Feeling flat? You could be languishing. Discover how to get your spark back.

If you find yourself feeling listless and life is lacking its usual lustre, but you’re not depressed, you could be experiencing something called languishing.

What is languishing?

Sociologist and author Dr Corey Keyes is recognised as coining the term languishing.  He was the inspiration behind the New York Times most read and shared article of 2021: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing” by the organisational psychologist Adam Grant,

In this comprehensive article, languishing is described as:

“the neglected middle child of mental health.  The void between depression and flourishing – the absence of wellbeing.”

Flourishing is defined as being the peak of well-being and depression the valley of ill-being.  Find yourself in middle ground of this wellbeing continuum and, as Keyes observed, you won’t be depressed but you won’t be thriving either.

Unlike depression, there is no set clinical criteria for languishing.  In some ways it can be defined as the absence of flourishing.  And whilst it is not the precursor to mental illness, it is recognised that it can increase the risk of a decline in mental health.

In a state of languishing, you are still functioning day to day and it might be that nothing appears to be fundamentally wrong … well nothing you can quite put your finger on.

Yet you lack the ability and/or the desire to engage with life fully or do little, if anything, about the position you find yourself in.

Languishing in the UK

A 2022 statista survey explored the percentage of people flourishing, getting by, languishing, or struggling – across 16 countries.

The source considered:

  • Flourishing as those individuals showing good social, psychological, and emotional wellbeing.
  • Getting by included people with some areas of wellbeing but insufficient to be regarded as flourishing.
  • Languishing included individuals lacking motivation,problem-focussed, and at risk of developing mental illness.
  • Struggling referred to people lacking a sense of wellbeing and likely to experience emotional distress or psychosocial impairment.

What they found was that the UK ranked highest in the number of people struggling at 21%.  26% of us were languishing – at risk of developing mental illness.  30% were just getting by – insufficient to be regarded as flourishing.  With only 23% at the high end of the spectrum of flourishing.

As a country, and as individuals living in the UK, do you think we have fully got our post pandemic mojo back?

I, for one, am not convinced.

Signs you are languishing

Individuals showing good social, psychological, and emotional wellbeing are described as flourishing.

In his book, ‘How to Feel Alive Again in a World that Wears Us Down’, Corey Keyes provides a holistic measure of mental health comprising of a fourteen point questionnaire.  Each section of the questionnaire probes an aspect of wellbeing to determine emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing – for those who would like to purchase the book and take a deeper dive into where they are on the languishing scale.

For the purposes of this blog, I am sharing below some of the persistent signs of languishing from the Healthline article “Feeling Blah but Not Exactly Depressed? You Could be Languishing”.

Some emotional signs of languishing: 

  • You miss the joy, excitement, and passion you used to have.
  • Your life seems filled with small nuisances and long stretches of boredom.
  • You don’t particularly care about the future.
  • You feel your life is missing a certain something, but you don’t know what.

 Some psychological signs of languishing: 

  • You feel like you have “peaked” in life and no longer have room to grow.
  • You’re disappointed in the person you’ve become.
  • Problems and life challenges seem to pile up so fast you can’t seem to catch your breath.
  • You rarely have strong opinions, so you’re often influenced by people who do.

Some social signs of languishing: 

  • You find it difficult to get close to other people.
  • You don’t feel connected to any community or greater cause.
  • Your job seems pointless, in the grand scheme of things.
  • You believe you can’t rely on anyone other than yourself.

One of the challenges of languishing is that you may not actually know that you have arrived at this midway point.  Yes, something may be off but nothing you have been able to pin point or articulate…well perhaps until now.

What causes it?

As human beings we all want to find meaning and purpose in our lives – to feel that who we are and what we do matters. To have people in our lives, and a supportive community around us, to share our journey with.

When our lives are falling short in some way, we may find ourselves sliding down the scale to destination languishing.

Petrea King, of the Australian based Quest for Life Foundation, talks about the ‘D’s in life – diagnosis, divorce, death, despair, depression or disaster… to name a few.

Rather like the pandemic we all experienced, these prolonged life situations and events can see you stepping out of life and into a kind of void – left questioning all you know and believe.

And then there are those world events that can bring with them a sense of hopelessness.  The social and economic challenges accelerated by the pandemic, the environmental crisis, war, and world disasters … again to name but a few.

It is not always what happens to you and around you either. Getting what you want can be equally debilitating. You may have set a course to achieve your goals and desires – what you study, where you live, a family, a career, financial goals etc.  When you get where you thought you wanted to be you may struggle to find the connection to it.

