. And who am I to say anything? But “dolce far niente” is deeper than that. It’s a philosophy that can be ingrained in all aspects of life — it’s more than just a hackneyed idea about long and lazy Italian summers.

So, while on my trip, I was okay with not petting all the donkeys, riding all the ATVs and hopping to all the islands. Instead, I lived with “il dolce far niente” in mind and did things with a slow, heartful intention.

The aesthetic, travel-romanticizing part of TikTok is all about what you make it. If you take from it the insatiable need to do more, happiness might always remain just out of your grip.

I chose to take from it a lesson about living and being comfortable with stillness in a bustling world. Enjoy the sensation of nothing, no matter where you are. It might just be the thing you need.

Thanks, TikTok.

Jillian writes about a range of media topics. You can reach her at [email protected].