Are you languishing?

June 17, 2021 Swedish Health Team

What is this feeling? 

Languishing is the buzzword of 2021, although it has been around and studied since 2002. Emory University sociologist Corey Keys coined the term and described it as the “absence of feeling good about your life.” So, it is understandable that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us would be feeling, kind of, well blergh. Languishing is feeling neither good nor sad. It speaks to the experience of autopilot, of going through the motions without any significant investment – either positively or negatively. It is the experience of feeling empty, lonely, stagnant or indifferent to situations or feeling like you don’t belong. 

Languishing sounds a little bit like depression, right? Well, diagnosable mental disorders and languishing stand separately. Technically speaking depression is a clinical disorder, with a variety of signs of malfunction, like sleep disturbance, appetite changes, feeling hopeless, and on the more uncomfortable end, thoughts of suicide. One can be languishing, or its opposite flourishing in the context of saying a depression diagnosis. In the same way that someone can be physically unhealthy despite not having medically diagnosed issues. Someone can also be languishing and experiencing mental ill-health without any kind of diagnosis.  

Tips to help you 

If it sounds like you might be languishing, there are things you can do to move toward the ideal of flourishing. Flourishing borrows deeply from two types of happiness. Happiness, the feeling or the emotion, but also happiness as function. In French, it’s your raison d’être. In Japanese, your ikigai. Whatever language it's in, having a concept of your purpose, whether it’s a life purpose or a daily purpose, helps us move toward our True North. When I express my existence for today as being helpful to others or interacting with others from a place of compassion, I find meaning and value in my work as a clinician. When I identify that my purpose is to grow myself, my children, and my community, I find energy and joy in something like gardening. I plant things that attract pollinators (good for the environment), I grow and cook vegetables (good for my body and reduces demand on harmful agricultural systems/practices), I gift produce to my neighbors (fosters community spirit and connection).  

How do you figure out your purpose or meaning? It all comes back to values. What kind of person (friend, spouse, cousin, neighbor, colleague) do you want to be, and how do you want to move through your world? When you look back on your life in 20 years, what do you want it to have stood for? 

In addition to asking yourself these questions, there are other things you can do to move away from languishing:

  • Do something kind for another person, like sending a card in the mail to say “hi” to a friend you miss or let someone go in front of you in the line at the grocery store.
  • Engage in a gratitude practice like #365grateful (365grateful | Stories About the Extraordinary Power of Gratitude) or journal some things that you appreciated from your day.
  • Make a conscious effort to savor and relish the littlest things like the feeling of fresh clean sheets, the smell of coffee in the morning or grass underfoot.
  • Pay attention to your daily activities. Cleaning your teeth and washing your face has to be done, but does your brain mindlessly chatter while doing it? Focus your attention on the experience of the mundane and see how it changes.
  • Try something new. Have you ever picked up a guitar, tennis racket, roller skates? Why do you think we all baked banana bread, made sourdough starter, stood six feet apart at hardware stores for hours on end and jigsaws sold out online? It feels good to learn a new skill, it gives us purpose, and we become one with the activity. We get into a state of flow that can be intrinsically rewarding and allow us, even if only momentarily to become oblivious to the pandemic world around us.  

Additional resources

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