Home wellness science Languishing: When You’re Not Depressed, But Feel, “Meh” about Life

Languishing: When You’re Not Depressed, But Feel, “Meh” about Life

by Editorial Team
languishing pandemic depression

Languishing is not depression, which is a clinical disorder. Rather, languishing refers to a feeling of nothingness. We are not sad, but experience emptiness. When languishing, we don’t feel as if we are functioning well in life. In contrast, those who “flourish” feel good about and function well in life. 

The key difference between languishing and depression is when someone feels depressed, they often don’t want to leave bed…when a person feels languished, they proceed with going through the motions of life. 

Languishing is also the lack of meaning, purpose or belonging in life, which leads to emptiness, lack of emotion and stagnation. 

NPR, Boston | Corey Keyes, Sociologist, Emory University

A Gateway to Mental Illness

Studies show that languishing is a good predictor of future mental illness. Therefore, even though languishing might not be considered a disease, it acts as a red flag. Knowing how we feel in this state allows us to pause, check in with how we feel, and maybe get help. It’s an opportunity to self-reflect before languishing turns into something even more serious.

Researchers believe various aspects of our lives can lead to languishing. These include relationships and work, two aspects of our lives greatly affected by the pandemic.

The Pandemic and How We Feel About Life

A Pew Research Center survey provides a snapshot of how the pandemic has affected Americans, both positive and negative. 

Overall, 89% of the respondents claimed that they have experienced at least one negative life effect. The most affected aspect of life, personal relationships, with 41% of respondents experienced a negative effect.

It’s important to note that the pandemic impacted groups of people differently. For example, when it comes to relationships, younger Americans were “more likely to mention positive relationship developments than were older American”.  And when it comes to living pandemic life in general, “women were more likely than men to mention challenges and difficulties.” 

But this doesn’t take away from the fact that the pandemic has made us all vulnerable to this feeling of emptiness.

What Makes Us Flourish

Researchers who unpack the difference between people who flourish and languish believe that “motivations and what people value” contribute to the zest we feel for living.

For example, both groups consider relationships as sources of meaning in their lives. But how they view relationships differ. Flourishers view relationships beyond how it fulfills them, but focus on reciprocity.

Flourishing participants referred prominently to the “we” in relationships, reciprocal processes, and the sharing of positive affect in these relationships, whereas for languishing participants, support was the most cited reason for relationships being a source of meaning in life which alludes to own needs to be fulfilled.

Important Goals, Meanings, and Relationships in Flourishing and Languishing States: Towards Patterns of Well-being

In terms of work, flourishers considered their jobs as their “passion”, “calling”, or “purpose”. On the other hand, languishers who mentioned work as an important source of meaning, mentioned it in the context of a job. In essence, the meaning derived from work comes from “material benefits”, which lets them enjoy life outside of their jobs.  

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