Have you ever felt blah, whatever—not particularly sad but not happy either? Ever had moments where you stay in bed all day, scrolling on your phone, binge watching shows, not particularly motivated or excited to do anything else? Have you ever thought that it feels like you're living the same day over and over again? It seems like you’re just about getting by at work, but you’re also more distractible than before? You often feel listless and joyless, but yet you are certain that you are not really depressed because you still have energy?
If you answered with a yes to even one of those questions, I have news for you.
That blah feeling you’ve been feeling? It has a name for it.
It’s called Languishing.
Languishing is described as a constant state of stagnation and aimlessness. As we all know, health is not merely an absence of disease or infirmity; it is a condition of physical, mental, and social well-being. The peak of well-being is called ‘flourishing’. The American Psychological Association defines flourishing as a state devoid of illness and distress and filled with vitality in one's personal and social life. It means that one has a strong sense of purpose and a feeling of significance to others.
Adam Grant (organisational psychologist) describes ‘Languishing’ as the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the gap that rests between depression (that is, extreme sadness, a feeling of worthlessness, and hopelessness) and flourishing. When you are languishing, it means that you do not have any mental health concerns, but you are not in optimal health either. It means that you are not functioning at your full potential (or the potential that you want to). It dampens your motivation and concentration and increases your chances of cutting back on work and engaging with other people. It’s a risk factor for developing depression. So, now that we know the basics, how do we stop ourselves from feeling blah all the time?
Grant says playing Mario Kart with his family saved him from languishing. What about playing this popular video game helped him, I wonder?
He says Mario Kart aided him to find his “flow”. It was found that the best predictor for well-being is not optimism (as one would assume), but it’s actually flow. Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that denotes a state of absolute absorption in an activity. Where you lose track of time, and sometimes, maybe even the sense of self. You might be thinking flow is like bingeing on your favourite show, but you’re (only slightly) wrong. Bingeing is a temporary escape from languishing, a passive engagement in a fictional world. Flow, on the other hand, needs active participation in the real world. Adam Grant gives us the theory of peak flow, which has three parts: mastery, mindfulness, and mattering.
Mastery means a sense of progress and momentum. It doesn’t have to be a big achievement; it can just be a series of small wins.
Mindfulness means having your full attention on one task at a time and not repeatedly switching between tasks like listening to music, checking emails, solving a maths problem, doing the crossword, and/or doing your work at the same time.
Mattering is what happens when what you are doing is making a difference to (or fostering connections with) other people.
So, the next time you're feeling blah, know that whenever you are ready, all you need to do is find something that makes you flow.
And it could be something as simple and fun as playing Mario Kart.
Grant, A. (2021, December 3). There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html