This weekend I practiced “dolce far niente” or, the sweetness of doing nothing.

I sat in a canoe and floated for two hours.

The air was 75 degrees, the sky was sunny.

The lake was cerulean blue.

And a giant (inactive) volcano rose on the far side of the lake, covered in pristine white snow.

Ah, bliss.

As an American, though, doing nothing can feel like a sin. It’s easy to feel unworthy of time off from work, a point beautifully summarized in Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Luca: “Americans. You work too hard, you get burned out. You come home and spend the whole weekend in your pajamas in front of the T.V.”

Liz: “That’s not far off, actually.”

Luca: “But you don’t know pleasure. You have to be told you’ve earned it. You see a commercial that says: ‘It’s Miller Time!’ And you say, That’s right, now I’m going to buy a six pack and then drink the whole thing and wake up the next morning and you feel terrible. But an Italian doesn’t need to be told. He walks by a sign that says: You deserve a break today. And he says, Yes, I know. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon to go over to your house and sleep…with your wife!”

Giovanni: “We call it “dolce far niente”, the sweetness of doing nothing.”

Aside from the “sleeping with your wife” part (and the Miller Time beer part, I prefer a dark Zinfandel…), I can totally relate to this dialogue. It seems I have both parts in me, the American workaholic side and the love of leisure side.

The deeper I get into self-employment, though, the harder it has become to identify with my leisure self. The workaholic part of me seems to have taken over.

So, what’s a self-employed person to do?

Taking time off can feel like a luxury when you’re the only one responsible for every detail of your work, from filing to bookkeeping to meeting with clients (and everything in between.)

But vacation and time off are not just fun, they’re part of a healthy lifestyle.

In a Wisconsin study of 1500 women, medical researchers discovered “the odds of depression and tension were higher among women who took vacations only once in 2 years or once in 6 years compared to women who took vacations twice or more per year.”

Also, “women who vacationed only once in six years thought their home life was more disruptive due to work, felt more tired and exhausted and had less than eight hours of sleep.”

As Dr. Mel Borins says, “Getting away helps to distance yourself from the stressful parts of your life. It can help restore your perspective, give you new viewpoints and allow you to develop new strategies to cope.”

(source: Wisconsin Medical Journal)

The conclusion: vacations are good for mental health and may help you do a better job at work.

No surprise, I know.

Even so, the question for many self-employed people is “how do you take time off when there is so much to do?”

If you suffer from occasional workaholism like I do, I suggest making it a habit of taking two vacations a year, regardless of your work schedule.

However, they don’t have to be long vacations to exotic locations.

Instead, they might be:

  • A “staycation” at home doing whatever you enjoy most.
  • A girls-get-away to a fun city or country retreat.
  • A trip to a far-away-friend’s home to catch up and recuperate.
  • A fun weekend workshop doing something new and creative.
  • Or as I did, a weekend camping trip to a wilderness haven. This was my view while I canoed:

Photo by Amy Brucker, Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic Park

Additionally, make it a habit of leaving evenings and weekends for leisure and non-productivity. It will help you maintain a healthy momentum, while diminishing burnout and frustration.

Whatever it is you do, your only task is to enjoy it. Have fun. Leave all of your work behind. No work email. No work phone calls. No thinking of work.

What did you do on your last vacation (and when was it)? Did getting away help you feel more connected to work, family, friends?