Jaymie describes 2021 as the year of being stagnant, stale and stuck.
Amir feels that while he is managing his workload and completing assigned tasks, he isn't blazing new trails.
Joelle expresses that she is in a mental fog, unable to concentrate on her online classes. Working, studying and socializing from behind a screen has blurred the boundaries of our lives and confined much of our daily activities to a chair and computer.
Sociologist, Corey Keyes, has been studying this state for years and has so aptly called it - languishing. Languishing is not regarded as a mental illness but those experiencing it are not the picture of mental health either. They lie somewhere between not depressed but not happy.
Languishing can be hard to diagnose because it does not present as sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide, which characterize depression. It manifests as disinterest, diminishing motivation, and a slow disengagement from cherished activities and relationships. According to organizational scholar Adam Grant, languishing is "feeling somewhat joyless and aimless". Homer Simpson would express it as feeling, "meh"!
The Land of the Languished
If we don't recognize that we are slowly slipping into the land of the languished then we are less apt to attempt some sort of intervention, increasing our risk of diminishing mental health and falling farther and farther away from an optimal mental state, which psychologists refer to as flourishing.
According to the father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman,
“To flourish is to find fulfillment in our lives, accomplishing meaningful and worthwhile tasks, and connecting with others at a deeper level—in essence, living the “good life.”
Seligman explains that mental health is not the mere absence of disease. To flourish we need to create conditions whereby we are thriving - not merely surviving.
So, how, in this pandemic, can we take our mental health from languishing to flourishing?
To start, we need to appreciate that flourishing requires effort. There are no quick fixes. If you want to be happy you need to put in the time. But I would argue that anything in life that is worth accomplishing requires hard work. And I am sure you would agree that your mental health is worth the effort.
1. Create a new morning routine
For many of us covid has disrupted our normal routines. There is ample psychological research indicating that routines are associated with experiencing life as meaningful. It seems that our daily coffee run on route to work or lunch with colleagues help us structure our lives.
So, whether or not you work from home, get up, shower, and get dressed. Go about your day as you would if you were working from an office. And start and end your day with a walk around the block. These small gestures add a sense of normalcy to our lives. Pyjama days are fine, but limit them to Saturdays and Sundays which provides a temporal distinction between weekdays and weekends.
Did you know that rituals alleviate grief?
Harvard Professors Michael Norton and Francesca Gino's research indicate that rituals help us feel a sense of control after we experience loss. Whether that is a loss of a loved one, relationship, or routine. Rituals alleviate grief and help us feel more in control. Feeling in control is integral to our well-being - and this emotion has been in short supply for many of us since the pandemic began.
When the pandemic hit, Scott Berinato, wrote a blog post on Harvard Business Review entitled, That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief which went viral. Berinato interviewed, David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief, who explained that we are collectively grieving our former lives. For some, grief is still the dominant emotion.
Routines will bring a sense of order to what may be feeling like a chaotic and disordered life.
For inspiration check out some of these international pictures from NPR on how the world is re-inventing rituals.
2. Find your Flow
Have you ever been completely immersed in an experience in which you lost all track of time? Maybe it was while playing the guitar, painting, solving a challenging math problem, or trying to learn a new dance routine.
Such flow experiences capture our complete attention and provide a temporary reprieve from the everyday monotonous routines of our lives. Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who identified and popularized the concept, explains that these passionate and profound experiences occur when we're engaged in stretch activities that challenge our abilities. Accordingly, the researcher explains,
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
While we need routines to provide a sense of structure to our lives, we also need flow experiences to feel a sense of invigoration against what can feel like a monotonous existence.
Not sure if you are floundering or flourishing? Download the assessment
How does Flow alleviate languishing?
When we are completely absorbed in an activity which encompasses both mind and body, the area of our brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which nags, criticizes and plagues us with self-doubt, is deactivated, freeing us from stress and worry. A welcomed state for those plagued by pandemic angst.
I don't know about you, but pandemic angst or not, this is certainly a state I welcome in my everyday life!
The relationship between flow and Happiness
There is an additional reason as to why we should put in the time and effort to cultivate flow. It not only helps us emotionally regulate fears and anxieties, but being in this psychological state contributes to happiness. In fact, flow is a key component of subjective wellbeing - a subject we will spend time exploring in the next few months as we delve into the science of happiness. Keep an eye out for our upcoming course - The Art and Science of Happiness which will launch in early 2022.
3. Play your favourite music and dance!
My last tip has no research to back up its utility, but I wanted to share some Wisdonian wisdom. I consult for an app called Wisdo and part of my responsibilities include teaching a weekly class to our members - people we call Wisdonians!
Recently, we were exploring what people do for fun and Wisdonians overwhelmingly told me they danced and listened to music while doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen or making dinner.
Now, you must understand that these are not your average students. In this particular class the average student age is 76! So I listen intently when they share their tips or tricks on anything and everything. And I tried out the experiment! I cranked up my favourite country tunes while cooking dinner and I danced! I forgot how much I love country music and how long it has been since I was completely absorbed in a task with no cause for care or concern.
Now is the time to rethink mental health
Amidst the great many covid casualties that the world has incurred over the past 18 months, there has also been a spotlight on the conditions that foster mental wellbeing. It is my hope that we start investing in what makes people thrive as opposed to merely survive.
Join me in the next few months as we explore the conditions that foster happiness and wellbeing.
To your success!
P.s Not a member of our the life skills tribe? What are you waiting for?!
P.P.S. Not sure if you are floundering or flourishing? Download this assessment
P.P.P.S. looking for support, want to increase wellbeing and decrease loneliness? Check out the Wisdo App. We are an award-winning mental-health & wellbeing app devoted to eliminating loneliness and maximizing wellbeing.