Languishing and Flourishing
So far in my conversations in meetings and coaching sessions, the most common response to the fact that a new year is upon us has been something akin to bleh. It may be challenging for many people to feel any excitement about the new year considering the ongoing pandemic and continuation of uncertainty on many fronts, and perhaps this low-key response to what is normally a celebratory time of year is simply pandemic fatigue.
My concern, however, is that many may be to the point of languishing because this has gone on for so long. Languishing is the opposite of flourishing, when you feel connected and purposeful. Languishing is a feeling of lackluster or feeling disconnected, but not experiencing any serious distress. Some signs of languishing include moods that are not too high or too low, feeling unmotivated more often than usual, feeling unsettled but not highly anxious, having difficulty focusing on certain tasks, feeling apathy toward life and having difficulty getting excited about anything, loss of interest in passions and hobbies and feelings of stagnation.
The problem with languishing is that it’s not a diagnosable mental health condition, but more of a lack of mental wellness. It can also lead to more serious conditions such as depression or anxiety. Many individuals don’t realize they’re sliding into languishing because it’s not stark. It’s almost a description of what is missing more than what is obvious. You may feel different, even low, but not experience any extreme conditions so there’s no prompt or urge to act, to do something about how you’re feeling.
Languishing and flourishing are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in gauging our level of contentment and joy. When we’re flourishing, we have energy, as well as confidence in our ability to control and improve our own mental well-being. We’re also more resilient. According to Dr. Lynn Soots, flourishing is “the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.”
When we’re flourishing, life feels easier and we could all certainly use that about now. Dr. Martin Seligman developed the PERMA model, which identifies five areas that lead to greater life satisfaction. Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. If you’re stuck in languishing, it might be helpful to seek support through therapy or coaching, but there are also steps you can take to move the needle away from languishing and more toward flourishing by putting the PERMA model into action.
Mindfulness-based approaches may be one of the most effective ways to reduce the emotions related to languishing. Since mindfulness is a state of moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness, practicing mindfulness keeps your mind more on the present moment instead of ruminating about the past. That in turn lowers stress levels, which not only promotes more mental clarity, but can increase positive emotions, the P in the Perma model. You can also increase positive emotions through a gratitude practice, which is associated with better mood and overall health. Another mindfulness technique, name it to tame it, is simply naming your feelings. This draws you out of the amygdala, the old part of the brain that prompts the fight or flight response, and into the prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain, which helps you identify actions you can take to feel better.
Increasing engagement decreases languishing, so aim for getting into the psychological state of flow. Choose an activity that you previously loved to do and try it. Anything creative helps, but if you can get into flow, where you’re totally immersed and engaged with what you’re doing and time seems to fly by without you even noticing, you’re nudging that needle toward flourishing.
Relationships are tricky right now, because you’re likely shying away from social settings due to the pandemic as well as languishing. But maintaining relationships is vital to moving out of languishing, so make the effort, even if you can only connect remotely. We can also get out more if we’re mindful so as not to cause harm to ourselves or others. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone go to a crowded venue indoors or out right now, but look for opportunities where spacing is open and crowds are low and push yourself to go. The safest course is probably to see family members who you feel safe with. Close friends, or previously close friends are another option. I’ve just started meeting friends that I haven’t seen for two years now, but it does take a little planning. I’m avoiding chain restaurants and coffee shops and finding less busy establishments that are either quiet or that offer outdoor seating with heaters. If weather allows, taking a walk with a friend can be helpful. You don’t have to socialize every day, but just plan for periodic outings or visits, even starting with one a month.
Spend some time contemplating what’s important to you. Meaning is the 4th factor in PERMA, so if your career or home life aren’t feeling very meaningful right now, try volunteering, whether in person or remotely. Most nonprofits are desperate for volunteers and it’s a great way to reconnect a feeling of purpose and finding meaning in where you’re spending time and attention.
Accomplishment is the final factor in PERMA. Try learning a new skill or take up a new hobby. Exercise more, which improves overall health as a bonus. You don’t have to strive for big bang accomplishments. Each day, set a mindful intention to do something, anything that when done helps you feel that you’ve accomplished something. It could be as simple as cleaning a long-neglected room or reorganizing storage. It could be something bigger, once you feel up to it.
If you’re feeling what could be best described as blah on a regular basis, pay attention to it. Try journaling about how you’re feeling and if you see a theme of that blah across the board, you could be languishing. Mindfulness and self-care are an excellent cure for moving back toward flourishing. Despite whatever is occurring in your external world, you can and deserve to feel good.
While it may not feel like it right now, this pandemic will end at some point. But our happiness does not have to hinge on what’s happening outside of the mind. We can practice mindfulness and meditation to exercise our brains, to increase feel-good hormones and to stay aware of what’s happening internally so that we can take appropriate actions to ensure our mental wellbeing. When our internal landscape is calm and content, the outside world has much less impact on our day-to-day lives.
We’re launching a 4-week lunchtime webinar series, Minding Your Mind, starting January 20th. These short webinars are intended to bring awareness to our state of mind and to offer tips and techniques for maintaining our mental health in the new year. To register for this free event, simply go to our website at amindfulmoment.com.