I just realized that nowhere on this site is there a proper definition of flânerie, so here it is.
As I’m able to live it more and more in my life, I’ll be better able to define it. For now, consider this an evolving work in progress.
What is Flânerie?
Before we answer this, let’s get two other definitions out of the way first:
Flâner (v, French)
: to saunter aimlessly
Flâneur (n, French)
: a person who walks the city in order to experience it; a highly observant urban wanderer who saunters aimlessly
(Since we’re adopting these words from French to use in English, you can write them without the accents. We decided to add them in on this site, but that’s just personal choice.)
If you understand how being a flâneur is a complete philosophical way of being, then the concept of flânerie becomes a lot more clear.
Flânerie (n, French)
: the act of aimless sauntering; the undirected ambling of the flâneur
You might think of flânerie as simply a slow-paced walk.
But flânerie is more than just the act of a physical stroll, it’s all the associations that come along with it. To properly engage in flânerie, you must be without an objective.
To understand the concept fully it can be helpful to imagine what such aimless wandering would actually entail.
I can’t think of a better image of complete freedom. To be able to stroll aimlessly—truly aimlessly—you’d have to be 100% free.
You’d have to be free from:
- Financial worries. Since your undirected ambling might lead you literally to any place in the world, you’d need to have the financial ability to travel without restrictions. That would require complete financial freedom (or a complete lack of desire, but you can’t survive without a certain degree of income).
- Superiors or gatekeepers. By definition, if you’re taking orders it wouldn’t be “undirected ambling.” Though you may have various inputs, you’d need to be the final decision maker.
- Compulsive thinking. Is wandering truly aimless if you’re being pulled by compulsion, wandering thoughts and desires? You could argue not.
So, by these definitions few people actually ever achieve true flâneur (or flânerie) status, but it’s something to strive to be better at. It’s a mindset. It’s an ideal.
In the past, the flâneur has been likened to a connoisseur of the street; a type of “urban investigator.”
For example, the flaneur is able to be in the heart of a city square, but stay removed from it as he takes in all the physical manifestations (sounds, sights, smells) of everything around him.
So you can think of flânerie as simply a type of physical and mental “investigation.” You’re taking in what’s happening around you, but remaining slightly detached from what you’re immersed in. You’re simply observing.
“Flânerie is a sort of reading of the street, in which human faces, displays, shop windows, café terraces, tracks, cars and trees become so many equal letters of that alphabet that, taken together, make up the words, sentences, and pages of ever-changing books.”Franz Hessel
It’s not all-or-nothing, it’s something you can start practicing more of in your life right away.
How to Incorporate More Flânerie in your Life
I’m wording these in action step bullet point form for simplicity. Here are a few quick thoughts:
- Breathe. Take a moment to breathe deeply without thinking of what you need to do next.
- Go walking. Wander in unfamiliar surroundings and simply observe. Try to let yourself become detached as you take in the sights, sounds, smells, and stories going on around you. Think of it as simply “collecting memories.”
- Set aside a “Flâneur Day”. Open yourself up to serendipity. Give yourself permission to take an entire day to spend to yourself without thinking about work and life, just to see where it takes you (easier said than done, I know).
- Go on a random adventure. Get lost. Explore.
- Take a breather. Chill. Do a sauna session. Take a power nap. Even if you don’t actually fall asleep, set your alarm for 25-30 minutes later and let your mind wander. See where your imagination takes you.
- Take a new route home. Take in the novel sights and sounds.
Benefits of Flânerie
I’ve always been a Type A personality whose mind is constantly working, but as I’ve started incorporating more flânerie in my life, I’ve noticed great improvements.
I thought it would be helpful to start a bullet list of benefits of flânerie. Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of this article and let’s keep this list building.
- Mindfulness (slowing down of the thoughts)
- Boost in creativity
- Higher quality work (art, writing, creation)
- Increased happiness (or sense of well-being)