Is anyone else feeling down? Grieving your former life? Lacking purpose? Feeling untethered?
If you are, you aren’t alone.
There are a lot of stressors out there right now, including, but surely not limited to: bad weather this summer, COVID-19 screwing up our lives for two years, divisiveness as public policy, unexpected and unfair wars, losing rights that everyone thought were set in stone, physical isolation, and shocking levels of inflation. Luckily, there is a term to unite us under the metaphoric and literal rain clouds above our heads: “languishing.”
A respected friend sent me an article about languishing by Adam Grant in The New York Times. Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, tipped his hat to sociologist Corey Keyes, who coined the term for this recent phenomenon. Grant recounted that he and his friends were feeling “somewhat joyless and aimless” and spoke about people binge-watching more shows, playing more games on their phones, lacking concentration, and basically just muddling through.
I resemble that remark. I’m not depressed, but I’m also not thriving. I had to make a pact with someone recently to limit my game playing on my phone to only an hour a day. I have been lacking motivation to do anything, and found the repetition of the phone game helpful to distract my mind from its general state of retrenchment and grief over what we’ve collectively and individually suffered and lost. (Luckily, we didn’t discuss limiting movie and television show binge-watching, but we probably should.)
Grant calls languishing, “the neglected middle child of mental health… the void between depression and flourishing.” His concern is that: “You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.”
I felt very alone in my “funk” until I started comparing notes with others, and was surprised at how many common terms we used. Suddenly, the mere validation of knowing that I wasn’t alone made my loneliness more bearable. I’m not shooting for the stars here; I just want my strange state of stasis to release its chokehold on me. I’m tapping out, but it has been unyielding.
I would guess that most of the strategies that are common to improve depression are helpful in fighting languishing, but Grant suggests that more important are “finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work.” The problem is, what if you don’t care?
Really, our lives have been on hold in so many ways for two years. It’s hard to just wake up and say: “It’s go time!” It’s even harder when we’ve been working full-time, while kids are learning at home, and we are now preconditioned that we’ll be interrupted no matter what we start, so why start?
I know that once I cross one item off my to-do list that my adrenaline increases in tandem with my motivation. It’s just taking that first step that is a doozy. For me, what is most effective is having someone prompt me and ask me what I have to prioritize and what my plan of attack will be. Then, because I’ve said it out loud, I am more committed, and I also have someone to hold me accountable. My other solution is to book a trip, so that I have something to look forward to.
If you find yourself under your own personal rain cloud, or just in some strange state of stasis, I encourage you to call it “languishing,” know that you aren’t alone, and maybe that will nudge you towards becoming unstuck.