I am reminded of a moment in my life where I was sitting on the balcony of my beautiful apartment in Sydney, which had panoramic views of the ocean from every room, after yet another long day in my successful management career.  I looked around me at the amazing life that I had created and yet I felt utterly unfulfilled.  It was a wonderful life, just not the one I wanted for myself.

I don’t know about you but when I was a child dreaming of adulthood, I didn’t envisage it coming with so much life admin.  Yet how often are we swamped by the trivial, leaving little or no time for our meaningful.

Put this all together and it is no wonder that life is wearing so many of us down and we are struggling to find our happy place.

Letting go of languishing

Okay so we can’t stop life’s challenges.  As much as I wish I had a magic wand and I could remove all human suffering, I don’t.

However, there are some things that can be done to help stop these debilitating us.

I love the concept of the wellbeing scale, that Corey Keyes has afforded us.

It gives us the language and opportunity to ask ourselves, “where am I on the scale?”

This can be a powerful exercise in itself.  When you shine a light on what you are experiencing it can lose its grip on you.  Here you also have an opportunity to introduce helpful strategies to enhance your position, should you wish or need to.

Of course, if you recognise that you are struggling, seeking the support of a medical professional or therapist would be the most appropriate course of action.

Observe that you are languishing, or just getting by, and there is much that can be done to move up the scale towards flourishing.  To thrive and not just survive.

For how to go about this, I turn to the work of psychologist and bestselling author Dr Martin Seligman. He is also commonly known as the founder of positive psychology. In his aptly named book ‘Flourish’, Seligman provides us with a model to move from languishing to flourishing – aka the PERMA model.

  • Positive Emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishments

The idea is to actively apply each of these steps into daily life.  Whilst they work independently of each other, they essentially combine to form a recipe for enhancing flourishing.

Let me share you with my interpretation of each of the five elements of PERMA:

Positive emotion

The first of the five elements invites us to question our ability to perceive the past, the present, and the future through a positive lens.

Don’t confuse a positive outlook though with, what is sometimes called, toxic positivity.

All emotions are valid, as part of the human experience, and we are absolutely not looking to become Polyannas.

In my blog ‘happy your way to healthy’ I share the work of the psychologist Rick Hanson who provides us with a 3-step process – to help counteract our propensity toward the negative and increase the positive.

Rick invites us to look for the good in our daily lives and spend 20 to 30 seconds savouring each experience to enrich and absorb it.

Gratitude is another powerful practice to shift our attention to more of the good in life.  Wayne Dyer used to say something like, “if you focus on 5 things you are grateful for before you go to sleep then that is what you will marinate in overnight!” What a lovely thought.

Or, in your pursuit of cultivating a more positive outlook overtime, you might like to simply include additional things in your daily life that you enjoy.  To get out in nature, have fun with friends, read or listen to a motivating book or podcast, or watch a feel-good movie – whatever lifts your spirits.  Just don’t forget to savour it!

Engagement

Have you ever found yourself so absorbed in an activity that you lose all track of time and all else fades into the background?

According to the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this is called ‘flow’ which not only feels great but can elicit a state of genuine optimism and satisfaction.

Not to be confused by zoning out or numbing out in front of the TV or scrolling through a social media feed. Whilst you might disconnect from reality somewhat, this seldom fills up your cup.

To be in flow is to be fully present in an activity that you enjoy, and brings you a sense of achievement.

It can be as simple as actively engaging in a family board game, trying a new recipe to share, delving into gardening, or immersing yourself in a creative hobby.  Or you might like to up the ante and add a bit of challenge – think learning a new skill or training for that marathon.

Relationships

As human beings, we need meaningful and supportive relationships and to feel a sense of belonging to flourish.

Unsurprisingly, an absence of these connections can bring about a sense of isolation and loneliness. Regardless of how many people we live and work amongst.

Less surprisingly, is that it can erode how we feel about ourselves and our lives and contribute to languishing.

Do you have quality and supportive relationships with contacts, colleagues, neighbours, friends, and or family?

If the answer to this question is no, you might want to consider dedicating more time to establishing or developing these – in your quest to flourish.

This can be as simple as carving out more quality time to spend with those already in your life.  Or to look for ways to meet new people – perhaps joining a local club, exercise group, evening class, or volunteering.

I’ve heard it said that it takes time to grow an old friend but it is certainly worth the time and the effort.

Meaning

To flourish is to feel that we and our life matters.

When we are languishing, we can be disconnected from our value and purpose. Left thinking that there must be more to us and more to life than our current situation.

A sense of purpose and meaning can be derived from many sources for example family life, our careers, religion, spirituality, or supporting social causes.

