I’ve felt it. You’ve most likely felt it too. Especially during the last 12-14 months of pandemic stress. It’s that feeling that is hard to describe. My sister in-law has been calling it “meuky” the last seven years since her husband died of cancer at age 59. I call it “The Blahs.” But it turns out, there’s a name for that feeling.
New York Times contributing opinion writer, Adam Grant, titled it, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’ve Been Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” in a recent article. Grant said it isn’t burnout—when we still have energy. It isn’t depression—when we still have hope. It’s a joyless and aimless feeling. I call it “the blahs.” My sister in-law calls it “meuky.” Dr. Grant calls it languishing.
Dr. Grant says, “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” Grant writes, “languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing—the absence of well-being.” Whatever we call it, it is the feeling that we aren’t firing on all cylinders. We aren’t quite functioning at full capacity. Our motivation is a bit dull, we aren’t totally focused.
As I reflect, I’ve felt these same feelings in multiple areas of my life—physical, spiritual, emotional, my work or in my relational life. And, not all at the same time. The research shows that when we start languishing in multiple arenas at the same time, we are more in danger to start on a downward slope toward depression. Dr. Grant says, “Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”
What can we do to make sure we are flourishing? Here are a few things that have helped me and others.
- Identify What You are Feeling – Psychologists have reminded us that one of the best ways to manage our emotions is to name them. Name what you are feeling—anger, grief, languishing, sadness. We taught our children (and now our grandchildren) to summarize their feelings with three questions at the end of each day: What made you sad today? What made you mad today? What made you glad today? What if we adults actually got better at naming our feelings beyond the word “fine” when someone asks how we are doing? What if we could get comfortable enough to instead say, “I’m languishing today”?
- Give Yourself Uninterrupted Time – Fragmented attention is the enemy of engagement and excellence. That means we need to set boundaries. Years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. When engineers managed the boundary themselves, 47 percent had above-average productivity. But when the company set quiet time as official policy, 65 percent achieved above-average productivity. Getting more done wasn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress. The constant distractions and interruptions of email, texts and social media alerts contribute to languishing. If you struggle to focus, you will feel unproductive. Lack of productivity leads to less enjoyable work and ultimately discouragement.
- Disrupt Your Routines – A couple weeks ago, my wife and I literally left town for two and a half days for a change of scenery. Going to the Everglades for a boat ride, a sunset dinner on Key Largo, a snorkeling excursion and a relaxed meandering drive back home was just what we needed to recharge our souls and our relationship. Monotonous routine can be the enemy of renewal and refreshment. With photography as my hobby, I took my camera equipment for a walk through a nature preserve, shot a sunset, captured a Supermoon rise—3 times in the last 3 weeks—all for the purpose of preventing my coast into “the blahs.” I plan to take a two week vacation next month.
- Be Intentional to Get the Right Chemicals In To Your Brain – It has been researched many times. Certain activities release the “feel good” chemicals of Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin into our bodies. Exercise, fresh air, prayer, meditation, healthy foods, strong relationships and more contribute to the positive chemical dump into our brains that energize, motivate and calm us. When we are intentional, our bodies, minds and spirits reap the benefits. Our intentionality will protect us from languishing and put us on the path toward flourishing.
My goal is to help you be in tune with your life and the lives of others around you that you lead or have some connection with. I really believe that some of the ramifications of remote work and hybrid schedules that the pandemic has forced has impacted us more than we are aware. The unpredictability of the last months have caused a level of fatigue, a depletion of reserves that is most unlike anything we’ve walked through or led through before. Can you relate? I’m praying you will have clarity and the courage to take some next steps to make sure you are flourishing and not just languishing.
QUESTION: What are the clues you notice in yourself which alert you to languishing? (Share them in the comment section below)