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Languishing: Putting a Name to That ‘Blah’ Feeling

by BetterSleep
May 19 • 3 min read

If you’ve been feeling blah lately—unmotivated, lethargic, just not excited about life—you’re not alone. It’s called languishing and it’s been declared the new dominant feeling of 2021. Here’s what languishing means, and how you can get out of the funk.

What is Languishing?

Sociologist Corey Keyes coined the term languishing for this state of mind in his 2002 paper. He described flourishing as the experience of good mental health and languishing as the experience of poor mental health but without a mental illness diagnosis. He found that languishing is associated with a lack of emotional wellbeing, limited activities, lost workdays and decreased social functioning.

To put it simply, languishing is the state of being somewhere between mental illness and optimal mental health. You may not have clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, but you’re not doing great either.

Languishing feels like “blah” or “meh.” You may feel empty, apathetic or aimless. You’re not hopeless, but you’re also not very hopeful. You’re getting by but not thriving or enjoying life to the fullest.

How to Feel Better and Start Flourishing in the Time of COVID-19

Languishing has touched many of us in 2021. The anxiety, fear, depression and uncertainty of the pandemic that many felt in 2020 have given way to this less extreme state of mental health. If you feel as if you’re just muddling along, not very excited about life but not depressed or burnt out either, you’re not alone.

While this may not be an official mental health diagnosis, it’s important to address languishing. You’re not living your best life and you’re missing out on joy and purpose. And, according to another study by Keyes, languishing puts you at a greater risk for later mental illness. Try these tips to stop languishing and start flourishing again:

  • Reclaim your enthusiasm. What’s missing when you’re languishing is enthusiasm. Nothing excites you right now. Look back to your life before the pandemic to remember what you got excited about. Re-engage with those old passions, even if it’s something small, like returning to a favorite author.
  • Find a new challenge. Surviving 2020 meant giving yourself a pass and taking the easy road when possible. Now, it’s time to look purposely for a challenge. Set a goal to accomplish something you know will be difficult, like running a 5K marathon. The satisfaction of overcoming the challenge and meeting your goal will put you back on the path to flourishing.
  • Look for purpose. Flourishing isn’t just about doing fun things; it’s also about having a meaningful purpose. Reevaluate your activities, even your work, to discover if they give you purpose. If not, find something that does, like helping a relative or volunteering within your community.
  • Become immersed in a project. A good antidote to languishing is that sense of absorption you feel when fully engaged and lost in a project. It doesn’t have to be anything major; it could be as simple as colouring or training your dog. Find something that absorbs you fully.
  • Try meditating. Reaching for goals and becoming involved in a project can be tough if you can’t sustain your attention. Many of us have lost focus during the pandemic. Meditation is a useful tool for focusing your mind and increasing your capacity for concentration on tasks, especially with regular practice. BetterSleep has a guided meditation specially created to help you cope with pandemic.

Languishing isn’t new, but it has perhaps reached a new peak in 2021. There’s hope ahead, but we all need to actively work for a better state of mental health. Use these tips to begin flourishing once again.

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