In my blog ‘staying centred in a challenging world’ I take you through ‘finding your why’ – a concept created by the author and inspirational speaker, Simon Oliver Sinek.  For a deep dive into ascertaining what makes you tick.

Or another way to reconnect, to your meaning and value, is to contemplate how you enrich the life of those nearest and dearest to you, the community, through your work, or through your faith.

We all make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small.

It is not always the grandiose accomplishments but the small acts that enrich each other’s lives.

If this feels insignificant to you, recall a time when you have been on the right or wrong end of someone’s good or bad day. Along with the impact this had on you.

How we go about our day to day may not get hundreds of likes on social media.  It may go and feel unseen – yet stacks up to form who we are and what we bring to the table.

Accomplishment

The last of the five elements invites you to shine a light on your accomplishments.

One way to focus on this is to look to past endeavours.  To list or reflect on all those things that you have achieved or overcome to be the person you are today.

Or of course you can look to current and future plans and aspirations.

Whether or not you have set any specific goals, you can probably think of something you would like to do or have in your life?

Yet when we focus too much on the end point, it is more likely to make us feel that something is missing. That we are not where we want or feel we should be.

So rather than thinking about accomplishment in terms of achieving goals, I invite you to think about the incremental steps you are taking to get there.

Let’s say you want to lose a set amount of weight.  Thinking about the end point is probably not going to be very helpful.  Yet if you break this goal down into the steps you are taking to get there, you draw your attention to what you are accomplishing along the way.  For example, you might walk to and from work a few times a week, do exercise classes, or learn new recipes.

You might want that promotion at work but what about the professional relationships you’ve developed, courses you’ve taken and the new skills you have learnt along the way.

In both of these examples, you are cultivating a mindset of accomplishment by focussing on the journey rather than the destination.

Whilst this can feel great and contribute to flourishing, we need to make sure this is in the backdrop of a healthy and balanced life.

Striving is not flourishing.  Quite the opposite in fact.

Go after your goals and aspirations by all means, but ensure some of them include self-care, spending time with those that matter, and in smelling the roses.

Self-care

On that note, and I do appreciate there is no S in PERMA, don’t lose sight of your own physical and mental health.

Many moons ago now, I had an up-close experience with prolonged stress resulting in my health and wellbeing nose diving.  To help me recover, from a number of downstream health issues, I enlisted the support of a team including a Naturopath.

She was a wise owl who shared many pearls of wisdom.  One of which was that if you get the body and mind as healthy as possible it will regain homeostasis.  For me this meant a number of my systems falling back into line.

In terms of languishing, perhaps this means a shift up the scale to flourishing.

Might sound obvious, but self-care is unquestionably the foundation to mental and physical wellbeing. So, don’t discount keeping a focus on eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and practising good sleep hygiene.

Bringing it all together

As human beings we all want to find meaning and purpose in our lives – to feel that who we are and what we do matters. To have people in our lives, and a supportive community around us, to share our journey with.

Yet there are many circumstances that can throw us off course and see us sliding down the scale from flourishing to languishing.  And left unchecked, further down the scale towards diminished mental health.

We can’t stop life’s challenges but we don’t have to accept the impact they can have on us as our default position on the wellbeing scale.

PERMA gives us a recipe for a more fulfilling life.  A way of getting off the bench and back into the game.

In letting go of languishing and setting a course for flourishing, we can’t run there but we can walk.  We can take incremental steps each day – heading due North up the scale.

You might like to journal your progress, to deepen your awareness of yourself and your experiences, along the way.  To draw two lines down and two across each page and, in each of the six boxes this creates, note progress against PERMA. Not neglecting that oh so important S for self-care!

Good luck for the journey ahead and long may you flourish.


Bev Alderson

Bev Alderson is a Mindfulness, Yoga and Stress Management Consultant who works with individuals, groups and workplaces.

Having spent 18+ years in management in the IT industry, in both the UK and Australia, Bev learnt first-hand the impacts of a high-pressure environment and lifestyle and how, left unchecked, this can negatively impact performance and health.

Today, through her business Practically Balanced, Bev brings authenticity to the work she does, drawing upon her personal experiences, management capabilities and expertise in mindfulness, stress resilience, yoga and more.

Bev completed a Diploma in Yoga with the highly respected Qi Yoga School in Sydney in 2012 and with Sivananda in India in 2015. She also completed a Certificate in Stress Management with the London Centre for Coaching and Counselling in 2014, an ILM with the Stress Management Society in 2014 and a Diploma in Meditation with the British School of Meditation in 2016.


With many thanks to Bev for this blog. If you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our nutritionist team via e-mail or phone:

nutrition@cytoplan.co.uk
01684 310099

Last updated on 6th June 2024 by cytoffice


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