Making Use of Languishing

Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”

This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”

It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.

The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.

Adam Grant writes:

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.

[…]

The pandemic was a big loss. To transcend languishing, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation.

It is more challenging to get into “flow” when “languishing”, but that’s the opportunity – to seize the challenge of becoming enthralled while bored and enthused amid the mundane. To do so, is a feat largely unobservable by others yet it constitutes the kind of self-mastery and deepening interiority that makes for the most dramatic personal growth.

This reminds me of some advice from Rainer Maria Rilke in his Eighth Letter to the young poet in which he says:

And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. 

So you mustn’t be frightened […] if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?

Since, after all, we do not know what work these conditions are doing inside of us, we would do well to think of how to make use of our languishing.

Painting: Wojciech Weiss (1875-1950). Polish painter. Melancholic, 1898. National Museum. Krakow. Poland

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