So that’s what to call it, “languishing,” this feeling of inertia that’s lasted for more than a year. As described recently by organizational psychologist Adam Grant in The New York Times, it may turn out to be “the dominant emotion of 2021.” Swell. Those of us hoping the tide would turn as the early months of the new year unfolded and life began to resume some semblance of normalcy might be in for disappointment.
The first I heard the term “languishing” used in this regard I immediately pictured a 19th century woman, corset cording cinched too tightly, back of one hand pressed to her forehead, and heading toward her fainting couch. No corset lacing and no fainting couch here, but I did like the term. Better than my usual description of my own slug-like behavior this year.
My wonderful huge unabridged edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, which sat in a place of honor atop a mid-century modern version of a roll-top desk everywhere we lived now is relegated to the kitchen table, where it provides height for zoom sessions on the laptop. Retrieving it from under that location, I opened the book to read all the definitions of languishing, starting with “becoming languid in any way…” Okay, what about that word, languid: “1. drooping or flagging from weakness or fatigue, faint (the couch!)… 2. lacking in vigor or vitality, slack…3. lacking in spirit or interest, indifferent…”
Most of that sounds like me during pandemic-related lockdown. When I would report to a daughter how little I had accomplished that day, she assured me she was hearing similar stories from many of her friends, much younger people with work-from-home jobs and regular paychecks. The early days of COVID-19 were truly frightening. Even if you were fortunate enough to escape actual symptoms, awareness of the dangers exacted a toll. Mr. Grant, the Times’ author, writes that “as the pandemic has dragged on, the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.” Calling languishing “the neglected middle child of mental health,” he wrote, “it’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not functioning at full capacity…”
“Languishing,” his piece continues, “dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression, and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.” An antidote may be found in a concept called flow, “that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.”
I remember that feeling, and I miss it. Sitting alone with my thoughts was helpful to me as I adjusted to a changed lifestyle, but I think it’s time to take the advice offered in this article and get on with the task of transcending languishing. Among suggestions offered: Tackle a challenge that stretches skills and heightens resolve. Like finally getting back to regular blogging on this long-neglected website.