lady of shallot, john william waterhouse, painting, languishing

Are you languishing?

Are you languishing? It’s a satisfying word to roll around your mouth, isn’t it? Calling to mind a semi-Camille situation where you haven’t quite got TB but you’re nonetheless in bed surrounded by satin and marabou, gazing into the middle distance and… fading away. But, according to Adam Grant in The New York Times, languishing isn’t so much a romantic, consumptive dwindling, but rather a psychological term to describe the place between flourishing and active mental illness. Languishing, according to Grant, is joylessness and stagnation. You’re not depressed but you’re certainly not flourishing. You’re not sad but you’re not happy. You’re not growing, you’re not hoping, you’re not… anything. You’re indifferent and the danger lies in your indifference to your own indifference. Languishing is the absence of purpose. Perhaps this means that some kind of mental health episode is in the post but, frankly, who cares?

We know by now that there is no such thing as a free lockdown(s) – even for the lucky ones. We have had to learn to keep our expectations – of both ourselves and the world – on a kind of rolling low. And so where does that leave us? Well, for every person leaping to socialise and create and thrive there seems to be two who just don’t understand what to do next. How to be next. Who can’t compute what life, going forwards, is supposed to look like.

We were all propelled through our lives for so long – sort of making choices but sort of picking up what we encountered along the way. One thing just led to another. But we are not equipped to deal when nothing seems to lead nowhere; to tackle the jet-lag after such an emotional long-haul flight.

So let’s talk about it. ‘Not wretched’ doesn’t mean ‘absolutely fine’. Grant identifies putting aside small chunks of time to allow ourselves the freedom to focus as one antidote to languishing and setting small goals as another. But it might be time to team up on this. Because if you’re feeling it and she’s feeling it and I’m feeling it then let’s have a laugh and try to haul ourselves out of our lairs. One micro-conversation at a time. Because add emotional isolation to languishing and what do you get? Nothing good. And we need to do the good things as well as the hard things at the moment – we just have to learn to want them again.

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