“Too often we focus on the ends of the emotional spectrum — joy and depression,” says expert Catherine A. Sanderson, Ph.D. “Languishing is in between those extremes, a sense of being stuck. Just being able to say to yourself that others are also experiencing a sense of emptiness lets you open the door to self-compassion.”
Being kind to yourself helps you see what’s beneath the blah, adds expert Amy Scher. “There’s always a primary feeling underlying it, like exhaustion, so ask yourself, What exactly am I tired of? Are there any responsibilities I can let go of? Now, instead of being stuck in ‘neutral,’ you have a map to start feeling better.”
It’s natural to look outside ourselves for the fuel that’ll get us going, but inspiration is closer than you think, says Scher. “We are our own spark,” she assures.
“Just set a timer for five minutes to do something for you. If you always read memoirs, for instance, consider a novel to give your system a jolt of something new — the timer makes it easy to break habitual patterns.”
Lean on your circle.
“When you find yourself saying, ‘There’s no point’ or, ‘I make no difference in the world,’ these negative thoughts give muscle to languishing,” says expert Christine Padesky, Ph.D. “If you did nothing every day, would it truly make no difference? While it may seem like one person’s actions don’t matter, that’s the furthest thing from reality. Just smiling at someone at the post office can change the tenor of your day and theirs, expanding your ‘circle of influence.’” In fact, simply looking to your inner circle will show you just how much you and your actions do matter.
Look ahead with hope.
The opposite of languishing is flourishing, and simply visualizing the future will help you experience the hopefulness that defines it. Anything from researching the itinerary for a dream vacation to exploring new volunteering options will stoke a sense of possibility, notes Sanderson, who says creating this “bucket list of anticipation,” is often as rewarding as the experience itself.
Set small goals.
Consider building in one or two small goals each day, from planting something in your garden to trying a new recipe, and after two weeks, see if you feel better, encourages Padesky. “Rather than take up something complex, such as learning to knit or play the guitar, pinpoint simple tasks. The sense of accomplishment and full-circle completion of smaller tasks will boost your confidence and motivation.”
Remember in the beginning of the pandemic when everyone discovered sourdough baking? This kind of social-media–induced hobby may seem like flourishing, but that’s not entirely true. “Research shows we derive much more satisfaction and get better results when we’re internally motivated to be creative,” says Sanderson. “That could mean writing, painting, drawing — the key is that it comes from within.” In the end, happiness isn’t born from outside factors, but from you.
“There really is always something you can do to feel joy.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.