In 2021, organisational psychologist Adam Grant introduced a new word into the public’s consciousness with his article ‘Feeling Blah During the Pandemic?’
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
In 2022, you might have thought that things would have picked up. After all, with travel looking increasingly possible, measures being relaxed, and more things you could do, you should feel happier.
Yet somehow you still feel ‘blah’. Like things don’t really matter. You feel tired of trying to organise something for yourself. You look at the hoops you have to jump just to travel, and you think to yourself,
it isn’t really worth it.
Well, here’s why, and here’s how you could treat it.
Why is this happening?
Let’s first understand this feeling, and why this is happening.
We have the misconception that if we wanted to feel less ‘blah’, if we wanted to feel that we weren’t languishing, the feeling we should be chasing after is ‘excitement.’ Novelty. New experiences. But somehow, after going for that holiday, that special meal, let me guess.
The excitement wore off, didn’t it?
And you slowly feel like you’re back in the same place again.
It’s not wrong to have high expectations of an experience, and its ability to uplift you. After all, that should be what we do.
Having low expectations isn’t the answer to finding your way to a more exciting life. But it’s about knowing your own expectations. It’s about being aware about the expectations you are bringing into each experience, so that you don’t end up setting yourself up for failure.
It’s not about adjusting your expectations downward, but actually being aware first of the expectations you are bringing into each experience.
But then you may ask me,
How do you balance between the expectations you have and the reality you will face?
I believe the answer lies in allowing yourself to get caught up and swept away in the excitement. As a child, I was very excited when I went for our annual church camp in Malaysia. The week before, I would pack my bag. The night before, I would put the clothes for the next day by my bed. At 5am, I would wake up to bathe.
That was 14 years ago.
14 years later, following the relaxation of COVID-19 measures, the church announced that there would be a church camp again. For the first time in 2 years, I felt excited again.
It was tempting to adjust my expectations downward. After all, we had seen the many times when plans had been cancelled, when restrictions made things less fun.
But don’t. You take life away when you kill the excitement within you.
You are killing some of your dreams
Let’s face it. You had some dreams. COVID may have killed some of them. Maybe all of them.
Adam Grant usefully notes how languishing is characterised by a sense of joylessness and aimlessness. Maybe over the past few years, you’ve allowed yourself to run on autopilot. You haven’t dared to set any new goals, because who’s to say they will even work out? You haven’t dared to fight for what you want.
Because you’re afraid another wicked curveball like COVID happens again. And to be honest, it’s been difficult. After all, when we expected COVID to die down in 2021, then the second wave appeared. And when we expected the second wave to die down, another strain appeared.
Time and time again, we have been kept on the edge of our seats. And slowly we’ve learnt to move off the edge.
Just stay comfortable. After all, what’s the point of challenging yourself, when all you’re likely to experience is disappointment?
So what can you do?
Here’s some ways that have worked for me, and others I’ve worked with.
You’ve lost some things over COVID. Let yourself grieve. Write a letter of grief to mourn the loss of your hopes, your dreams, your goals.
In 2021, David Kessler, who worked with Kubler-Ross on her stages of grief, wrote a remarkable article on the loss we are experiencing through COVID. It was the first time someone had drawn the link between grieving and COVID. But it’s true.
We’ve lost so many of the freedoms we’ve used to take for granted.
- Gathering in large groups
- Breathing in fresh air without a mask
- Walking in enclosed areas without a mask
- Smiling and showing your teeth
So take time to write a eulogy to the things you’ve lost.
It’s not about new experiences, but seeing experiences in a new way
Rub your hands through your hair.
How does that feel?
The School of Life’s book ‘A More Exciting Life’, shares about how we often take experiences for granted.
By middle age, things can be counted upon to have grown a lot more familiar. We may have flown around the world a few times. We no longer excited by the idea of eating a pineapple or owning a car or flipping a light switch.
But as children we were. That’s why the days seemed to stretch for so long, because we were so curiously excited by the things we saw around us. We touched the walls. We peered through the cracks. We studied the ant carrying its crumb around.
We were interested in life.
By middle age, these things no longer seem that special.
But they can, if we allow them to.
Here’s an invitation to you. Why not take time to fully observe the next meal you have with people? Rather than glancing at your phone, tracking your calories, or being worried about how you look, why not take time to fully be present, in all of your senses?
- hear the curious way someone rolls their ‘r’
- see the beautiful gleam glancing across the apple
- touch the cold handle of the knife
- observe how people interact with each other, building off each other’s conversation, talking about difficult issues, frown, laugh, make merry
Maybe this wouldn’t work always.
And it doesn’t have to. As adults, we seem to want everything to work like clockwork.
Give me the answers, and let me try them!
But we forget the essence of childhood lay in discovery.
In not knowing. In trying things anew.
In looking at the world through fresh eyes.
Upside down. Through your legs.
Try that. You may be surprised.